Keeping a journal has been life-changing. If I have to be brutally honest with you (and myself), putting my thoughts on paper allowed me to see that I might have been a big and obnoxious asshole ten years ago. So what happened when I went back and read what I did? I adjusted, I changed.
The first time I decided to put my thoughts on paper was about fifteen years ago, on a cold morning after I pulled an old-nighter at the restaurant I used to work. I came home, felt like the shittiest piece of shit in the lower Westside of the city, and decided to have a Marlboro red for breakfast and some delicious Mexican cookies.
Seeing that that wasn’t enough, I took an old notepad I had under the couch I used as a bed, a pen, my dirty laundry, and went to the laundry room downstairs. I didn’t know what I wanted to write. I just knew I had to write. I felt particularly insignificant at that moment due to homesickness. I had been living in the USA for three months, the girlfriend I had left behind called to say, “Oops, I’m sorry, I cheated on you,” and I had a job that made me truly miserable.
The only worst outcome of having the kind of breakfast I had that morning is to have nothing at all. And I felt I was close to that point.
But something happened as I started writing (and crying, who the fuck are we kidding?). The words began to flow, and the otherwise displeasing tumbling of the clothes became music to my ears. I went in detail, scribbling down information on the only subject I knew well: myself. I wrote about how I got there, at that moment in time.
And I haven’t stopped.
What I collected on my three first years in this country can be found on ‘My First Transgressions,’ the fictionalized memoir of my life. I am working on the sequel right now, but I also have another WIP (work in progress).
I’ve done a lot of writing (and less crying), enjoying every minute of it as I grow (up) as a person. I’ve learned that the wrong and repetitive choices I made in the past were some hidden psychological patterns that needed some readjusting. I’ve seen that certain behaviors and mannerisms I gravitated toward did not help me reach any goals I planned for myself.
I have shaped my life.
It is common knowledge that some people have a hard time taking criticism from others, perhaps on account of our collective human imperfections. However, when you look at what you have put on paper and see how wrong you had been for, I don’t know, laughing at some fat kid who staggered and fell down the hill that time you went hiking, you say to yourself, “What if that happens to me?”
Keeping a journal allows you to see things about you, sometimes before anybody else. For example, when I first started to think seriously about becoming a writer, I thought, “What am I going to write about?” I looked at my interests, the things I grew up with, and realized that I had some inclination toward horror fiction.
I started writing my first horror stories and was pleased with the results. Later, I noticed I also had some leaning on the direction of sarcasm and satire, maybe due to the many day jobs I’ve had during the years, and began work on stories that had nothing to do with the macabre (Like this one).
All of the above, and some many other things you can get from journaling. After that, you can do anything; put it in a book and sell it, but make sure you change names to avoid future lawsuits when you are rich and famous. You can also keep it under the couch or up in the ceiling, collecting dust and spiderwebs. You can do anything, but the most important thing, you can shape your life in the process.