My Most Valuable & Destructive Physical Possession

I’ve been keeping a journal off and on ever since I was about 12 years old. The earliest journals, written in hand, survive.

During high school, for a brief period, I switched to disk, and promptly lost every disk by the time I graduated. So I got smarter, and started a habit of only journaling by hand.

A recent discussion with friends sparked the question, “What is your most valuable physical possession?” (I think we were talking about e-books vs. physical books—and that I would have no problem getting rid of every last book on my shelves if I could get a digital copy with my annotations.)

I knew the answer right away, though I was half-ashamed to admit it: my journals.

It seems a strange ego problem to so highly value one’s own solipsistic (and too often angst-filled) notes on life. As an adult, though, my journals have also started to include bits of ephemera, memorabilia.

I rarely go back to old journals, except when maudlin. Or when seeking threads of thought (patterns) that span years and years, a glimpse into some core self or deeply held direction, if such a thing exists at all.

But the biggest thing they’ve taught me is how stupid I can be, how I can get stuck in little loops, chasing my own tail … all the while consciously hoping I’ll snap out of it. It is pathetic to observe one’s past self despair at a continued despair. I marvel at the unnecessary angst. I spot horrible mistakes that I even wrote about as mistakes, as they happened.

The journals become symbols—motivations—to act without angsting so much, and to stop churning the past.

Now that I’ve identified something in my life as being-too-important, I have an urge to destroy its presence and power (and since I’m still driven to journal, to burn future entries as soon as I’ve finished with them). They are an outlet for, or a release from, delusions of the mind; they are not pointing the way forward.

Posted in Growing Up, Life Philosophy.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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I lost all of my earlier journals because of moving. Now I started again when my grand-daughter was born five years ago. What I’ve been doing is painfully writing my story; many times I would just stop and cry. Reading just about everything you posted, you have given me courage. Just wanted to say thank you.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Debbie Ridpath Ohi

I’m been keeping a journal for over 40 years now. My first one had flowers on it and had a tiny lock and a tiny key. I poured out my heart about friendship angst and schoolgirl crushes, but then got so embarrassed about what I had written that I put the diary in a plastic bag and buried it in our family’s backyard. I tried to find it years later, but with no luck. I’ve gone through all sizes and types of print journals over the years. They’ve been with me through wedding stress and joy, the births of my… Read more »

Jean Wise
Jean Wise

I am a long time journal keeper and would like you rush to save them! I even have over 60 years of my great Aunt Anna’s journals – quite a legacy. I fully believe my kids will read them some day so keep that in mind but would say I am 99% honest in them. Most of my writings our my spiritual musings, hopes, dreams, discernment. I do go back and reread them with a highlighter periodically to see trends, lessons, and reminders. I am often amazed how many journalers there are out there. heard this a long time ago:… Read more »

Joanne Tombrakos

I’ve been journaling since they called it a diary and it had a lock and key on it!
I have a box of them in my closet that I rarely look at, although did this past winter when I was researching my novel. I think they provide great material for new story. For that alone they are worth keeping! However, if you must part with them I suggest a huge bonfire of release under a new moon!

Margaret Duarte

I’ve been keeping journals since my college days and still have every one. In fact, I refer to them all them time. They are full of story ideas, poems, and yes, “solipsistic notes on life.” Next to my family photo albums, they are probably my most valuable “physical” possession. Each morning, I sit down with a cup of coffee, the newspaper, a short inspirational read of some kind (currently Science of Mind magazine), and my journal. I’ve plotted out all four of my novels this way, wrote out dialogue, descriptions, complete scenes, exposition, lots of “skiff” writing that has become… Read more »

Darrelyn Saloom

Oh, Jane, don’t throw them away. Deirdre’s diary has been invaluable while writing her memoir. So many details she would have forgotten. It’s not a diary, it’s a treasure trove of memories. I think the urge to destroy its presence fortifies my belief that you need to keep the journals. Or send them to me. I’ll store them for you. Seriously, store them and do whatever it takes to fight Resistance (go back and read my blog post). You may need them one day.


[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Darrelyn Saloom, cynthia martin. cynthia martin said: Oh yes RT @ficwriter RT @JaneFriedman My Most Valuable & Destructive Physical Possession (I vote she keep the journals.) […]


Jane, I so relate to your post. My first diary had a wild sixty’s color scheme. I hid it so well I couldn’t find it for a year and by then I’d lost the key and had to break it open.

Bud Caddell

The deeper I get into a single journal, the more useful I find flipping through the pages rather than writing new ones. Those loops, destructive patterns, and the like are important to discover, and journals suss them out rather well. But like most coping mechanisms, the power of journaling ebbs and flows. I say, put them away, and come back to them when you need them.

Toby Neal

I don’t blame you a bit. I’ve been journaling for about as long, and while I don’t want my kids reading them when Im gone, they are the footprints of my own journey. Good for laughs and a few tears at the different phases, and they really truly help me rememeber things I’d have forgot without a record of it…like the year I worked full time, did an internship, and finished my Masters while raising teenagers. I literally don’t remember anything from that time, my journal reminds me how I survived it. And by doing so, makes everything else Im… Read more »


I had a journal when I was 9 and through some weird events of a cleaning spree an aunt found it and read all my deepest thoughts to her other 9 sisters. From then on a journal was kept for just ideas. I have kept three journals in the past 17years. They functioned as plans and thoughts vault nothing more – I tried to not be emotional. On some days I feel so sad not having that haven but I assure myself that it’s for the best, making sure the paper sheets have no power over me. Life happens and… Read more »


Jane, this post rings so true to me. I’ve kept journals at certain times of my life, usually when I’m going through a lot of upheaval and need more time mulling than friends or even a good therapist wants to give! It’s healing, to get the feelings out, but I can’t stand to read them even a week later. The ritual of writing things down and then burning them is very appropriate for journals, I think.


[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jane Friedman and Nashville P. Library, Toby Neal. Toby Neal said: RT @JaneFriedman: I'm a long-time journaler, but sometimes have doubts about how much good it does. <great blog entry! […]

Elissa Malcohn

Part of my journal collection is pictured with commentary here: My first journal notebook dates to age six (I still have it!). Jane, I especially identify with your comment about saving entries for future research and writing material. I’ve generated now-published pieces, fiction and nonfiction, from old journal entries. Those notebooks contain my “raw data,” for better or for worse. Every few years or so I catch up on typing the entries, which give me electronic backups that are much easier to search through. They include scanned pages of file formats so old I couldn’t convert them to newer… Read more »


I am a long-time journaler too… My first diary featured “Snoopy” on the cover and also had a lock on it! I just wanted to share something that can put your journal material to good creative use. Have you ever heard of the show “Mortified”? It is a live show (very well produced) that features adults reading from their childhood journals, diaries, letters, etc. They have shows in multiple cities. You can check it out here: