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Illustration by Sidra Dahhan

One day, all my words escaped and I began to write

I have had many journals, but for every dull entry I have, there are hundreds more blank pages.

Mar 6, 2023

I always had a hard time journaling as a kid. I would crack open an empty book, pop open an inky black pen, and freeze.
Sometimes I would get as far as the opening. “Dear diary….” Sometimes I would try being more personal. “Hey, it’s me again.” Or I would just write the date and get straight into it. Next, I would apologize for not writing more, for breaking old promises of journaling consistently. Then, the manufactured emotion in my words would slowly, painfully, drain away. All that would come out was a dry account of my day.
“Today I went to school. Math was kind of interesting. We did fractions and stuff. Then I had lunch. I bought food which was okay but home food is better. I sat with Fay and the rest, which is always funn. Not much else reallllllly happened. Soooo yea, that was my day byeeeee.”
No matter how many e’s I added for emphasis, there was no hiding the glaring reservations I had toward revealing my true feelings.
I could not understand the allure of journaling, but I was determined to keep doing it. I had heard that getting into a writing routine makes one a better writer. And if I, as an eight, ten, twelve year old, was so set on a future career as an author, I needed to learn how to do that.
So I wrote. I trudged through muddy entries for a day or two before fading away. I would “forget” to write, then feel too embarrassed to return to my abandoned journal. I would get a new one a year or two later, then write a self gratuitous piece about “how sorry” I was to have not written in a while and resolve to never stray again. I promised to commit this time. Then the cycle would repeat.
I have had many journals, but for every dull entry I have, there are hundreds more blank pages.
I thought my problem was starting things — it was something that constantly plagued me. From short stories to essays, I dreaded the beginning. It is why I stopped writing for years, convincing myself that I was suffering from an incurable writer’s block.
However, over time, I have come to realize that I was the one, in fact, blocking my own writing. I was self censoring, silencing myself. My complicated relationship with beginnings was only a symptom of that.
I think what I struggled with was getting emotional in a vulnerable, open space. The last thing I wanted was someone coming across my journal, reading my entries and seeing me. Seeing how weak I was, or annoying, or cold, or awful. It terrified me to have a written account of my mind that anyone could access at any time.
Growing up, I heard people around me saying things like “be careful what you publish online, it stays there forever” or “be careful what you say in public, say the wrong thing and it sticks forever.” Maybe that is true, but I overly internalized that sentiment. I let that run my life and permeate through my writing. I was so afraid of representing myself wrong, in a way that was out of my control, that journaling itself became an embodiment of those fears.
I wanted to be safe, eternally objective, and uncontroversial. I wanted to be another person in the crowd.
Eventually, I stopped trying to journal. I thought that was the end of my life as a writer. It was time to forge a new path and let go of the constant frustrations I had with journaling and not being able to write the way I wanted. It was time to emerge from my cage and express myself in other ways. Through theater, art and music. This, unbeknownst to me at the time, was just what I needed. While I wish I had not abandoned my writing so easily, this abandonment was what eventually freed me.
Years later, I started writing personal essays for The Gazelle. The first time I wrote, I had no buzzing thoughts, expectations, or anxieties. Opening an empty Google Doc, I felt calm. And somehow, for what felt like the first time in my life, the words gushed out. The dam I had placed in my mind was torn down, and riveting rivers flowed. It was so freeing to be able to make sense of my thoughts so openly, with such little resistance, in the best way I know how — through writing. I wrote piece after piece, issue after issue.
Only now do I realize — have I, in a way, been journaling? Have I been introspectively, unrestrainedly journaling? Is this what journaling is all about, is this the feeling I have been searching for all these years?
As I handwrite my first journal entry in years — this article — with a new inked pen, I feel content. I feel the happiest I have felt while writing in years. Without noticing, I have unsilenced myself. The words are here. The words will stay. And this time, they are not going anywhere.
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Image 1: The Last Journal Entry
Sidra Dahhan is Managing Editor. Email her at
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