Journal to Memoir: Planting the Seeds for Story

Posted by Kathleen Pooler/@kathypooler

“The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings, otherwise I might suffocate.” Anne Frank from The Diary of a Young Girl: The Definitive Edition.

It all started with the pink diary I received for my eleventh birthday. It had a key so I could lock away all my deepest secrets, like what boy I had a crush on in the sixth grade or all the fun I had at the girl scout camping trip even though those half-cooked hot dogs made me yearn for home.

I could write whatever I was thinking and feeling and nobody would ever know.

Now I am writing a memoir and the whole world will know what I am thinking and feeling. I can’t help but ponder how the transition- from guarding my thoughts with a lock and key to sharing my inner and outer story so openly- happened.

For me, it happened through journaling…

I have journaled for years and never realized that all those times I had poured out my feelings onto the pages of my journal , I was planting the seeds for my memoir.

I still have the blue cloth, three-ring notebook that I created for my senior English teacher, Miss Philips back in 1964. The page dividers have pictures depicting the sections: hopes, beliefs, thoughts, ideas with varied colored plastic tabs where the white labels were inserted.

At the time, it seemed like a silly project. What did Miss Philips know? I can still see her, pencil-thin frame, always dressed in some dark-colored–grey, navy blue or black–dowdy dress or suit. Standing so straight by her desk, she never smiled or wore makeup. Her brown hair was pulled back in a tight bun and her wire-rimmed glasses dangled at the end of her nose.

What in the world would I ever do with that silly notebook?

My First Journal

My First Journal


I packed the journal when I went to nursing school and every once in a while, I’d pull it out to glance through the sections. Sometimes, I’d even jot a few thoughts down. For the most part, it lay dormant.

But, as I began my career and started out on my path to contribute to society as an adult, the pages started beckoning me.

It turned out that I did plenty with Miss Philips’s notebook and if I had the chance, I would thank her for the gift of that handmade journal which provided me with a framework to fill in my life story. What started out as an assumption in my adolescent mind that my out-of-touch teacher was wasting my time became a slowly evolving admiration for a teacher who made a lasting difference in my life…

She planted a seed that has bloomed over and over again as I have worked my way through my life challenges.

Without realizing it at the time, I was planting the seeds for my life story.


I have journaled through the heartaches of relationship failures, the searing pain of divorce, the loneliness and exhaustion of being a single parent, the terror of dealing with an alcoholic son, the heart wrenching losses of my maternal grandmother, Nan and my best friend, Judy, my own diagnosis of cancer and the illness and death of my beloved father.

The seed journal has spawned many spiral notebooks and decorative journals to accommodate my evolving thoughts and feelings; to capture my moments of need, longing, passion, creativity, my life…the moments that will matter in my memoir.

The journal tells its own story.

*The pages sit blank and patient just waiting to receive my words. As the words fall on the page, the emotions get sorted out. There is something about labeling a feeling that helps to put it into perspective.

*The feelings that grip and gouge on the inside take on a different shape on the outside.

*Knowledge is power and when one becomes clear with one’s own feelings, there is a sense of empowerment.

*When I journaled my way through my father’s 11-day illness and death, I found clarity and solace in my own words. In sharing my deepest, heartfelt grief, I received support and love in return.

Journaling has become my pathway to healing and hope and has helped me to recall, relive and reflect upon the moments and times of my life that will make up my memoir.

Thank you Miss Philips for helping me plant the seeds that have yielded a garden of stories for my memoir.

Look what is growing in my garden

Look what ‘s growing in my garden.

Here are a few journaling resources I recommend:

Amber Lea Starfire, writer and journaling mentor offers journaling prompts and writing tips through her Writing Through Life website, “helping you find meaning in life through the act of writing.

Kay Adams, a pioneer of journal therapy and author of Journal to Self hosts a radio show, Journaling for a Better Life.

Dawn Herring of JournalWriter Freelance and author of The Birthday Wall: Creating a Collage to Celebrate Your Child, hosts a weekly Twitter chat at #JournalChat where she features topics from journal writers. Thursdays 2:00 PM PST.

Julie Cameron, award-winning poet, playwright, filmmaker and author of thirty books, is best known for her work on creativity. One of her books, The Artist’s Way helped spawn a” movement that has enabled millions to achieve their creative dreams”


On February 23,2013,I will be co-facilitating a workshop in Exton,Pa, Journaling: A Voyage of Self-Discovery ,with Susan Weidener of The Women’s Writing Circle. If you are in the Philadelphia area, we’d love to have you join us.


How about you? Do you journal? If so, has it helped you find your story? I’d love to hear from you.

Please share your comments below~


Announcement: Congratulations to Debra Marrs. Your name was selected in a random drawing of commenters to receive Pamela Richards’ memoir, Singing from Silence!


