Forget It? Remember It! Journaling Does Both

Writing to Remember
If you keep a journal, you fill pages with detailed memories and ephemera to remember events or people. You had a wonderful reunion with a friend. You write it down so you’ll  remember that evening years from now. In your journal are all the details, ready to replay in your imagination long after your memory records it as fuzzy.

Writing holds your emotions and memories, it heals and creates.

 Writing to Forget
Pouring emotions on paper lets you release it. Have a disagreement with a friend? Pour your feelings out in your journal, and you will leave them there, because there is no reason for you to want to hold on to the hurt. Writing is an act of healing, and the healing begins when you release the need to rehearse the pain over and over again to make sure it’s still there. Knowing it’s in your journal is reason enough to quit rehearsing the details.

How can journal writing do both?
How can writing help you both remember and forget? Writing is a creative activity, and the act of forming words carefully, with a pen, creates a reaction between your brain and hand that lets you think through the emotional impact while you are writing. Writing by hand slows down your thoughts and helps you concentrate. (Some recent studies have shown that people who have learned to use a keyboard at an early age may get the same release from typing.)

Writing helps you forget, because you can vent on the page, examine your motives and reactions, and decide what to take with you as you move on. You learn from your hurts, as long as you don’t nurture them to feed anger and thoughts of retribution.

In the same way, writing down a to-do list allows you to forget, because you have the items written down. No need to keep rehearsing the list in your mind. Keeping a to-do list reduces anxiety and feeling overwhelmed because you no longer repeat what you haven’t done yet over and over.

When you write down to remember, something different happens.  You write to enforce a memory, to recall more details, to bring a full range of emotions to the top of your mind. As you feel an enjoyable emotion or physical pleasure, the words you write create a path to feel that pleasure again, in full measure.

Keeping a journal is both a creative act and and act of healing. It can do both at the same time. Visit your journal often and allow your creativity to fuel healing.

—Quinn McDonald keeps a journal. She helps people learn how in her book Raw Art Journaling, Making Meaning, Making Art.

18 thoughts on “Forget It? Remember It! Journaling Does Both

  1. Pingback: Blogtalk: On Journaling and Memoir Writing – Writing Through Life

  2. Quinn, your post and the comments make me think of this quote by Anaïs Nin “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

    Krystyna, I would say: Going back to older journals brings our younger selves back to life. :>)

    • What a great quote from Anais Nin; very appropriate. As to bringing a younger self back to life, well, I’ll just quote A.C. Swinburne: From too much love of living/ from hope and fear set free/ We thank with brief thanksgiving/ whatever gods may be:/ That no man lives forever, that dead men rise up never, / that even the weariest river runs/ somewhere safe to sea.”

  3. Quinn,
    You have nailed it on two vitally beneficial dimensions of journaling here; I appreciate both. I know I will remember better if I write it down. And I can release my angst and move on in a challenging situation if I get it down on paper. I have come to rely on my journaling for both of these beneficial applications; so I’m glad you have expounded on it here.

    I have chosen your post, Forget It? Remember It! Journaling Does Both, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 2/7/12 for all things journaling on Twitter.
    I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in Refresh Journal, my weekly e-journal: .

    You’re welcome to join us for #JournalChat Live this Thursday at 5 EST/2 PST for all thing journaling on Twitter; our topic this week is Journaling Gold: A Writer’s Notebook.

    Thanks again for focusing on the vital benefits of remembering and forgetting in our journaling practice.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter

    • Dawn, you are so generous to share my work with others, and so kind to come tell me. I wish I were home more on Thursdays, but in February, I am teaching every Thursday and Friday (for which my mortgage company is happy!) Thanks for being so steadfast in promoting journaling. It’s so good of you.

  4. Writing is recent for me and I’m surprised at how much I get out of it – my ideas stop going round in circles and become much clearer. As for to-do lists, what I love about them is crossing things off!

  5. I have kept journals most of my life. I find that often, at bedtime, the busy-ness of the day is still whirling around in my mind and it is not until I “empty my head”, by writing in my journal, that I am able to settle down and feel restful enough to go to sleep.

  6. What I write has continuance. Whether I want to remember or forget I can let go without loosing the experience and live now. My experiences become part of the “me-puzzle”..

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