While I’ve kept journals of all sorts most of my life, it took me a long time to realize the value of them isn’t just in writing them. I started journaling to record my experiences, but I’ve found them even more valuable since I’ve developed the habit of re-reading them.

For years, I’ve kept a project journal for each novel I am writing. It’s how I get settled before I start work, but also a good place to explore plot problems and jot down new ideas I’ve come up with. One day, by accident, I discovered I’d already had the brilliant new idea that I’d just thought of. It was right there in my journal from several months before but I’d forgotten all about it. I decided I would do a monthly review of my project journal to keep this from happening again.

That practice has proven invaluable to me. Both my writing and my life is better because I take the time to re-read my journals. I extract useful ideas and insights about my writing and sometimes even find solutions to problems that have nothing to do with my work. Time spent reviewing my journals pays off big.

I’ve just had the same revelation regarding my nature journals. Last month, I filled an entire journal and this past week, I took the time to make an index for it. The indexing process required me to review the entire journal, and the discoveries I made about myself and my journaling process were just as important to me as the information I gained from the nature journaling experiences recorded in it.

Reviewing my journal gave me the opportunity to discover what is working and what isn’t, and to think about what I want to try next with my nature journaling.

Here are a few things I learned from reviewing my nature journal:

I’ve done more than I realize. I remember the exciting animal moments like the great blue heron eating the fish in my backyard, but I forget how many things I’ve learned about Canada geese. I know I’ve studied lots of birds, but I’ve also made many interesting discoveries about plants. I’ve also watched more videos and taken more classes than I would have guessed.

A memorable moment!

I fill every page to the very edge. If I want to have margins, I will have to change my habits. I have made templates to help me make boxes on the pages and I’ve started making two columns when I know my page is going to have a lot of text, but there’s more room for improvement here.

The writing on these pages goes so close to the edge, it’s hard not to accidently crop words out.

Ordinary backyard plants are as amazing as exotics from the tropics. It’s easy to think I need to travel to nature journal, but two of my most exciting plant entries are about the bindweed and the grass right outside my back door.

I learned so much from looking at some simple weeds.

I want to find ways to improve readability of my messy pages. When I am journaling fast, I wind up with scrawls all over the place, making my pages hard to understand. I’m going to study how other people tag and title their pages to see if I can find something I can add after a session to make my pages easier to parse.

There’s lots of information about lots of different things on these pages, but I need to find ways to make my topics more obvious.

I need to keep experimenting with ways to color my pages. I love color, but I’m struggling to include it in my journal. Colored pencil can transfer to opposite pages, so it’s time to try watercolor and see if I can tolerate it on non-watercolor paper.

That green smear on the left hand page is from the leaf on the right one.

Considering how much I learned from this process, I’m thinking I should start reviewing my journals more frequently. Quarterly, perhaps, or maybe even monthly. Whatever the interval, there’s no question I will be re-reading my journals in the future. There’s so much to learn by doing it.

Do you review your journals regularly? What have you learned from re-reading them?

4 thoughts on “Why You Should Re-read Your Journals”

  1. Every once in a while I will pick up one of my old diaries/journals and start re-reading. Sometimes it is really wonderful reminiscing and re-living good memories. Other times, I have had uncomfortable realizations, such as seeing some unhealthy relationships for what they really were years after the fact… I have not been very good at keeping up with my journals lately, maybe re-reading would inspire me to do so!

    1. I know how you feel. Journals from difficult times can be really hard to revisit, but I believe they all have something to teach us.

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