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Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal

3.77  ·  Rating Details ·  315 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
An inspirational, practical & literate guide to starting & keeping a journal - & transforming it into something permanent like a memoir or a novel. Leaving A Trace is a practical guide to keeping a journal successfully & transforming it into future projects. Each chapter features both narrative & tailored exercises for beginning & committed diarists ...more
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Published September 26th 2009 by Back Bay Books (first published 2001)
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Community Reviews

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Emma Sea
super enjoyable. and i did some of the exercises as i went through the book, which is always a good sign. i definitely recommend if you're looking for a book to get you away from the shame-spiral of introspective whining in your journaling. a book i will return to again and again.
Chris
Very good book about keeping a journal or diary, with writing exercises (some of which I tried and was pleasantly surprised by) and excerpts of what writers noted for journaling and memoir writing had to say about how the process enhanced their lives. Notes the author, "Successful journals break the deadlock of introspective obsession." Yes, that. That's what I aspire to.
EJ
Jan 20, 2008 EJ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Peg and Bridget
When I picked this book up on the "value" shelf at Barnes and Noble I expected it to be a cheezie "how to dig into your soul and find who you are" self help writing book. So now years later I truly can not remember why I actually bought it. Perhaps its 3 dollar price ticket had something to do with it.

It is a fast and informative read. Covering subjects regarding journals; the importance of them, how to go about keeping one and the journals of the past that have impacted the future of others. W
...more
Travis
Jan 24, 2009 Travis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: spiritual, writing
I love Journals, writing, and journal writing. This book is excellent, and it really lent depth and breadth to my writing. I strongly recommend it to anyone and everyone. I find that reading books about writing gives me fuel for my enthusiasm to write myself. This book really motivated me and gave me tons of new ideas to write about. Most writers say that if you want to be a writer then you need to write every day. This book really encouraged me to do that. I need to re-read it soon.
Crystal
Jul 24, 2013 Crystal rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is for those who want to become more serious with journal keeping and possibly use it for further creative work. I enjoyed the challenge and intellectual approach to journaling. It has stretched me to use my journal in a deeper way.

There are so many writing resources available that it's hard to select the best for our time budget but I feel that this one is worth the time.
Tynan Power
Oct 30, 2007 Tynan Power rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people interested in journaling, people interested in writing
Shelves: writing
One of the best books on journaling I've read. There are segments of it that are particularly interesting and useful for writing more than journals. I really liked this book a lot and took a lot of notes.
Jodi Sh.
I don't rate books by people I know -- too complicated. But while Johnson's book is a treatise on journaling - why, how, forms, what can be gleaned or developed from them, etc. it had a surprising effect on me--I picked up my journal after not touching it for two years. Among other things, it was revelatory to look back and discover that apparently I've never been happy working for someone else. The book also inspired me to return to an awareness of my surroundings and the people that make up th ...more
Cathleen
Apr 19, 2014 Cathleen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alexandra Johnson has built an academic career studying diaries, of the famous and the ordinary, and she's extended that study to writing about the craft and practice of journalling. I so enjoyed this book--dipping in and out over the course of the past 6 or 8 months. It's a book best enjoyed and savored slowly, the way I do a perfectly brewed coffee. I'll keep this close by in my bookshelves, so I can continue to revisit and revise.
Rashaan
Mar 22, 2009 Rashaan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Each of us have an infinite arsenal of writing material to wield at our own discretion. Whether we recognize it or not, every moment that passes is crammed with writerly inspiration, and the onus is on us to seize this fodder and alchemize it into art. Alexandra Johnson's Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal, The Art of Transforming a Life into Stories shows us exactly how to do this. I first read her work probably ten years ago. Her book The Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life is wond ...more
Ciara
Oct 10, 2008 Ciara rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: journal keepers, self-help fans, people looking for a stabilizing project
Shelves: read-in-2006
i read this book because i have an obsession with journals & diaries, & part of this obsession involves wondering what tips, tricks, bells, & whistles other people bring to their attempts at disciplined journal-keeping. i have been keeping a journal off & on since i was about four years old, & i've really gotten serious about it in the last three years. i try to write everyday, but i often find it difficult to get started or to write anything of particular consequence, even w ...more
♥ Ibrahim ♥
This book honors questions we often ask ourselves such as, how do I keep a journal? And: what do I do with all the materials in the ones I have kept? As Virginia Woolf noted, the past urges us to leave a trace and we do that by keeping a journal. We take what we keep in journal and transform it into larger projects or writing. My diary is the missing link in the creative life. In the beginning, it was scribbling and venting.

