Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Healing Power of Writing

by Julie Coulter Bellon

When I was twelve years old my parents went through a very difficult divorce that included a messy custody battle over me and my brother. That’s when I started really writing in a journal. I wrote down all my feelings and what I was going through. I wrote page after page and sometimes it felt like I would never be able to stop. It was so cathartic to get it all out of me and written down. Somehow writing it down seemed to take away the power of it all.

I kept a journal from then on. It’s actually kind of fun to go back now and look at some of the things that were important to me, the boys I liked, the worries I had over school, making it onto the volleyball team, deciding on which college to attend. I like being reminded of my feelings, what trials I had and how I dealt with them because I can see my growth as a person. I still do that. When I’m going through a difficult trial, I write it all down—my feelings, the situation, and how I get through it. The hurt seems to go away faster for me when I do that and I can look back and see how I’ve progressed.

It’s also fun to let my children read parts of my journal. They laugh over some of my entries about different boys that I had a crush on, and they’ve come to realize that their mother was once a kid and had a lot of the same situations that they did, but they can read all about it in my sixth grade handwriting and feel like they were really there with me. They can also read how they were as babies and how much I worried for them and loved them even when I was exhausted from being up with them all night. I do keep parts of my journal private, but I don’t mind letting my children see that I made a lot of mistakes and I dealt with them as best I could. Some situations turned out better than others, but the evidence in my journal is plain to see—when we lean on our Savior, trust in Him and look for His answers in the scriptures, we become more able to do as He asks and bend to His will. When I look back over my journals, I see my Savior’s hand in my life—watching over and protecting me, guiding me and just being there for me when my heart was broken. Seeing the tearstains on a page reminds me of how deeply I hurt and how desperately I needed a friend to understand, and when no one else was there, in the quiet moments of writing in my journal, I could feel my Savior nigh.

Not all of my journals are filled with sadness. I definitely had my share of pranks, fun, and adventures. I wrote quite a bit about a young man I met my second day at BYU. Brian and I became fast friends and I quickly found that I could tell him anything. When our singles ward went to Disneyland for Spring Break, he held my hand for the first time and I knew I was starting to fall in love with him. We hadn’t kissed or dated or said I love you, but a week after we returned home from that trip, he asked me to marry him. It is amazing for me to be able to go back in my journals and feel those feelings again, the excitement of being engaged, the sadness at writing my missionary about it, the surprise of both sets of parents since we were, you know, just friends and all. My husband isn’t a diligent journal keeper, but one fun thing we did was to read the journals he did keep and compare what he was doing on a specific day to what I was doing. The seven year age difference between my husband and I was really brought home when we realized that when he left on his mission, I was finishing sixth grade. When he was having spiritual experiences in the mission field, I was trying to sew my Merrie Miss banner. Just fun things like that.

I think writing in my journal has also improved my writing skills. I write a little every day, no matter what, and that helps me sharpen my observation and recollection skills, and gives me perspective when I'm writing about the world around me. It's very helpful when I'm trying to write real and relatable characters and feelings in my books and I am relying on my experiences. And if it hasn't helped, and you hate my style of writing, I can put that in my journal, too. Then I will remember your name for future books when I can't decide what to call the villain. Kidding, kidding. Sort of.

Writing is something I don’t think I could live without—whether it’s writing down my life story in my journal or writing a book. I think everyone has a story to tell. No one sees the world exactly the same and no one experiences situations exactly the same. When you write it down in a journal, everything seems to become more clear and reading it, for me, helps in seeking solutions to a problem, helps me see how I’ve grown and changed, and of course, reminds me of crazy stuff I did and gets me laughing at old memories.

I love my journal. It has been a healing power in my life, it has relieved burdens and become something priceless. Of course part of me did wish I hadn’t written in my journal that Brian Bellon would be a fun summer fling. I cringed a little when he read that after we were married. But then again, it’s been almost twenty summers since then and we’re still flinging. There’s a good possibility I shouldn’t have written down what really happened in my seminary class and what my title was—my secret claim to fame. (Bro. Murley, if you’re still out there, I’ll take that secret to the grave. Of course, they’d have to bury my journal with me . . .)


At 11/08/2007 3:12 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

Great post, Julie. Making me feel a little guilty though. I do try to write in my journal once a year or so. When something really important happens, I put a star by it in my planner. I don't think that really counts though.

At 11/08/2007 6:40 PM, Blogger Linda Keilbart Scanlan said...

I find I write more in my journals during the struggles. I play catch up when the times are good. Some emotions are so strong and so deeply rooted into the fiber of my being, that months or years may elapse before I can write about them.

I've survived a rape, 2 divorces, 10 years in the Navy and a head on collision. I want my children to know of these tings but more importantly I want them to know that these things have not pushed me away from our Father in Heaven, but instead have brought me closer to Him.

At 11/08/2007 8:01 PM, Blogger Ronda Hinrichsen said...

I loved your blog and have felt many of those same things. I started keeping a journal when I was twelve, too, and was faithful at it until I got married. Now, about an inch of stacked paper covers the last nineteen years of my life. Oh, and did you give your first journal a name, like I did?

At 11/09/2007 10:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heather, I think any effort counts! LOL

Linda, thank you so much for your comment. It is people like you that are so inspiring to others, to go through horrific struggles here on earth and still lean on our Heavenly Father. Thank you again for sharing from the bottom of my heart.

I didn't name my journal Ronda. What did you name yours, can I ask? :)

Julie Bellon

At 11/09/2007 10:35 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

I have been a bit remiss in my journal writing in recent years, but I'm with you on the cathartic nature of getting it on paper. I'm also a big believer in what Elder Scott promised--that if we write down our spritual experiences and impressions in our journals that we'll get more light and knowledge. Talk about the power of the written word!

At 11/10/2007 2:10 AM, Blogger wom said...

This last week as my daughter and I, were serching Geng. records, we ran across a relitive a few years back that had kept a journal. Sometimes he had written one line or two for that day. It was fun to read about what was happening in his life at that time. I also thought how important it was to write, even if it is but one line.

At 11/11/2007 10:34 AM, Blogger Josi said...

When my first child was 6 months old I threw away my two journals I'd had since I was 8. I had a very ... tumultuous adolescence and panicked at the idea that my child would one day read those experiences. I don't necessarily regret doing it (which goes to show just how bad they were) but I wish I'd copies some pages, about my baptism, and the more neutral entries that would be fun to look back on. I'd started a new journal when my husband left on his mission (I was 16) and I have all of those, though the sappy heartsick stuff gives me cavities, and I've really fallen off the last 10 years, but I still write intermittently. I've started printing off my blog posts and putting them in a separate journal as I think my family could learn a lot about me. and, I do have a spiritual journal that I prize very much.


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