What do I do with my journals?
December 30, 2006 3:22 PM   Subscribe

Should I burn the books or make them electronic?

I started keeping a journal in 7th grade. I have several full books that span the 15 years since then, and I even have two or more that I continue to write in now (but not consistently). I have also kept a private journal on livejournal since 2001.

With these old journals, there isn't always a lot of depth. It's middle school drama and being mad at my mom in high school. Every now and then I find some kind of word-related gem, but parts become hard to read because of my horrific immaturity.

These aren't the kinds of journals I'd want my children (or anyone else) to read, yet when I contemplate writing my own memoir, I feel these entries may come in handy.

So, that said (breathe), should I shred these or maybe type them into my livejournal (backdated, of course) so I have a chronological, electronic tale of my life? Or, is that too much work for something no one will ever read and I should just toss them? But if I destroy them, will I regret it? Help.
posted by bozichsl to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
An easier solution may be to photograph each page. It's a bit of work, but easier than typing it in. And you will keep the context and the handwriting, which are part of what makes it yours.

You will regret it if you destroy them.
posted by smackfu at 3:41 PM on December 30, 2006

Seconding regret. Why not make a project of scanning the pages and create a digital version? And it's always possible you may change your mind about who can access them in x years time.
posted by forallmankind at 3:52 PM on December 30, 2006

I burned my journals from 3rd grade to high school on the driveway of my old house. It was great. I would recommend it, it was a great feeling.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 3:54 PM on December 30, 2006

well, maybe scan it, not photograph it. i regret tossing my journals from that time in my life. figured i'd never want them, but now i'd love to puruse my middle school thoughts.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 3:59 PM on December 30, 2006

Thirding the regret.
posted by WCityMike at 4:09 PM on December 30, 2006

You will regret destroying them, I know I wish I had kept the myriad of "poetry" I composed at various ages rather than tossing the old books for fear my mom would find them. I might be more motivated to continue writing now if I could see how prolific I was at one stage of my life.

Of course that writing is immature, you were going through puberty! But its still a part of you, those were things that happened to you and the honest way you felt, however ridiculous it seems now as an adult. You're lucky to have the record of your life for your future autobiography, if nothing else.

Could you get access to a scanner for a day or afternoon and scopy the pages that way? Then you'd only have to retype the more brilliant teenage insights you wanted to share, but have a digital record you can burn to a disk and label it something utterly boring, or put in a safety deposit box or some other hidden place for yourself. The bonus would be capturing your handwriting, and any of those goofy little margin doodles.

You could also try to make an appearance on Cringe TV, or just attend the monthly readings in Brooklyn. Maybe you'd feel less embaressed about these journals if you mutually shared them with others!
posted by nelleish at 4:09 PM on December 30, 2006

Keep them. Although you might not want your future children to read them, someday you might recognize a bit of yourself in their behavior and remember a particular passage in your journals. This might shed some light on why they are acting in this peculiar fashion and help you relate to their situation, thereby making a you a better parent.

Transcribing them into text files sounds like more work than anybody is willing to invest. Scanning sounds like the best option. Either a scanner with automatic document feeder (requiring you to destroy the binding on the original documents, making them a bit inconvenient to store and keep in order thereafter) or a flatbed scanner (much more time consuming but notebooks stay intact)

I wish I had kept journals way back then.
posted by chillmost at 4:15 PM on December 30, 2006

If your past was full of things you'd just as soon forget, then burn them. If reading them doesn't make you cringe... if you laugh and smile instead, then keep them.

You already know what to do with them.
posted by Dave Faris at 4:21 PM on December 30, 2006

Scanning the pages rather than transcribing them should be time consuming but worth the effort. It accomplishes a number of things. First, it preserves your journals 100%. Second, it preserves them as they are, not in typed format, so you don't lose the visuality of your writing. Finally, they create images. If you find one page of text to be particularly movingg, immature or not, it's available to make into a piece of your own artwork.

There are several books that have done this very thing using the journals of famous folk. Check on Amazon for the journals of Kurt Kobain or a newer journal by Sylvia Plath that shows her own handwriting and revisions. (Sorry, I'd link it, but I don't know how yet!)
posted by santojulieta at 4:54 PM on December 30, 2006

Nostalgia is dangerous. If you don't need em, and they reflect badly on you, burn 'em.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 4:57 PM on December 30, 2006

There's a middle ground: Re-read them, scan special events, and any passages that strike you as worth saving. Bind those pages for posterity.