I wish she had stuck to who she is instead of imitating Virginia Woolf a
...more
Martha
Jun 18, 2008 Martha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This was an okay book. Had some decent writing exercises at the end of each chapter, and I'll probably hang onto the book at least for a while just for those. But it seemed awfully repetitive, and I'd hoped to get more insight on the approaches different writers take when using journal entries as the basis for fictional work. Might have given it three stars if it said more in the same amount of pages or was shorter and didn't repeat so much. I picked up another book by her immediately afterwards ...more
Mairead
Jan 26, 2017 Mairead rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
I was less interested in the how to write a memoir aspects, and super into the quotations from and re journaling. History major in me loved how evidence was woven throughout. Also loved ideas for different types of journals. I lean that way but don't/won't have them all with me always. At same time, honestly reflecting around why I don't write and wondering if having a ranting/spleen journal for working through stuff separate from things I want to put down for A would make a big difference to su ...more
Ann
Jan 05, 2013 Ann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the better journaling books out there.
Mamey
Mar 15, 2017 Mamey rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fav-nonfiction, 2017
I thought the first half of this book was really good. I loved all of her examples of diarist's and their techniques and quotes. I found myself underlining many beautifully written descriptions on the benefits of keeping a journal. I was truly inspired to be more consistent in my journal habits and was excited to continue reading the book. Unfortunately, about halfway through it got a bit tedious. Perhaps it got a bit deep for me; portrayed intricate exercises in one's journal that complicated t ...more
Antonio Gallo
Tutti vogliamo lasciare una traccia ... (work in progress)
Paula Dembeck
This is a good guidebook for those who want some direction in writing in a diary or journal. Written by a professor of creative non fiction, this small volume is filled with practical advice for those who want simply to record the events in their lives to those who want to move on to publishing their memoirs.
The book is divided into three parts. The first and second part discusses the practical considerations in writing a diary or journal and dispelling the notion that there is a right way to
...more
Pat Loughery
Nov 25, 2013 Pat Loughery rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
I suppose I started reading this expecting that I would learn better how to tell stories in my own journal, which for the past few years I've kept more frequently than ever before. That is not this book's goal. Instead, think of it as a writer's resource: How can you plumb the depths of your own (or others') journals for writing fragments, sources, memories, senses? And how can those things find their way into your writing, whether as memoir, poetry, short stories, creative nonfiction? Where are ...more
Jacob
Jul 24, 2015 Jacob rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The vast majority of this book is about how to start a journal and get through writer's block. If this is a problem for you then you will like this book. If not then don't bother. Interesting notes I took that are unrelated to journal ideas:

The author asked people who they most wished had kept a journal. Their answers were always that a relative or a parent they never knew.

