“Everyone reaches, but not everyone touches. . . . Reaching is instinctive, but for the most part touching is learned. For in touching we give and receive, talk and listen, share ourselves and see into another. And not everyone can do that or will do it.”—Gail MacDonald
The purpose of this article is to hit a nerve—a place deep down inside. You may or may not be aware of it, but I want to touch your journaling nerve. I’m going to poke and prod and help you find the writer within, and the writer within your child. If you don’t like to write or don’t like the methods or curriculum you’ve tried, I hope to persuade you that family journaling can be fun and rewarding. And if you already write with or about your family, I hope to encourage you to continue because “now” is the time to record your life experiences while they’re happening.
Have you ever thought about how extraordinary your life is? On any given day, no one will have the same experiences you do or even begin to see them from your perspective. You are “uniquely”’ you. And every day is filled with life stories you won’t remember unless you “keep”’ them in a journal. It’s a proven fact that children value writing more in a family where the parents and the siblings frequently write, so how about journaling together? You might think that’s a new idea, but actually it’s centuries old.
Recently, I had to study Louisa May Alcott’s life in-depth for an article I was writing for our magazine, The Girlhood Home Companion. When I began my research, I was pleasantly surprised to see that she had extensively journaled throughout her lifetime. Both of Louisa’s parents journaled, so growing up in a literary atmosphere, she and her sisters were also required to keep journals.
Starting around the age of 10, Louisa kept all the poetry she wrote, letters from her mother, accounts of the lessons her father taught, lyrics of hymns, observances of everyday moments, and the profits she earned from sewing, teaching, and selling books. It was thrilling to read the firsthand account of her early home life and track her literary career leading up to the writing of Little Women.
Louisa’s mother, Abigail Alcott (Marmee), also wrote in Louisa’s journal (a practice we call interactive or shared journaling today). Upon one occasion she planted these seeds of vision:
Your handwriting improves very fast. Take pains and do not be in a hurry. I like to have you make observations about our conversations and your own thoughts. It helps you to express them and to understand your little self. Remember, dear girl, that a diary should be an epitome of your life. May it be a record of pure thought and good actions, then you will indeed be the precious child of your loving mother.
Until she authored Little Women, Louisa had mostly written “pot boilers”’ (sensational thrillers written to provide a livelihood for herself and her family). It wasn’t until she was asked to write a novel for girls that she was able to draw upon the unique childhood experiences she shared growing up in a poverty-stricken household with three sisters. Louisa completed Part One of her popular novel in a month’s time. I believe the reason she was able to write so fast is that her journal held a plethora of detailed accounts of past experiences to draw upon. Originally, she thought the beginning chapters were dull, but being quite surprised at her success she said:“ It reads better than I expected. We really lived most of it, and if it succeeds, that will be the reason for it.” In Louisa May Alcott’s case, writing from what she knew brought her literary success.
Journal writing was highly valued in centuries past. Today it is viewed more as an option and almost becoming nonexistent in this electronic age, but most serious writers have an insatiable hunger to creatively record their lives on paper. Writing from what you know is the most authentic writing you will ever produce, and writing together as a family heightens the experience.
We all have to equip our children to write—or so we think, but what if they’re already equipped and it’s just a matter of unleashing the writer within? Like the ability to breathe, what if the ability to write is part of the inward nature that comes from being human—because God is a writer and we are created in His image? Writing is a gift from God, given without partiality, but sometimes it takes a little insight from the Lord to release the writer within.
Can journal writing progress to other kinds of writing? Absolutely! A journal is a sacred place where you can explore thoughts, ideas, and perceptions, while preserving the everyday moments of your life and the experiences that are uniquely yours—it should be an epitome of your life! And who knows, maybe you have a best-seller lurking in your daily archives!
By encouraging your child to write freely about his personal experiences, you are laying a foundation for a love of writing, and somehow, in the act of journaling, the everyday moments become profound and the writer’s pen an instrument of skill. In closing, my prayer for you and your children is found in Psalm 45:1: “My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer” (NASB).
Jill and Robert Novak have been married 33 years. They are the parents of five precious children: Claire (26), Eric (21), Elizabeth (17), Anna (13), and Nicholas, their fourth child who
was born in 1998 with the genetic syndrome Trisomy 13. Because of the powerful impact of his short life, Jill began to record God’s faithfulness to their family in a journal, an act which eventfully led her to establish a family publishing company called Remembrance Press. Besides creating a variety of art and writing products for homeschoolers, Remembrance Press is probably best known for their flagship publications, The Girlhood Home Companion Magazine and The Gift of Family Writing – a delight directed approach that inspires children to love to write by recording their life stories as they happen. To view these and other inspirational products visit Jill’s website at:www.remembrancepress.com