Next Week: Just in time for Valentine’s Day, Memoir Author Andrea Lewis will discuss “Writing My Memoir Helped Me Find True Love.” She will give away a copy of her memoir, Dramaville: It’s not a Place; It’s a State of Mind to a random commenter.




  1. says

    Kathy, this is a wonderful post. Your writing style is so engaging.

    I have journaled on/off through the years but I was never committed until 3 years ago when my therapist gently recommended that I journal. So I gradually recommenced writing my thoughts/feelings on paper.

    Now, it’s become part of my morning ritual where I have a conversation with SELF to get in touch with what’s going on in my life. It’s a sacred time where I can just release all of my anxieties, fears, hopes and dreams.

    Journaling has become my lifeline. It’s helped me cope with so many life changes and the depression I suffered from for 19 years.

    • says

      Andrea, I know from your memoir Dramaville that journaling became your “lifeline” and I am thrilled to feature you next week as a guest. I have not established a daily routine as you have but I think it would be a worthwhile habit. I am currently re-reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and she advises Morning pages and regular artist’s dates, both ways of disciplining one’s self to connect with their own creative energies. Also, as a nurse practitioner, I often advised patients to journal through their challenges and saw how much it helped as I experienced myself. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your story. We’ll see you back here where you’ll go into more depth. :-)

  2. says

    Kathy, I didn’t realize you started journaling when you were in high school in Miss Philips’s class.
    As you know I kept a journal in Belize which I turned into my memoir, however, these days, I only seem to journal when something “different” happens, or when I need to spew out my anger and sort through my feelings. In other words, I can only journal when something triggers deep emotions within me that I need to express and sort through on paper.
    Now I understand how you are able to “remember” those feelings from your past.

    • says

      Interesting, Sonia. I tend to use my journal in the same way these days-grabbing it when I’m in the midst of a quandary or crisis but I think it is worthwhile to establish a daily ritual,too. As I commented to Andrea, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is an excellent guide for anyone wanting to tap into their creativity. The detail you provided in your memoir Freeway to Flipflops is a direct result of your journaling and a perfect example of why journaling is important. Thanks for sharing!

  3. says

    Oh Kath, this sounds so much like me…processing all the twists and turns of my life through words scrawled in spiral notebooks. My grandma, who loved to write, paint, and teach, gave me my first diary and told me to write down everything I saw and felt. She would be delighted to know where I ended up… telling stories from Switzerland.

    • says

      Your grandma was a very wise woman, Pat! Your stories from Switzerland are priceless-like going on a guided tour and you don’t even need a passport. Everyone, check Pat out if you haven’t at Thanks, as always for stopping by and sharing, Pat!

  4. Sharon Lippincott says

    Grat to see you moving to the front of the room and sharing the wealth of your experience with others face-to-face. Sounds like an exciting and uplifting day for all concerned. Brava to you and Susan.

    Sonia mentioned journaling primarily as a safety valve. BTDT. I lapse into that mode at times, and when I do, life seems to go into a spin cycle faster. I’m experimenting with writing prompts to enrich the “diary element” during smooth sailing periods or times natural passion isn’t gushing onto the page. I have a random list tucked into the back of my journal. If you’re a keyboard person, it’s even easier to make a list.

    • says

      Thanks, Sharon. I’m excited to work with Susan on this new “stage” which I know will be very enriching for me as I learn from the other women in the workshop. I know what you mean about the benefits of establishing a routine with journaling to capture not just rocky times but the smooth sailing times. I know there is journaling software out there but currently I’m using pen to paper journals. Thanks, as always, for sharing your thought-provoking perspective. Much appreciated

  5. says

    It all starts with a small journal that we receive when we’re young! For me, it was a green locking diary, with space to write for each day of the week. It started a love for journaling and writing that has stayed with me my whole life. And now, I have an online store where I offer the same stuff that always excited me as a child (and still does): writing paper, journals and diaries. Thank you for a lovely post.

    • says

      It’s nice to meet you ,Mary! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your story and website: How nice that you have been able to dedicate your love of journaling to helping other with writing tips and journaling supplies. I hope everyone checks it out.

  6. says

    Kathy, what a loving tribute to your senior English teacher! I wonder how many of those “un-cool” teachers ever realized the huge impact they were making on young lives?
    I, too, kept a diary — under lock and key, of course! When my sister finally managed to breach my privacy, I quit writing down my most secret thoughts and turned to fiction. Some would say she might have “ruined my chances” at memoir writing; I prefer to look on the bright side and think she might have done me a favor helping me find my niche!

    • says

      Yes, Debbie, I can certainly relate to “guarding all the secrets under lock and key” and the sense of violation when that was breached. But , like you say, now you are directed to write fiction. There’s no greater gift than knowing what you want to do so it looks to me like your sister really did do you a favor. :-) Thanks, as always for stopping by and sharing!