In the 1600's Quakers kept journals as a record of conscience. Journals sharpen conscience, not ego. People who blab don't k
...more
Anne Tezon
Oct 22, 2014 Anne Tezon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you have been "hit and miss" as a journal writer and are embarrassed by the thought of someone reading one of your journals, this book is for you. Sure, you use your journal to vent, to complain and to let your true self show . . . to yourself. I've always thought I would re-read mine someday and burn the pages. This book advises against that. Johnson suggests curling up with your journals on some rainy day and reading them, looking for patterns, for lessons learned. Transcribe them and try t ...more
Yaaresse
This is a surprisingly engaging and informative little book about why and how of journals. I picked it up on a whim, more for reading about the "who and why" than the "how to." There's loads of fascinating trivia tucked here and there about such things as how early Quakers used journals as a spiritual practice of conscience and that there is a writing system known only by women in a region of southern China for their diary-keeping. One could read it either as a more academic look at journals or ...more
Jessica
Aug 14, 2008 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book very inspiring. Those of us who love the idea of journal keeping but have a hard time with consistency will enjoy Johnson's lavish descriptions of stationery shops and various types of journals, not to mention her numerous ideas and prompts to help you unlock creativity and start writing. She writes a book whose main premise is to sing the praises of keeping a journal, asserting that those who do are "leaving a trace" not only for the next generation, but for themselves. Johnso ...more
Samantha
Feb 28, 2009 Samantha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to journal or likes to already!
Recommended to Samantha by: Amanda C.
(On Keeping a Journal)- The Art of Transforming a Life into Stories.
This book is fascinating! Anyone thinking of starting a journal or learning how to maintain one will really enjoy this book. Alexandra weaves "real-life" journal entries and examples throughout this book which is my favorite part! It almost feels historical in a sense. She is definitely an artist with words- simply beautiful. At the end of each chapter, she included "exercises and journal prompts", a great way to get you starte
...more
Catherine
Jun 09, 2016 Catherine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
I didn't quite get what I wanted out of this book, as it really focused on keeping the kind of journal that leads to a published memoir or semi-autobiographical literary fiction. That's not really what I'm looking to do right now, so I didn't find the exercises and prompts very interesting. I thought there would be more diversity in its treatment of what journals can do and it almost left me feeling as if I'm doing something wrong (which is not really possible--I can do whatever I bloody well wa ...more
Sharon
Jan 18, 2011 Sharon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Read as part of my quest to jazz up my journaling a bit. This book was too serious for my purposes. Everyone the author cites is a published author. I don't necessarily want to write a book, I just want to consider my life from a different perspec...moreRead as part of my quest to jazz up my journaling a bit. This book was too serious for my purposes. Everyone the author cites is a published author. I don't necessarily want to write a book, I just want to consider my life from a different perspe ...more
Katherine
May 29, 2012 Katherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012, non-fiction
This book encourages me to continue my already established practise of writing a journal. In this useful and interesting book, the author suggests using "snapshots" of incidents from the reader's own journal entries, to rewrite and expand upon for new entries. Though I was tempted to take notes, I felt I should rather have a "glitter art" mentality and allow only what sticks to remain and shake the rest off. At a future reread I think I could then compare the book with what I was able to easily ...more
Literary Mama
As my children grew from preschoolers to high schoolers, entries to my childhood diary increased while my responses to writing prompts became more and more sporadic; those one-line prompts didn't always strike the right chord to get my creative juices flowing. I started to rethink “journaling” and how I spent my writing time, and turned to these books for guidance.

Read Literary Mama's full review here: http://www.literarymama.com/reviews/a...
Sarah Brandel
Nov 29, 2012 Sarah Brandel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had a great dilemma while reading this book: keep reading, or go write? It provided an intriguing introduction to famous journal keepers and those who keep them today, with numerous inspirational examples from both. It also took things a step further, providing suggestions for mining old journals for stories, poems, or memoir. This provides me with another dilemma: go write, or reread my old journals?

In any case, I'm looking forward to reading another of her books, The Hidden Writer, about the
...more
Donna
Jun 13, 2014 Donna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
FINALLY! I finished this!! It's not that is was such a clunker that I couldn't get through it but b/c there is SO much else going on right now.

The book has a lot of really neat ideas on journaling. I'm even going to use some of them for some of my patients. I work w/ adolescents & it is hard to point them in a direction that allows them to express themselves productively. If I can give them a starting point that's always a good thing.

For the rest of us? It gives us the bump & encouragem
...more
Kristylemmon
Aug 09, 2008 Kristylemmon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: diary/journal writers, people who want to get to know themselves better
I actually have not finished reading this. I am doing the writing exercises as I go through it and need to take breaks (sometimes year-long breaks!). This book is awesome for inspiring you to more creatively record your life. I love journaling and this book has given me so many ideas and techniques. Some of my favorites were writing about my childhood bedroom, snapshot writing and people descriptions. I highly recommend it for people who like to journal their lives and want to get more creative ...more
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Discussion 3 6 Jun 11, 2010 12:08PM  
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  • Chapter After Chapter: Discover the Dedication & Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams
  • The Triple Bind: Saving Our Teenage Girls from Today's Pressures
  • Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits

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“It took years of keeping journals to trust a simple fact: like life in transit, the writing inside is often fragmented, messy.” 4 likes
“Successful journals break the deadlock of introspective obsession” 4 likes
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