Chicago — When you work professionally as a journalist or content creator, most of the writing you do in your life is likely for your job.
That’s been increasingly true for me as I’ve journeyed through the workforce. Features, profiles, columns and news stories have reigned supreme in my writing world, a far cry from the reason I picked up a pen in the first place — to write about my life and to pen whatever thoughts or feelings came to mind. But amid the demand for new content in addition to a limited amount of energy, time and patience, I often lose touch with that self-reflective writing practice even though I know I shouldn’t.
I started journaling in grade school for an English assignment and it quickly turned into a pastime. Back then, my pages read more like reports than anything else. They outlined what I did that day, how I played with my sister, the color of my shirt or what mom made for dinner. But through high school and college, the practice turned into something more. My entries became an outlet for exploring the themes in my life, a place where I could write my own history and reflect on my own life experiences. One day I’d write about lessons I learned from something I went through at school and another saw me coming up with ideas to improve my writing, my interviewing and my reporting skills.
Beyond serving as a way to express myself and bring me closer to my dreams, my journal pages also became a place to heal. I’d cope with losing my grandma, strained relationships and depression in a way that helped me move forward. Even if some issues didn’t have a neat conclusion, the act of writing felt like an important step in learning from painful situations.
In 2019 and 2020, things started to change really fast in my life and those changes seemed to numb my ability to reflect on them. In addition to squaring off with a global pandemic, I graduated college, started my career, moved out of my parents house and became consumed with being good in my professional roles. I spent less time figuring out my place in the world through journaling and more time pondering article leads and nut grafs. Meanwhile, dust accumulated on my journals. Pages remained empty - my history unwritten.
Fast forward to today, and I still haven’t been able to get my journaling back to a pre-pandemic, pre-graduation level. As I’m busy with interesting work profiles or features, I can still feel that something is missing. I write about these thought provoking people, topics and issues that keep my attention as long as my deadlines allow. I experience milestones and hardships in my life. I notice certain patterns along the way. Then, I keep it all inside, knowing it doesn’t belong there and that writing about it all could help me understand ideas I think I already know.
That’s why, starting today, I’m aiming to make my journaling practice more of a priority and I suggest others like me do the same. I’d argue that you can learn just as much from it as the other forms of writing you do.
Noah Johnson (he/him/his) is a Chicago-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter: @noahwritestoo.
Edited by NaTyshca Pickett