I have kept a journal off and on since I was in elementary school. Sometimes these scribbles make me cringe enough to want to burn those old books, but most of the time I'm grateful for the insight they provide now and the comfort they provided then.

My father the lawyer always warned me never to write down anything that I didn't want to get read. He's right, of course. The risk of keeping a written record of your true emotions is something I think about often, especially now that I have little ones who might one day read my words. But the personal gain I get in recording my life, my unfiltered thoughts, my growth or lack thereof, far outweighs the fear that it might be found.

A journal can be many things: self-indulgent, a place to whine, a place to rewrite your own story, a place to say all of the things that you could never say aloud...

A journal can be many things: self-indulgent, a place to whine, a place to rewrite your own story, a place to say all of the things that you could never say aloud. As long as you take the necessary measures to keep it hidden, all of these are healthy. It's better to rant in a journal than it is online. It's better to work through your anger using paper than yelling at family. It's relieving to express intense emotions without dealing with other's reactions.

While it may or may not feel like a chore to record your thoughts, the benefit to keeping a journal is felt in the long term. I look back on things I wrote privately in my early 20s and I see immediate red flags for relationships and jobs... I can see with the advantage of hindsight where life was leading me. On the other hand, I also remember who that girl was and who she has become, and I cherish those sentences jotted happily or poured down in sadness.

I do find it therapeutic to write, in my messy cursive, with black ink in a lined notebook, but if there is a lot to process I type.

My journal is not a daily diary. I try to write in it at least once a week, but sometimes a full month goes by before my pen hits the paper. I do find it therapeutic to write, in my messy cursive, with black ink in a lined notebook, but if there is a lot to process, I type.

If you're new to journaling, don't let it overwhelm you. It's not an essay contest, nor is it your non-fiction memoir. Do not feel the need to "catch up" the journal as if you were writing to a long-lost aunt. Start where you are — start with just a few sentences.

You can buy the simplest or the most elaborate journals at any bookstore. If you're more suited to typing, any word processing program will do. But if you're motivated by an interface, there are several apps that will help you start or resume journaling:

  • iphoneDay One ($10, iTunes) was iTunes 2012 App of the Year. It has a very clean interface and syncs with your computer or mobile device. You can easily add pictures and even charts.
  • Momento ($3, iTunes) connects to your social media like Facebook and twitter so you can add in your own updates from those sites to your journal. This is a different spin on journaling, but would be great for the social media maven.

Even just capturing a few bits a day or a week, you'll soon reap the rewards of journaling. It's not like blogging or emailing. Journaling is a letter to yourself... the best kind.

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