Your journal, your legacy

Are you afraid that someone will find out your journal secrets? That when you die your life will be there for all to see? If this is keeping you from writing in a journal, could you reconsider? There are steps you can take to protect your privacy, and some things to think about before you cut off your connection to the past.

journalsIf you feel strongly that your privacy not be invaded, you can rent a safe deposit box at a bank. Put your completed journals in this safe deposit box and give the key to a trusted friend.

Julia Cameron, the author of  The Artist’s Way, and the proponent of writing three pages of whatever you are thinking every single morning was asked at a book signing if she keeps her journals. She said she did, they fill a storage locker. She has an agreement with her daughter, her executor, that she be cremated. “But first, burn the books. Then burn me!” Cameron said.

Before you choose to keep your life such a secret, let me encourage you to let go. Once you are dead your past is not going to haunt you. And it might help others. My mother’s life was a mystery to me. I was born late in her life and only knew her as angry and manipulative. Sure, she had bright moments, but they were short and quickly dispensed with.



After her death, I found a packet of love letters she and my father had exchanged. So strong was her hold over me, even from the grave, that I seriously considered destroying the letters, unopened. When I read through them, another woman emerged. One I had never known. A young woman, the woman who was the mother to my brothers. She seemed eager to live her life. She never talked about the events that   shut her down, although she had many reasons.

Without those letters, I would have never had a chance to see this other person. This person with hope and humor. This woman who suddenly had more in common with me than I ever believed. It was a generous gift to discover.  I’m sure she would have hated my prying into her past, but now that I know, it is also easier for me to be easier on her.

Before you lock up your past, think about the help you might be. That event you are ashamed of might help someone else, might change their mind, might leave a word of encouragement. Once you are gone, your life in this world is complete. Leave some clues for the next generation. You might create a picture of yourselves for people who are not even born. Give them a view into your life, and into the status of life in a time period they never knew.

–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach who teaches journal writing.
Her upcoming book helps people confront their inner critic by creating cards that capture the wisdom from their inner heroes. The Inner Hero Creative Art Journal will be released this December.

6 thoughts on “Your journal, your legacy

  1. I always find it helpful to read other’S views on this topic! It it among the most asked about topics in the journal writing classes I teach. I keep all my journals but I do allow myself the flexibility of writing outside the journal and with the specific intent of destroying what I wrote. Or I sometimes choose to cover up an especially dark entry with a beautiful greeting card or magazine clipping, or even by rotating the page to another angle and writing on top of the pieces I choose not to reveal to others even after death. I too have been fortunate to inherit journals from a great aunt that immigrated in the 1800s and settled a farm in the land run. It is fascinating to read about anger time and her writing was an example to me of what more I could include in my own writing.

  2. I bought a notepad yesterday. The kind that you can tear pages from. That is my new: this is what has been on my mind lately and I really don´t want others to see pages. Of course it is bundled up with: lists from my past/present ruled pad, lists for my future pink ruled pad and mind maps blank one. 😀 Yups, Paula v.3 is coming. 😉

  3. When I first started writing, my journalling has been spasmotic at best over the years, it was a way through time of dealing with pain and misery and with very little hope for the future . . . it all seemed much to far away to ever reach. When I did get through the mire, I had a ceremonial burning but not because I didn’t want anyone to know what was going on inside me. I released the hold that the past had over my present and my future. And incidentally, these days it seems to come rushing at me at such a rate of knots I’d like to hold it off a little!

    I guess what we do with our journals depends very much on their purpose.

    • Yes, that’s true. We can always decide what our journals are for and get rid of them. When I was in grad school, writing my dissertation, I read hundreds of diaries of immigrant women in the 1890s. Those diaries were often about day-to-day life–and from them I learned not only the price of bread, and how people without refrigerators stored food, but also what was important to them. I’m sure they thought the diaries were not important, but it changed what I thought of history books and how I think about immigration. Some diaries cast big shadows.

  4. This blog is timely. I was just encouraging my thirteen year old grand daughter to begin keeping a journal. She doesn’t have a good relationship with her mother. She doesn’t live with her mother. I remember the woman child her mother was…funny, witty, beautiful and full of dreams. My grand daughter will never know that person. If she had kept her journals, it might be easier for her to understand her mother and herself. She burned them. Her mother lived with us for a time during her teens, I am her paternal grandmother and I remember. It may make a difference. It may be all the difference.

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.