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How Journaling Can Save Your Life

By: Diana Raab, PHD

In 1964 when I was ten years old, my grandmother died by suicide in my childhood

home. In those days, psychotherapy wasn’t spoken about, so instead, my mother handed me

a Kahlil Gibran journal and told me to write down my feelings as a way to help me cope

with the loss. That seemingly benign gesture changed my life forever, as it laid the

groundwork for my life as a writer. The journal had quotations at the top of each page that

inspired my own words. When I was lonely, I’d cuddle up beneath the hanging clothes in

my walk-in closet, pull the string attached to the single bulb above, and write into the wee

hours of the morning.

Following this continuum, and after the loss of many loved ones and having dealt with two

cancer diagnoses, I’d often turn to writing to help me navigate my journey. For more than

five decades, my journal has been used as a storehouse for my own relentless musings,

thoughts, and feelings. I also write down phrases and words that I hear during the course of a day. They end up as seeds for greater works down the road. Prior to the pandemic, one of

my passions was sitting in public places such as coffeehouses and parks to write. The white

noise was inspiring; plus, it’s interesting to hear and observe others. When writing fiction,

it’s also enjoyable to record conversations and watch natural communication patterns.

Sometimes my entries remain inside the safe container of my journal; and other times I

decide to transform the entries into poems, essays, blogs, or books. As the author of nine

books, I confess that all my books began on the pages of my journals. I’ve filled volumes of

journals, which are all now stored in my closet. Who knows, maybe my children and

grandchildren will one day have an urge to peruse the pages to know what life was like for


Just after the 9/11 tragedy, I was blessed to find my grandmother’s journal, where she wrote

about being orphaned during World War I as the cholera pandemic raged. It was fascinating

to read her story. In fact, my first memoir, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s

Secret Journal, emerged out of her writings. My second memoir, Healing with Words,

emerged from my first cancer diagnosis just before 9/11. It chronicled my breast-cancer

journey and eventually evolved into a self-help book for others navigating similar


A journal is a powerful tool for healing. It’s a place to intimately express feelings, explore

secrets, and transcribe musings. The journal makes no judgments; it is free of editors, critics,

and teachers. It is the music and voice of our true emotions. In my book Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life, I discuss various types of writing and have devoted an entire chapter to journaling because I believe it’s important for finding one’s bliss, healing, and telling our stories.

The art of journal writing dates back to when our ancestors wrote on cave walls. Later, the

tenth-century Japanese court lady Sei Shonagōn kept a famous writer’s notebook in which

she recorded a miscellaneous catch-all of things that were both charming and annoying.

Now considered a classic, Shonagōn’s The Pillow Book could also be thought of as an early


Writer Anaïs Nin began journaling as a way of healing when her father left her family when

she was eleven years old. The journal became her confidant and in many ways saved her life

as she mourned this loss. Many years later, her journals were published for public


In addition to saving your life, journal writing has many additional benefits:

1) It improves communication skills.

2) It builds self-confidence.

3) It helps foster mindfulness, manifest intentions, and track our life patterns.

4) It is empowering.

5) It provides an emotional release and inspires profound insights.

6) It clarifies our feelings and thoughts.

7) It helps us cope during stressful and challenging times.

By the time we reach fifty, many of us have journaled at one point or another; however,

sometimes it’s wise to take a small refresher course. Here’s how to reignite your journaling


1) Find a quiet, uninterrupted time and place to write.

2) Choose an inspiring notebook and pen.

3) Create a centering ritual (light a candle, meditate, play music, stretch).

4) Take some deep breaths in through your nose and out from your mouth.

5) Put aside your inner critic.

6) Date your entries.

7) Begin by writing, “Right now I feel . . . ,” and see where it leads you.

8) Write nonstop for at least 15 to 20 minutes.

9) Try journaling at the same time every day.

For more information about Diana Raab and the writing tools she recommends, please visit:

Diana Raab Writing Tools

Diana Raab, MFA, PhD, is a poet, memoirist, blogger, speaker, and the award-winning author of nine books and more than 1,000 articles and poems. She frequently speaks on writing for healing and transformation.

Raab blogs for Psychology Today, The Wisdom Daily, and Thrive Global, among other publications. Her latest books are Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Program for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life and Writing for Bliss: A Companion Journal.

Her newest creative endeavor is the Deck Conversation Cards for Meaningful Storytelling, which is a terrific holiday gift and stocking stuffer. Website:

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