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Family Journaling: Unleashing the Writer Within

  • Jill Novak Founder, Remembrance Press
  • Published Aug 30, 2012
Family Journaling: Unleashing the Writer Within

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at or read it on the go and download the free TOS apps to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

“Everyone reaches, but not everyone touches. . . . Reaching is instinctive, but for the most part touching is learned. For in touching we give and receive, talk and listen, share ourselves and see into another. And not everyone can do that or will do it.”—Gail MacDonald1

The purpose of this article is to hit a nerve—a place deep down inside. You may or may not be aware of it, but I want to touch your journaling nerve. I’m going to poke and prod and help you find the writer within, and the writer within your child. If you don’t like to write or don’t like the methods or curriculum you’ve tried, I hope to persuade you that family journaling can be fun and rewarding. And if you already write with or about your family, I hope to encourage you to continue because “now” is the time to record your life experiences while they’re happening.

Have you ever thought about how extraordinary your life is? On any given day, no one will have the same experiences you do or even begin to see them from your perspective. You are “uniquely”’ you. And every day is filled with life stories you won’t remember unless you “keep”’ them in a journal. It’s a proven fact that children value writing more in a family where the parents and the siblings frequently write, so how about journaling together? You might think that’s a new idea, but actually it’s centuries old.

Recently, I studied Louisa May Alcott’s life in-depth for an article I was writing for our magazine, The Girlhood Home Companion. When I began my research, I was pleasantly surprised to see that she had extensively journaled throughout her lifetime. Both of Louisa’s parents journaled, so growing up in a literary atmosphere, she and her sisters were also required to keep journals.2

Starting around the age of 10, Louisa kept all the poetry she wrote, letters from her mother, accounts of the lessons her father taught, lyrics of hymns, observances of everyday moments, and the profits she earned from sewing, teaching, and selling books. It was thrilling to read the firsthand account of her early home life and track her literary career leading up to the writing of Little Women.

Louisa’s mother, Abigail Alcott (Marmee), also wrote in Louisa’s journal (a practice we call interactive or shared journaling today). Upon one occasion she planted these seeds of vision:

Dear Louy, 

Your handwriting improves very fast. Take pains and do not be in a hurry. I like to have you make observations about our conversations and your own thoughts. It helps you to express them and to understand your little self.  Remember, dear girl, that a diary should be an epitome of your life. May it be a record of pure thought and good actions, then you will indeed be the precious child of your loving mother.4

Until she authored Little Women, Louisa had mostly written “pot boilers”’ (sensational thrillers written to provide a livelihood for herself and her family).5 It wasn’t until she was asked to write a novel for girls that she was able to draw upon the unique childhood experiences she shared growing up in a poverty-stricken household with three sisters. Louisa completed Part One of her popular novel in a month’s time.6 I believe the reason she was able to write so fast is that her journal held a plethora of detailed accounts of past experiences to draw upon. Originally, she thought the beginning chapters were dull, but being quite surprised at her success she said:“ It reads better than I expected. We really lived most of it, and if it succeeds, that will be the reason for it.” In Louisa May Alcott’s case, writing from what she knew brought her literary success.

Journal writing was highly valued in centuries past. Today it is viewed more as an option and almost becoming nonexistent in this electronic age, but most serious writers have an insatiable hunger to creatively record their lives on paper. Writing from what you know is the most authentic writing you will ever produce, and writing together as a family heightens the experience. 

We all have to equip our children to write—or so we think, but what if they’re already equipped and it’s just a matter of unleashing the writer within? Like the ability to breathe, what if the ability to write is part of the inward nature that comes from being human—because God is a writer and we are created in His image? Writing is a gift from God, given without partiality, but sometimes it takes a little insight from the Lord to release the writer within. 

Can journal writing progress to other kinds of writing? Absolutely! A journal is a sacred place where you can explore thoughts, ideas, and perceptions, while preserving the everyday moments of your life and the experiences that are uniquely yours—it should be an epitome of your life! And who knows, maybe you have a best-seller lurking in your daily archives! 