Fwiw, I wish I'd saved more of my childhood writing, and even college papers. Even the stuff that was sort of embarassing.
posted by theora55 at 5:21 PM on December 30, 2006

Is there some reason you can't just... keep them? As is? It seems a reasonable middle ground between destroying them (likely future regret) and scanning/transcribing them (lots of work).
posted by languagehat at 5:21 PM on December 30, 2006

I burned a couple boxes of stuff, everything that I had written from birth to graduating college. Sat in the living room and tore them up a few pages at a time and fed them to the fire. Cathartic. I then scraped out all the ashes, put them in an urn (bucket) and churned them into the garden out back. Who doesn't need a little compost in their mind?

I do feel a pang of regret from time to time, but the utter release that came from cutting a tie completely and starting with a fresh, new, clean, white page to write on, you just don't get a chance to do that very much in life. So I must agree with the Regret folks, but don't discount the Refresh.
posted by iurodivii at 5:33 PM on December 30, 2006

I didn't keep journals growing up, but I've got all my academic work since high school, and most of what I've written since that time, too (letters, journal-type stuff, etc.). I just finished a project where I scanned all my college academic work--about 3000 pages, total. PDF files. It took time, but I think it'll be worth it--for posterity, for memoirs, or simply for my kid to flip through sometime in the future and laugh at some of the crap I turned in. I've also got almost all of the personal mail I've ever received (cards and letters) and I'm trying to figure out what to do when them.

My dad was in his late 40s when I was born, and I don't know much about his life pre-Me. But he kept 35mm slides of his life from the time he was 20ish past my birth. Documented them all, too. It's fascinating. From being drafted during the Korean war, his first apartment, my mom when they first met, building their first home, my brother being born, my sister being born... I got my hand on them and I've been looking through them and I feel like I know so much about him now that I didn't know before.

I'm scanning them as we speak. I'll be giving him digital copies of the slides, and making some books on Blurb for his birthday in February.

Think about keeping your stuff, and scanning them. 50 years from now, if you don't want to show them to your kids, and you want to toss them, it'll be easy enough. But if you toss them now and want them later? No chance...
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:24 PM on December 30, 2006

I agree with theora55.

Go for the middle ground, and make a bit of a ritual of it. Take it as a chance to see how you've changed, how you've stayed the same, what you like and don't like about the paths you've chosen. Save what's worth saving (I'm sometimes astounded, looking back over my old poetry from high school - most of it's utter dross, of course, but there are a few gems of shocking clarity and creativity that I find pretty inspiring, and usually in voices I find hard to muster these days), celebrate/mourn/lose the rest.
posted by poweredbybeard at 6:43 PM on December 30, 2006

Keep them. The older you get the funnier the cringe-worthy bits will become, until eventually the cringe-worthiness will wear off all together.

I'm a huge tosser-outer of stuff, but journals and other childhood writing I consider absolutely worth keeping. They're probably the only insight into your childhood mind you've got.
posted by sarahw at 6:56 PM on December 30, 2006

Write commentary on them. Categorize them by relevant emotion. Invent variables that describe your state of mind at the moment you are writing each entry and track them over time. Notice correlations between the variables. Note which variables fluctuate over time and by what frequency. Are there yearly cycles to your behavior? Monthly? Weekly? Daily? Which behavior patterns were most conducive to your well-being, and why? Which behavior patterns have you shed, and which have you maintained in your adulthood?

Seriously, you have an extensive personal database at your fingertips. If you use it wisely, it just might come in handy.
posted by Laugh_track at 8:04 PM on December 30, 2006

Do not destroy! Scan! And you might be interested in the advice people gave in my question about digitizing all my books.
posted by allterrainbrain at 10:35 PM on December 30, 2006

I destroyed my childhood journals/poetry a long time ago, and like many have said, I regret it. Just last week my partner and I went through her old poetry and killed ourselves laughing, and I felt bad that I didn't have anything similarly embarrassing to share. Also, don't underestimate how important that teenage drama was, and how it may have affected who you are today.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:50 AM on December 31, 2006

Good lord, don't destroy them. Archive them electronically, then get something like a safe, or do what I have done with sensitive stuff if you're a bit inclined towards craft, and build a box that can only be opened with power tools. Use strong timber, then nail and glue it shut. That way nobody can accidentally peek into them.

Old journals can be painful, but still valuable. With such an archive, you will be able to find many things which will, yes, bring you embarrasment, but also remind of you things you had forgotten.
posted by tomble at 11:25 PM on December 31, 2006

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