Handwriting Comes from the Heart

My blog mostly focuses on the weird complexities of academic writing. Lately, I’ve been thinking about how and why the act of journal writing has influenced and improved my academic writing.

I’ve been keeping journals since I was a kid. Although self-knowledge was not my goal when I started keeping a journal at age ten (I just thought it sounded cool), my journal writing practice has transformed my life. My journal, which began as boring and simple dispatches about my day, has grown as I’ve grown as a person. In the past few years my writing has become much more raw, honest, and deep.

As someone I admire greatly used to tell me, “Writing on a computer comes from the head; handwriting comes from the heart.” I love the act of writing by hand with an actual pen on paper. I wrote in cheap spiral notebooks with even cheaper ballpoint pens for years. Sometime in the last five years, I decided that my inner thoughts were worthy of a beautiful journal and important enough to record with a fountain pen. My current journal writing tools include a Paper Blanks journal, a Lamy fountain pen, and Noodler’s ink in purple (Le Coleur Royale).  

Friends. [Antigua, Guatemala, 2013]

Friends. [Antigua, Guatemala, 2013]


My emotional life affects my writing life. If I’m sad, my sadness leaks out all over my writing life like so much battery acid. Anger has much the same effect.

Writing is by far a more pleasant experience when not accompanied by bouts of existential angst.  Writing through rough emotions is often uncomfortable and unpleasant. I never want to write when overwhelmed emotionally, but I’ve learned how. I’m capable of producing academic writing even in the middle of an emotional shitstorm.

For years, I avoided recognizing and feeling emotions, particularly the ones I considered "negative." I preferred to think about emotions in intellectual terms, defining them and analyzing them for their underlying meaning and significance. Feeling them was out of the question.

My journal has taught me how to stop thinking about emotions and how to start feeling them. Writing in my journal connects me to exactly the kind of emotional stuff that I’d rather ignore or bury underneath a frantic burst of faked productivity or a giant brownie that I swallow in chunks without really tasting. My journal writing expresses small, but powerful truths about my emotional life:

“I’m so angry right now.”
“I’m so sad I can’t believe it.”
“I’m drowning in shame.”
“I feel rejected.”

My journal writing would win me no prizes for beautiful prose. The writing is messy. Sometimes I forget to punctuate. The ideas don’t always hang together. However, my journal reflects the messiness of my life as I live it. I’m absolutely me, reveling in the full spectrum of my emotional life.

Writing about hard emotions has taught me to validate and accept what I’m feeling without trying to change it. So often in life, we don’t often get the kind of emotional validation we need; one of our greatest needs is to know that others understand how we feel. We often also deny ourselves self-validation, scolding ourselves for feeling X or denying that we feel Y. My journal is a place for absolute emotional honesty. The feelings don’t have to make sense. I just need to get them out and on to the page. Just writing about how I’m having less than perfect emotions allows me to them aside for long enough to get some other kinds of writing done.

When I return to academic writing, the emotions are still there. Writing about them in my journal doesn’t make them go away; feeling them lets them flow through and move on when they’re good and ready.

And then I’m ready to write, feel, and write again. It’s like a heartbeat.

[Photo: my journal, pens, and ink go where I go. Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico, 2012]