How Writing In A Paper Journal Let Me Shape My Own Story

It was fear which led me to begin keeping a daily paper journal. I was afraid I was disappearing. The only things I publicly posted were filtered, forgettable statements, while my innermost thoughts wasted away. I felt like nothing more than a passive participant in my own life, as if my voice was being lost — even with dozens of apps and hundreds of friends inside of my computer to reassure me. When I sat down one day and tried to remember some of my high emotional points from the year before, I couldn’t remember more than a few specific moments. If I couldn’t remember details of the past year, how would I remember 10 or 20 years in the future? I felt like I was disappearing, and like it was my fault.

I realized that I wanted to leave behind a paper trail, which isn’t what Millennials are "supposed" to want. I became engrossed with this thought over the summer, when my mom and I went through old boxes, and found things she wrote in her twenties. It’s a routine of ours; every few months, I get the urge to dig through old pictures and ask her to provide context. I saw the letters she wrote and her handwriting, recognizable to me even though the words were written long before my birth, and imagined the young girl I’ve seen in photos, existing beyond snapshots. My mom has never been one for sentimentality, so the fact they haven’t been dumped along with so many other items from her past made them significant.

Another day, I went through a dusty box at my grandma’s house and found a handwritten letter from my great-grandma to my great-grandpa. It was a love letter, with a train ticket included. Suddenly, reading her perfect cursive writing on the tattered page, I felt a connection to a woman I had previously only known by name. Her words may have only been meant for my great grandpa, but they reached me and affected me, too. That evening, I was an intruder in my own family’s history, but it left me yearning to leave something for my great-granddaughter to stumble upon.

In the age of the internet, it seems like nothing you say ever completely disappears —a half-hearted statement you made on Twitter in 2011 could come back to haunt you in 2016. But simultaneously, nothing we say feels permanent to me in the way it was before the advent of social media and texting. We have no way of knowing when our current methods will be replaced by something new and bigger, obliterating the thoughts we once assumed would be permanently filed.

I wanted physical evidence of who I really am. So, I began to write daily, by hand, in a journal. I didn’t want my journal to change my routine, but now, months in, I realize that the lifestyle shakeup the journal provided was the best thing that could have happened. During the first few weeks, I often forgot a day, but now it’s become the most anticipated part of my routine. I jot down the day and time, and then write freely about all that I’m feeling, even if the day has been uneventful. In fact, some of the most boring days have led to the most in-depth entries.

Not every entry resolves itself. Some entries end up angsty, brooding, and embarrassing to say aloud. But they're thoughts I have in the back of my mind, and now that they've been recorded on paper, I can’t overlook them as easily. By forcing myself to write daily, and write honestly, I have to confront things I would ordinarily push aside.

Writing in my journal forced me to become comfortable with myself. Early entries read more like a scientific log of my daily activities, but as time went on, I became capable of putting my feelings into words and my entries began to reflect more substantive thinking. Journaling gave me the tools I needed to go beyond the surface level.

Picking up a pen and putting it to paper — rather than typing on a computer — has played a vital role in this. Three months before I started keeping a physical, handwritten journal, I tried keeping a journal with a Word document. Handwriting seemed tedious; I only wrote things by hand when taking notes in class, and even then, I preferred to type if I could. The only reason I began writing in a physical journal was because I got a journal as a gift and didn't want to see it wasted. But once I was physically holding a pencil to paper, I wrote like never before.

This is no coincidence. A 2009 study from the University of Wisconsin supports the idea that writing by hand improves writing ability. Other studies also point to writing by hand as a cognitive stimulant, encouraging active thinking.

Additionally, handwriting a journal let me tell another story beyond the words on the page. My handwriting and its change from entry to entry reveals as much, if not more, than the words that I write. For angry entries, it becomes slanted and heavy, leaving impressions onto the next sheet. In a hurried entry, the ends of my words become undecipherable and leap off the lines. There are underlines, and phrases circled, and even notes later written in the margins. Writing by hand let me fully breathe my personality into the journal, unfiltered and in its most honest form.

Having been raised in the age of the internet, I am no stranger to filtering my thoughts. Writing in my journal lets me explore all of my thoughts, no censorship needed. It taught me to trust myself, and to embrace my feelings, rather than run from them. Honesty is scary, but rewarding. Now that I have a confessional, I can finally admit that certain things upset me. The same honesty applies to good situations—I can indulge in the smallest moments that bring me joy without worrying about seeming frivolous.

In a paper journal, I finally have a confidante who always listens, and never judges.

I now address my emotions as they come up. The process can be messy—I have a tear-stained page or two, and several furiously written lines that indent onto the next few pages—but at the end, I always feel cleansed. Not only does journaling help me vent during the height of my emotions, but it gives me the opportunity to look back the next day at exactly what I was feeling, helping me gain a deeper understand of myself and my thought process. That’s something Instagram can’t give me.

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