  7. says

    Kathy, great post! I love the journal that you made in high school, and how wonderful that your teacher helped you get started on a lifelong journey.

    I’ve kept journals on and off through the years since I was a young teen. I still have most of my journals. Reading through them is hard sometimes–there was a lot of pain–but I’m so grateful that I kept the books to remember the good and the bad. To remember how it was and how I felt.

    • says

      Exactly, Tina. Our journals help us recall- the good and the bad. That’s great you kept most of your journals. You are right , they can be hard to re-read. A while back, when I was in need of moving on from the pain, I threw out a bunch of my journals. I do regret doing that but I must have needed to wipe the slate clean so I have forgiven myself. I still have a stack bound journals, plus current journals so I have enough to go with and of course, I still have my original journal from Miss Philips. I appreciate your comments. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your jounral story!

  8. says

    “Now I am writing a memoir and the whole world will know what I am thinking and feeling.” This line reminded me of the very first story I had published. It was about my dog Cassie and knowing when the right time was to let her go as she was suffering from terminal bone cancer… and determining quality of life.
    I remember seeing it in print the first time in our local paper. My heart stopped and I thought, “Oh no! Now everyone will know what I am thinking and feeling.” But it all turned out to be a wonderful thing as I would come to find out hearing from others how the article helped them.
    I’m reminded of that again as my book goes out into the world later this month. At times I have butterflies in my stomach worrying what others will think… but feel stronger than ever now that all will be okay.
    I don’t journal on a regular basis, but did journal while going through life coaching ,which helped me get where I am today. Recently I also took the Artisit’s Way as I felt lost and unsure of my path after Frankie passed. Those morning pages were essential as they reaffirmed for me I was on the right path.
    Great post!!

    • says

      Oh Barbara, thank you so much for sharing your story and for reminding us all that sharing our deepest pain can often be the way we connect with others. Your stories about Cassie,Frankie and all your precious pets are genuinely heartwarming and very engaging. When we convey the depth of our pain, the reader is able to celebrate in the healing and pathway to joy. In doing so, hope is spread. There is purpose in the pain. You certainly convey this in your new memoir, Through Frankie’s Eyes. I am looking forward to featuring you in a guest post on 2/25. I’m happy to hear The Artist’s Way and the morning pages guided you through your healing. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and I appreciate your comments!

  9. says

    Kathy, Looking forward to our journaling workshop and a day of connecting with one another and other writers. . . it is amazing how we find similar threads of experience here online. To meet in person is truly a gift. I would encouage others to join us as well. We are planning a great workshop complete with buffet lunch from Wegman’s. We may not be located in sunny Florida, but our workshop’s close proximity to Valley Forge National Park makes this a special place to visit as Washington and his troops stayed there in the winter of 1777. Truly history abounds here in suburban Philadelphia.

    • says

      Susan, I feel like I’ll be returning to my roots. My Dad lived in Upper Darby when he was a child then his brother’s family lived in Bala Cynwood, the destination of our annual vacations. It will be like coming home again. I’m so excited to be working with you and the women of the Women’s Writing Circle. I just finished your remarkable anthology, Slants of Light and will send along a review soon.

  10. smita jagdale says

    Kathy, your post resonates my thoughts about keeping a journal. Great post–as always! I always used to pour out my pain in my special notebook and hide it in a drawer. Writing down was emptying a bucket full of pain and learn something new about my deficiencies. During my flight to England to be wed this guy whom I had not seen in eight years and had a very little contact in the beginning after he left India, I had so much to pour on the papers while suffering from being moved away from my dear mother–my friend and a teacher. Recently, instead of keeping a journal, I sit at one place and go deeper in my thoughts.

    • says

      Smita, I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for your comments. I remember the pain of that plane trip and leaving your beloved mother from your stories so I am happy to hear you “emptied a bucket full of pain” into a journal. Do you think you’ll ever go back to journaling again?

  11. smita jagdale says

    Wow! Yes… when we took the writing classes together,I wrote that story and you remember it so well.
    I have that itch to keep writing, but I don’t write regularly. It all depends on my health …and energy. My heart breaks to see me drifting away from that one thing I wanted to do.
    Will see.

  12. says

    Interesting that the responders here have been women only. When I wrote and published my memoir in 2012, TING AND I, I lacked journal material, but did find that having saved old letters brought back many of the incidents and thoughts that otherwise would have been lost. Coaching several other memoirists has taught me the value of materials like these that are often stored away, hard to unearth, valuable finds. I am looking forward to the information subscribing to this site will bring. Thank you.

