10 Famous Journal Keepers to Inspire Your Own Journaling

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The current trend for journaling is inspiring more and more of us to pick up a diary and record our daily thoughts – helping us record and make time to make sense of the day’s events.

Business Optimizer looks at some of history’s most famous diary writers to inspire your own journaling.

Many famous writers leave behind them wonderful journals and letters so you won’t be surprised to find that many writers make our list of famous journal keepers. What benefits do they perceive to have gained from their journaling?

#1. Susan Sontag

American feminist writer Susan Sontag believed that her diary keeping offered her an element of escape,

“Superficial to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts — like a confidante who is deaf, dumb and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it.”

#2. Samuel Pepys

The diary can also be an interesting historical record. Famous diarist Samuel Pepys’s journals provide eyewitness accounts of important British events from the seventeenth century, including the second Dutch War, the Plague, and the Great Fire of London.

#3. Virginia Woolfe

Virginia Woolfe praised her diary writing for not only helping her emotional state of mind but also helping her to develop her writing,

“the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus must lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink. I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea. Moreover, there looms ahead of me the shadow of some kind of form which a diary might attain to. I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life; finding another use for it than the use I put it to, so much more consciously and scrupulously, in fiction.”

Virginia Wolf

#4. Franz Kafka

Kafka highlighted the perspective one can gain from keeping a diary,

“In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”

Franz Kafka

 #5. Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde famously wrote:

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”


#6. Anaïs Nin

Nin valued the space her diary provided to develop her creativity:

“Writing for a hostile world discouraged me. Writing for the diary gave me the illusion of a warm ambiance I needed to flower in.”

 #7. Ralph Waldo Emerson

With more than fifty years of diary entries to delve into, Emerson’s journals continue to resonate today with gems like:

“Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.”


#8. Joan Didion

Didion spoke of a need which drives her to write a journal:

“Although I have felt compelled to write things down since I was five years old, I doubt that my daughter ever will, for she is a singularly blessed and accepting child, delighted with life exactly as life presents itself to her, unafraid to go to sleep and unafraid to wake up. Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted apparently at birth with some presentiment of loss.”

#9. Henry David Thoreau

It was Thoreau’s belief that keeping a diary was important for posterity:

“Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal? We do not wish to know how his imaginary hero, but how he, the actual hero, lived from day today.”

#10. John Steinbeck

Steinbeck believed his diary writing was an essential tool for the writer to develop self-discipline:

“In writing, habit seems to be a much stronger force than either willpower or inspiration. Consequently, there must be some little quality of fierceness until the habit pattern of a certain number of words is established. There is no possibility, in me at least, of saying, ‘I’ll do it if I feel like it.’ One never feels like awaking day after day. In fact, given the smallest excuse, one will not work at all. The rest is nonsense. Perhaps there are people who can work that way, but I cannot. I must get my words down every day whether they are any good or not.”

Perhaps Steinbeck’s words, more than anyone’s, make the point that there is no right or wrong reason or way to keep a journal. The most important step is simply to avail oneself of a notebook and pen and put pen to paper!