By encouraging your child to write freely about his personal experiences, you are laying a foundation for a love of writing, and somehow, in the act of journaling, the everyday moments become profound and the writer’s pen an instrument of skill. In closing, my prayer for you and your children is found in Psalms 45:1: “My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer”(NASB).

5 Tips for Success

If you have more than one child, you already know how they all have different personalities, spiritual gifts, and learning styles. I’m convinced this affects the kind of writing they love to do. I have four children, and the journey to equip them to write has been interesting and challenging at times. Visual learners often have an edge on auditory or kinesthetic learners. They see sentence structure and punctuation as they read; they’re born editors. Sometimes auditory and kinesthetic learners can zoom right past punctuation, running one sentence into another. Absorbed in content, they often don’t see anything but the words. The irony is that many auditory and kinesthetic children make the best storytellers. Of course, I’m speaking in generalities. Most children have a secondary learning style that complements the first, but depending on how your child is wired, he may struggle with the act of writing, classifying himself a non-writer.  

Nonetheless, all children love to talk about what’s important to them. Have you heard the writing potential in your children’s oral story accounts? Do you have a child who struggles with the act of writing but could be a great writer if someone would just connect the dots for him? We want all of our children to freely communicate what’s on their hearts, to tell us about life from their perspective. Well, journaling their life stories on a regular basis allows them to do that, giving them ever-present subject matter from which to explore how to use language and grow as a writer.

To inspire your children in the area of writing, there are five practical steps to take to unleash the writer within. 

1. Help your child understand the writing process.

Writing is thinking. It’s a process by which we take the inner working of our minds and hearts—our thoughts, perceptions, and feelings, and express them on paper. Your child needs to know these things: You don’t know what you’re going to say until you start to say it. Writing is a process of discovery. It will take your mind places you didn’t know it was going. It will make you use words you didn’t even know you knew—and that’s the fun part. 

If your child says there is nothing to write about on any certain subject, just tell him he won’t know what he’s going to say until he actually starts saying it. Tell him to listen for a title or the first sentence, and once he hears it in his head, take it from there.

2. If you can talk, you can write.

No two people are alike. Each one has a different way of expressing himself—his own writing voice consisting of inborn rhythms, vocabulary choices, and ideas. Is your child an auditory learner? He needs to know his talking voice can become his writing voice. That’s why journaling is so valuable. It will give him an opportunity to become familiar with his unique writing voice as he records his life stories. 

3. A reason to write.

Imagine a world without words: no Bible, no books, no journals, no letters—no past, only present. No remembrances of your life because you didn’t like to write or you wouldn’t take the time to write it down. “Preserving your life stories for now and future generations” is reason enough to write. 

4. Write from what you know.

Writing from what you know is much easier than having to make it up. You’re never at a loss for writing material when you write from your personal experience. Have fun and be creative. Everyone can write and should write, not because they have to, but because they get to.

5.Transcribe the entry.

Transcribe journal entries for little children or older children who are not fluent (unable to take all the words they have in their head and put them on paper). You need to write for your child until he is able to take over, either through writing in his journal or typing his entries on the keyboard. Help him gain confidence by removing the hindrances until they’re a non-issue. 


1. Gail MacDonald is a pastor’s wife and the author of High Call High Privilege: A Pastor’s Wife Speaks to Every Woman in a Place of Responsibility

2. John Matteson, Eden’s Outcasts: The Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father.

3. Ednah D. Cheney, Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals. Boston Little, Brown, and Company 1898.

4. Ibid.

5., accessed December 28, 2011.

6. Ednah D. Cheney, Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters, and Journals. Boston Little, Brown, and Company 1898.

Jill Novak and her husband Robert have been married thirty-three years and are the parents of five precious children. Together their family founded Remembrance Press, publishers of The Pebbly Brook Farm Stories, Becoming God’s Naturalist, The Gift of Family Writing, Letters to My Children, Forget Me Not Faith, and The Girlhood Home Companion magazine. Visit  and Jill’s personal blog,Through the Windowpane. If you have any questions  about family writing, please contact her at

Publication date: September 3, 2012