    • says

      Dear Douglas, Welcome! I’m happy you stopped by and introduced yourself and your work. I agree, any bits of information we can gather through old letters,etc will add depth to our memoirs. I see from your impressive website,, that you are a memoir coach and mentor as well as an author. I hope everyone checks out your site as well ad your memoir Ting and I And I’m thrilled to have a male presence around “my kitchen table”,too. I’m looking forward to seeing you again.

  13. says

    I think your description of how you got started in journaling is fascinating, that there was a teacher, who you remember well, who got the idea initiated. It’s amazing how one person on our lives can create such an impact. I also appreciate the ‘seeds’ of journaling for memoir that you clarify. Many of my writing projects, whether blog posts, ideas for Refresh Journal, or other writing projects get started with journaling seeds in my entries. Journaling has so many benefits, many of which we share on #JournalChat Live.

    I do appreciate your contribution to the live chat on Thursdays, Kathy. I also appreciate your spreading the word about the chat, about me personally and my book as well. Your support is delightful and inspiring!

    I have chosen your post, Journal to Memoir: Planting the Seeds for Story, as the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 2/5/13 for all things journaling on Twitter; a link will be posted on the social networks, on my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in my weekly Refresh Journal:

    #JournalChat Live is every Thursday, 5 EST/2 PST, for all things journaling on Twitter; our topic this week is Your Journaling: Making Change.

    Thanks again for such a revealing, insightful post on journaling and memoir, for your friendship and support!

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter
    Author of The Birthday Wall: Create a Collage to Celebrate Your Child

    • says

      It has been a pleasure getting to know you through #JournalChat. It’s amazing how enriching and inspiring these twitter chats have been and I’m happy to support it. I hope others will join in. For anyone interested in participating, there is a little bit of a learning curve in the beginning but it doesn’t take long to catch on. Also using Tweetdeck or Hootsuite is necessary. I appreciate the work you are doing to promote journaling. What an honor to be chosen as #JournalChat Pick of the Day! Thank you. So glad you enjoyed my story of how I got started. I will never forget that blue cloth journal and all it led to. Thank you so much for stopping by and for your friendship and support.
      Best wishes,

  14. says

    You’ve got me beat by a decade, Kathy. My earliest diary was given to me in 1972 and also had a lock. It didn’t have much in the way of prose though, just simple recordings such as “No School today. Watched TV.” It wasn’t until I was 14 in 1974 that I graduated to an 8×11 notebook. Those were painful days. There were times I considered throwing them all away but I always hesitated and shoved the box back in a closet. I’m so glad I didn’t.

    Kudos to your teacher. What a precious gift from yesteryear. I wonder how many of your classmates kept theirs. You were wise to hold on to yours. Great post!

    • says

      Oh how I remember those painful 8X10 days, Grace. I had collected piles of them until one day out of my need to move on, as I mentioned in one of my responses, I threw them away. Yikes! So be it. But I have plenty of other journals to replace them and lots of my painful memories are still vivid enough. Suffice it to say, I do wish I had them so I can understand how thankful you are to have yours. Yes, I am forever grateful to Miss Philips and I am happy I kept that original journal. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Let me know when you’re ready to launch your memoir. I’m looking forward to hearing more about it.:-)

  15. says

    I enjoyed reading your website Kathy. I am so thankful my grandmother Elsie kept a journal 100 years ago. She also saved the vivid letters she had written her family from 1913-1916. When she died in 1987 I read her journal. I knew I had to someday publish her account of teaching in a one-room school in rural Arizona from 1913-1916. What an adventure publishing Elsie’s story has been! I feared I would never recover the investment of having the book published. I feared the interest in her story would be minimal. Yet I knew I had to publish Elsie’s story despite my fears. In less than a year my initial investment was recovered. On Amazon “Elsie- Adventures of an Arizona Schoolteacher 1913-1916″ is currently in the top 100 in print Memoirs/ Educators and Memoirs /West. In Kindle it has remained #1 in Memoirs/Educators and Memoirs/West. I never expected interest beyond Arizona. I have had readers write from Crete, Equador, New Zealand , England and all over the USA. Elsie wrote of a lifestyle that has diappeared, a tender love story and painted for readers a picture of early Arizona. Perhaps my biggest surprise has been sellling 480 copies to 2 National Parks in Arizona. They asked if it was a novel. I answered that it was taken from her letters and diary. They excitedly proclaimed “It’s interpretive history!” Journaling is “interpretive history” and it can sell and it can be exciting.

    • says

      Dear Barbara, it is so nice to meet you. I really appreciate you stopping by and sharing your delightful story of your grandmother’s journals. What a treasure and I am not the least bit surprised that your publication has done so well. It is a lesson to all of us of the importance of preserving the stories of our times. Now, I will check out your website at http;:// Hope to see you again!

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