Ask SBT: Secret Journals

Q: I want to start a Mindful Writing practice, but my fear of someone finding my journals after I die stops me from writing unencumbered. What should I do?

A: This question comes up frequently in Mindful Writing classes. Our daily Mindful Writing practice is to meditate letting whatever arises be the practice, then to freewrite letting whatever arises be on the page. In freewriting, there is no editing, no plan. You just keep writing. All sorts of things arise – grievances, rants, self-doubt, unrequited love, story ideas, memories, poems,  plots, and escape plans.

15536110699_a4a9e3c7c7_bAlmost everyone who asks this question envisions having a massive heart attack. (They even clutch their chests as they ask the question.) And then, a family member discovers their sudden demise and promptly sits down, perhaps by their still warm body, to read their journals.

First, in all honesty you will be dead. You will not care. But as you are alive now and having this fear, I understand that your concern is for those you will leave behind.

There is always the option of writing and then burning your pages. If you don’t want to bring attention to yourself by burning paper every day, you can keep writing on the same page. Writing over your writing again and again, so that no one, including yourself, can read what you have written. You still purge yourself of your thoughts, you still partake in the physical activity of moving pen across the page, and your words are safe.

I suggest keeping your journal in a secret place, even just a desk drawer or under your mattress. If you have more than one, keep them in a bureau or a box. You could padlock them in a cabinet or firebox. Or stuff them somewhere people don’t want to go like a gym bag. Choose a friend or family member who you trust not to read your journals. Another writer who keeps journals and understand your concerns is a good choice. Or someone who you find boring and hence you don’t write about. Or someone who hates to read, but who has great loyalty to you. Make sure this person has a key to your home and knows the location of your journals (and the combination if necessary) in case of an emergency. Feel free to also include other personal items you don’t want your children or nosey neighbor to find.

Freewriting lets you get down to what you are really thinking and feeling. You become familiar with your obsessions. Ideas begin to flow. It’s a contemplative activity that will enrich your life. Don’t let fear of a sudden death stop you from a Mindful Writing practice.

What’s your post-death journal plan? Have you inherited someone’s journals?

4 thoughts on “Ask SBT: Secret Journals

  1. Sarah Barr March 4, 2020 / 2:47 pm

    Unfortunately I haven’t inherited anyone’s journals. Nor have I been asked to retrieve anyone’s. I have inherited quite a few cameras – all from men. Sadly, none contained partially used rolls of film.


  2. Kathryn March 11, 2020 / 10:17 am

    Great post, Susan. This is my greatest fear, which stems from learning, at age thirteen, that my mother was reading my diary. In terms of how I would handle inheriting someone’s journal, although I didn’t inherit a journal of my mother, after she died, I did come across cards and notes exchanged between her and her beau over the course of their relationship, which ended with her death. (She made a copy of everything she wrote.) Yes, she was dead, as was he, but I just couldn’t bring myself to read the correspondence. It wasn’t just a matter of invading their privacy, it also was a matter of profaning the sacredness of their bond. I read nothing and burned everything. My sister will never forgive me. Kathtyn


  3. Susan Barr-Toman March 12, 2020 / 10:03 am

    Thanks, Kathryn. It’s interesting that your mother invaded your privacy, at such a tender age, and given the opportunity, you chose not to do the same. Such a kindness. I’m assuming your sister didn’t have the same experience. I’m also curious as to why we in general have the impulse to read the writings of the dead. Is it to continue the relationship, to learn new stories, or to find answers to questions we never asked or that were never answered? All of this is good material for fiction!


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