SPECIAL FEATURE ARTICLE: “Inspiration For You to Keep a Personal Journal - Insights from Deborah Thompson Who Has Been Journaling for 30 Years…”

Doreene Clement, creator of, “The 5 Year Journal” mentions these benefits of keeping a journal:

  • Reduces stress
  • Sets goals
  • Organizes
  • Helps focus
  • Can improve well-being
  • Makes time for you
  • Creates a personal reminder
  • Becomes a treasured keepsake

From a family history point of view, creating a treasured keepsake alone is worth the effort. But today, we will go much deeper. There are many other reasons why you should be keeping a journal of your own.

Are you scared to start? Are you not exactly sure what to write?

Doreen also shares a quick start way to start journal:

“On a piece of paper, write your answers to the question, “Which three words best describe how you are feeling right now?” When you are done writing, you have just journaled.

Writing about whatever is important to you right then and there is journaling. Tracking what you have planted in your garden is journaling. Writing about the family holidays together, or coffee with a friend is journaling. There is no set amount of words or pages that constitutes a journal. There can be a set theme or topic in your journal, but there does not have to be. I have written about soup, the weather, myself, my friends, and my dreams for the future, in my journal. A journal, which is the same as a diary, is a place where you choose to store what is important to you.”

Journaling is a topic we are revisiting in this lesson. I’d like to point out these resources that I’ve put together in the past:

On the Treasure Maps Web site, take a look at “Tips and Advice for Keeping a Journal” at: http://www.amberskyline.com/treasuremaps/journaling.html

Here you will see links to even more articles that will help you. Look for these links to several other articles from the above Web page. They include:

  • “Journaling”
  • “Why Should You Journal”
  • “Personalize Your Journals”
  • “Journaling - A Tool For Your Spirit”
  • “How to Create Your Own Genealogy Blog in Less Than 5 Minutes”

There is plenty of helpful information that will help you with your journal writing.

Make no mistake, I’d like to help motivate and inspire you to start, or re-start, keeping a journal. What I’d really like to do is get you to try it for a while so that you can feel the “magic” of what happens when you do.

Here’s a small example…

Many years ago, I wound up in a creative writing class in high school. Our big task was to keep a journal and write in it often. It was a huge part of the grade in that class, so you did it or you didn’t pass.

The nice thing about it, though, was that there was no ridged format. You did have to put pen or pencil to paper, but you could do ANYTHING that you wanted. You could write poems, draw, write fiction, write upside down, anything. Often, the students would write their life experiences down.

And you could (but did not have to) share some of your journal entries with others by reading excerpts in class.

It was fun. It was revealing. It was a great release for the heart and soul to keep the journal. That’s when I became converted to journal writing and that’s why I would really like for you to give it a try. Even if it is only for a month or two (because then you will be hooked).

Now, here are some wonderful insights and tips from a seasoned journaler…

Deborah Thompson with some of her many journals. 

Deborah Thompson has been journaling for 30 years. She started “just taking notes” about things that were happening in her life and was soon filling up book after book.

Deborah's journals 

My son and I interviewed Deborah and saw her giant suitcase that contained many of her journals she has written over the years. There was such a variety of sizes and colors of books. Inside, there were writings, drawings and more in a tapestry of colors on the pages of these journals.

Here are some of the questions we asked Deborah. Some of the answers are actual quotes and other parts are paraphrased:

*Question: What kinds of journals do you like?

“People buy me journals as gifts. Sometimes I buy my own.”

Note: Most “official” bound journals that you can buy do have lines in them. However, it turns out that Deborah prefers journals with no lines. Her feeling on this was surprising to me. She said:

“A lined journal is restrictive and confining to me. Whereas if I have no lines, I can draw, I can write upside down, I can write in circles and I can write here and there. I lined book tells me how big I am supposed to be writing. But maybe I don’t want to write that big or small. Maybe I want to write big today. Well, a line will tell me how I have to do it, so to me, that is immediately constrictive. Generally speaking, journals have lines in them. So I look everywhere for books that don’t have lines in them.

