Spying, Journals, and Obsessive Habits: Three Reasons You Should Write

July 15, 2013 Kristance Harlow
My first journal, circa 1996

I have kept journals since I was a kid and Harriet the Spy came into my life, I read the book and watched the movie (about a dozen times). My first journal starts with “Kristance The Spy” on July 4, 1996. Wow, seventeen years ago! All of my handwritten journals from 1996-2009 were spared from the fire, as well as my computer entries from 2005-2009 because my mom had been storing them since I left for Britain (thanks Mama Harlow). That’s what you call luck. We don’t have to get into how I had my own custom made Harriet the Spy kit, if you’ve ever seen the movie, I basically had everything she did, only it fit way more awkwardly around my waist. A backpack would really have been a much better choice.

Harriet The Spy also circa 1996
For as long as I can remember I’ve always discovered something I liked and gotten really into it. I saw the movie Ever After: A Cinderella Story more times than I can count and I am sure that I could still recite the whole movie word for word. To this day I have two favorite TV shows that I routinely rewatch all the seasons when I’ve got nothing to do. Favorite song? Forget about it, I’ll be listening to that more times than the radio DJs replayed “Call Me Maybe” in 2012.
1996, I think that’s supposed to
be my mom I should have
become an artist
My first journal entry says, “Me and my sister Megan are going to wrestle. Me and Megan won. Joe took dad’s glasses off…Dad wanted to shave his head. Mom, Dad, and Megan were laughing their heads off…Megan traded me a pen for my pencil. I got the pencil back.” As you can see, I was definitely one of those child prodigies who could have published a book. *Cue laughter* Although I did write “Mabey (sic) I’m going to be a writer instead of a doctor.” It’s insightful since the doctor possibility is definitely off the table. If you have anything written from when you were a kid, please read it immediately, rereading your childhood thoughts from when you were nine is hilarious.
What were your inspirations as a kid? Have any of them carried on throughout your life?
I never thought about writing as a career, nor did I think it was something that was a part of my identity. It was so second nature to journal that I didn’t analyze my reasons for doing it. I realize now that writing is my way of being honest, open, and creative. It’s the best way to share because you can edit what you’re saying before you say it…unlike when you get too excited about a topic and start stuttering and confusing everyone because you’re talking so fast (which has never happened to me).
For me writing has served different purposes, but my most personal writing is a direct reflection of my state of mind. When I went through my preteen years, I would write about the latest gossip between my friends. Gossip when you are 11 means this, “Codie asked me out. I said yes. 10 min later he dumped me, he said it was because I wasn’t his type. I like computers, I’m not athletic enough, and I’m smarter than him. Well I will not change my I.Q. for a dimwitted porkchop!” (1998)
Here are the three reasons I’ve been a writing fiend for the last 17 years, and why it’s not likely to stop anytime soon.

1. To Rant and Rave

That’s a lot of ranting.

Having a journal is the perfect place to rant, complain, and bitch about life. It’s a nonjudgmental place to say whatever you want. By putting pen to paper and thoughts to words, you can release your tension in a healthy way. You can go off on a tangent about anything you want, rant away, no one will be there to piss you off or argue with you.

Your journal is also a place to talk about yourself, it is all about you. You can write whatever you damn well please because it’s not for anyone. There are no goals when you journal, there are no restrictions either. You can rave about yourself as much as you want. You can cover the pages bragging about yourself, your relationship, your job, whatever you want. Who else will listen to you obsess over your latest crush? Or complain about how much you hate your new hair cut? And while you may want to tell everyone about the totally realistic dream you had last night, not everyone wants to know, but your journal does!

2. To Remember

It is a little hard to remember it when you
can’t read your own handwriting…

I have a terrible memory, I mean, I forget where I park my car in small parking lots. My mom and I spent a good 20 minutes looking for her lotion in her apartment the other day, later that night, we saw that it had been on her vanity the whole time. We had looked there. Apparently the can’t-find-what-is-in-front-of-your-face is hereditary. Generally speaking, I am a story person and not a fact person. I have a First Class Honours Masters degree in Archaeology, but if you think I could tell you a whole bunch of facts on history you’d be wrong. Don’t ask me for dates or names, ask me for theories and the whole picture. The same applies to my life memories. I don’t always remember everyone’s names, or exactly how specific events unfolded in my life. My journal knows though. I can go back to almost any year and find out exactly how I saw something happen.

I went through phases where I didn’t write at all, but I’ve been pretty consistent with it my whole life. Point being, that now I can look back and remember all those events. I filled six journals when I lived in India, and I was only there for a summer. I have a journal from traveling to Ireland filled with my own notes as well as every brochure and map I got while I was there. So you can be sure all my stories I write about traveling are true, because I wrote it down, obsessively.

3. To Be Honest

For me, writing is when I am most honest. I don’t disguise myself. Particularly in my journals, I’ve been looking at my old journals and cringed re-reading some things that I wish I had never written down. Total cringe-worthy confessions. More than that, it forces me to face myself. I can’t hide from my rawest emotions when they are staring at me in black and white.

It’s also a safe space, it’s a place you can confide in. When you can’t find the words. In some of my most difficult times I would write to myself about what was happening. It forced me to come to some very painful realizations and to make some life changing (and saving) decisions. However, be careful if you are in an abusive situation, so that your abuser does not find your journal. While writing is for you, it is only that way if no one else reads it, an abuser will use anything you write against you and as a further reason to cause harm. It also can serve as your lifeline to keep a “secret log” of abuse so that you both have proof of the full extent of the abuse so your abuser cannot minimize it, and to remind yourself what’s really going on.

I used to have a very difficult time talking to people about feeling sad or confronting someone about an issue, so I would write about it. When I had no where to turn, I could turn to my journal. It helped me learn to rely on myself and it also taught me how to express myself. Now, when I get upset with someone, I can more easily differentiate between myself overreacting and an issue that I ought to address.

Now I’m utilizing writing to share with people. Writing is no longer something I need just for myself, it’s a communication tool.
What ways do you express yourself? Have you ever thought about writing and stopped yourself because you didn’t think you were good enough? What if you approached writing with the mindset that it’s not for anyone but you, and maybe someday when you felt ready you could share?
Write away, it’s the cheapest therapy I’ve ever had. Need advice on how to start? Comment below!
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  1. Rose L on July 16, 2013 at 2:44 am

    I used to keep journals from the time we adopted our son and wrote all the things I felt, witnessed, what he did, what he said and all that happened.<br />

    • Kristance Harlow on July 16, 2013 at 12:07 pm

      That is a very cool way to journal, to write about someone else especially a child, would be interesting if a parent wrote about their child and their child kept a journal as well! Wonder how different they would write about events.

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