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Leaving a Trace: On Keeping a Journal

3.76  ·  Rating Details  ·  275 Ratings  ·  65 Reviews
Now in paperback comes the acclaimed, one-of-a-kind practical guide to starting and keeping a journal and transforming it into a larger creative work: a family chronicle, a memoir, or a novel.
Paperback, 242 pages
Published January 2nd 2002 by Back Bay Books (first published 2001)
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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.
Mar 24, 2015 Chris rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 27, 2008 EJ rated it really liked it
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
Mar 06, 2009 Travis rated it it was amazing
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.
Nov 28, 2013 Crystal rated it really liked it
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
Dec 02, 2007 Tynan Power rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 17, 2013 Jodi Sh. added it
Shelves: craft, i-know-you
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
Dec 30, 2014 Cathleen rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 09, 2008 Ciara rated it liked it
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
Feb 25, 2010 Rashaan rated it really liked it
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
♥ Ibrahim ♥
Feb 12, 2014 ♥ Ibrahim ♥ rated it really liked it
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
Feb 13, 2014 Martha rated it liked it
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
Jul 24, 2015 Jacob rated it it was ok
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
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
Anne Tezon
Nov 04, 2014 Anne Tezon rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 05, 2013 Ann rated it it was amazing
One of the better journaling books out there.
Pat Loughery
Feb 27, 2014 Pat Loughery rated it really liked it
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
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
Interesting. I am not really sure exactly what I think of this book. It has a somewhat 'dreamy' quality at times, rather than a more definite 'guidebook' approach which was what I was really looking for. 'Airy-fairy' I think my grandmother would have called it. It's pleasant reading and has some lovely personal thoughts, but somehow I was left feeling even more confused than when I started.
Not rating.
Jul 31, 2014 Leiah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-book
I really liked this book, but I read it too slow. I'd like to read it again in a more concentrated timeframe, and do the exercises along with it. It was interesting to read a perspective that journaling and writing is so immensely important. I'm not a writer, so I never considered how you could turn your old journals and stories into memoir and edit and refine it to craft something beautiful and real to you. Would read again, and this is a book I'd even like to own.
Jun 19, 2015 Lisa rated it it was amazing
Fantastic. Easy at many levels; the writer ends each chapter with assorted 'assignments' and prompts. And, in case you think you can't write at all, after you read and try just one of her suggestions, you will find that you can! I love journaling. You will feel that you really have something to share and you will want to 'leave a trace' of who you are for someone else to read and learn from.
Feb 28, 2009 Samantha rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 13, 2008 Jessica rated it really liked it
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
Joy Corcoran
One of the best books I've read on keeping a journal and diary. Johnson is an excellent writer and her belief in the importance of leaving a life story and legacy is very refreshing. She tells a great story and has wonderful ways of using the journals as a source for living better, for writing better and for story telling.
Tim Nowotny
Mar 05, 2016 Tim Nowotny rated it it was amazing
A book made for rereading. It is not the standard A to B self help book. There are a lot of anecdotes in there but for a purpose. It shows you a wide variety you can choose from for journaling.
In my opinion this is better suited for already quite habitual diary writers to improve their hobby than for starters.
Jan 11, 2016 Skye rated it really liked it
This book encouraged me to, yet again, begin a journal. As a writer, I feel it's important. This time, I've chosen a digital journal with password protection--a hangover from my brother stealing and breaking into my diary when I was small, and humiliating me.
Karen Robertson
Mar 16, 2016 Karen Robertson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Leaving a Trace

Fabulous book. I've journaled for 50 years now ... and have added genealogy to the mix ... added sketches and photos, but love to read other people's journals. This book had some great ideas.
Apr 16, 2014 Katie rated it it was amazing
Wonderful handbook for anyone interested in journaling. A must have for all writers. Johnson gives compelling and provocative prompts for journal writing as a piece of a larger work. Sometimes that larger work is a manuscript, poetry or memoir--other times it is simply the self.
Jan 18, 2011 Sharon rated it really liked it
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
I am working through this book for the second time with a group of artists in various media. (This is not the edition, I have, by the way, and I was happy to see there is a kindle edition available.) The writing prompts are excellent, and work well for groups. I get something new out of them each time. I love her writing style, as well.
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Discussion 3 6 Jun 11, 2010 12:08PM  
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  • Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits
  • The Triple Bind: Saving Our Teenage Girls from Today's Pressures

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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.” 3 likes
“Journal writing is, foremost, a way to order and reframe perspective.” 2 likes
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