It is very free. I can write in columns, or like I said, in many ways.”

Writing in one of Deborah's journals 


*Question: How often do you journal?

“Well, if I look in any book, I don’t write every single day, because not every day has a meaningful or eventful happening. But sometimes I’m on a roll and I love what’s going on and I’m excited and I want to put it down. So, sometimes I will write every day for a while. And I like to write at the end of the day.”

*Question: Why don’t you journal on a laptop?

“It’s freedom of expression, I think. I like my pen to move across the page. It’s fun for me to write. I AM my laptop.”

Another example of writing in Deborah's journals 


Deborah shared some of the things she uses her journals for:

  • A record of stories for all kinds or experiences. - It is very healthy to “get it out” and put in a book..
  • For taking notes.
  • Journals are a great referral system. She wites on the top of the page where she is at the time (this is very important as a reference tool) and or course, the date.
  • In the front or back of a book, Deborah reserves a few pages for quotes or even recipes.
  • You can press a flower in the journal.
  • Notes when traveling (she uses a small book as a travel journal).
  • Write down a poem that impressed her or a poem she wrote.
  • Example, her first airplane flight out of the country (to Kenya).

Note: In Guatemala she didn’t have a journal so she got an unlined notebook from a school supply store and got postcards to glue to the cover.

  • To write down things that she was grateful for. Gratitude lists.
  • Notes from a book she is reading.
  • She is a writer. She will use her journals to write those stories and to use in talks.
  • Has favorite pens, but likes to use pens that don’t bleed through the pages.

Those are some of the ways that Deborah uses her journals. Another thing that was interesting was when Deborah told me, “A new phase in my life is a new journal.”

This makes a lot of sense to me. We all go through different phases and changes in our lives. And if you travel, having a special journal (a small book) is a good thing to have. You can even have more than one journal going at a time.

Also, some journals wind up with some blank pages at the end (and that’s okay) because she goes into a new phase in her life. For example, she was keeping a journal while she was in Alaska.

Deborah also keeps a scrapbook of sorts in addition to a journal, especially when she is traveling. They are very colorful and wonderful.

In Deborah’s travels, she has spoken to different groups on journaling. One important thing that she shares with them is this story, which I will paraphrase…     

Deborah is a nurse. One day as she was heading to work, she was attacked and viscously stabbed several times and left for dead.

What you should know about Deborah is that she was a marathon runner, dancer and often cycled to work. She was in now the hospital, very sick, partially paralyzed and in a lot of pain.

While in the hospital, a friend mailed her an article called “Have gratitude in all thine afflictions.”

And even though it was painful, physically and mentally, every day she made a gratitude list in her journal.

She wrote down things that she was grateful for. There was so much pain, and it was hard to move, but she made her self do it.

She wrote these lists to God - “Dear Father, I am so thankful for…”

For example, “My eyes to see the person who visited me today” or “My sister in law helped me get a shower.”

Almost five months to the day of writing her daily gratitude lists, Deborah had a presonal breakthrough. At the bottom of that day’s gratitude list, she wrote:

“A pivotal point in this new life.” She told me, “And remember that depression and despair were ready to grab me at any moment and having gratuities keep that away. I refused to go that route.I didn’t want to lay there in misery.”

“I realize that my life has started all over again. I have thoroughly cleaned my slate and purifying everything. I’m actually thankful and glad that this has happened. I was given another chance to come close to God. Now I can be the best instrument possible. I am so excited and happy…and it goes on.

At that moment when this happened to me in my life, being disabled became much easier. Something switched in me. This is just and new life. And this was through journaling.”

So here are some insights from someone who has been journaling a long time.

Will YOU give journaling a try? Grab an inexpensive notebook, or a book without lines (sketchbooks are great for this). Just get something that you will not be afraid to write on and really let loose.

Write anything. Just write…

Of course, your journals will be a treasure for your family when you are gone, but, they will be a great help for you now as you record the things that are important in your life.

Please consider it.

Robert Ragan