How Journal Writing Changed My Life

Through writing, I can recall, reflect and digest my life on a daily basis.

Merle R. Saferstein
Thrive Global


Many years ago in my journal-writing workshop, one of the participants commented, “In life we escape from ourselves when we read, watch TV, go to the movies, or participate in sports. In journal writing, we inscape.”


Journaling helps me improve relationships, clarify thoughts, sleep better, and reduce stress.

At a grief camp for children who lost loved ones:

Saturday, January 19, 2014

I watched as tears rolled down Sondra’s cheeks. Since yesterday when camp began, she has remained almost silent. The only time I heard her talk was when she was out on the sailboat during one of the water activities in between the intense therapeutic interventions.

This morning, I introduced journaling to the group of teens — all of whom had recently lost loved ones. As soon as I suggested the prompt When I feel sad, I……., Sondra picked up her pen and began writing. She continued non-stop with the next prompt Some of my most cherished moments with (the person who died) were… Later at lunch, I saw her sitting at a table with her sister. Both were writing in their journals.

Sunday, January 20, 2014

Sondra came to me earlier today and told me she filled over ten pages in her journal last night. She said it helped her get in touch with guilt feelings over her baby sister Julia’s death. We spoke for a while, and she explained how she and her two older siblings were with the baby, who was napping. When their mother came home, she went to check on Julia and found her dead in the crib. Sondra talked about how the three of them have felt it was their fault — that maybe they could have saved her.

She said writing in her journal became important because she unearthed feelings she had buried deep within. Uncovering them through writing allowed Sondra to express her grief and face her pain. To our surprise, Sondra actively participated and shared during the therapeutic sessions today — something she hadn’t done the past two days.

I watched others write in their journals during breaks. One of the eight year olds, whose father died two months ago, told me she loves her journal and wrote about her daddy before she went to sleep.

Another child, Sam, asked if I wanted to read the letter he wrote in his journal to his dead mother. In it, he shared with her all he has been doing at camp. He also wrote about how much he misses her.


Follow up to a phone call:

Sunday, August 2, 2016

Millie called today and asked if I would be willing to talk to Alisa, a woman she had recently met on a plane. She told me Alisa had been busy writing in a journal during most of the flight and after talking to her a bit, Millie felt it might be helpful for me to speak with her. And so, I made contact with Alisa tonight.

Alisa lost her twenty-two-year-old son to suicide fifteen months ago. After his death, she found an unused notebook in his room and immediately sat down and started writing in it. She is now journaling on a daily basis. She told me she carries her journal wherever she goes. It is helping her confront the loss, record memories of her son Jake, and come to some understanding of what she needs to do to go on living. She hopes her journals will one day turn into a book about her son. For now, this is helping her perpetuate his memory.


Daily journaling restores my soul. Just as it has helped the children and Alisa work through grief, it has enabled me to deal with my own losses.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I am faced with the unthinkable. My brother cut ties with our family. I am now dealing with a great loss. I imagine a divorce is much like this.

My endless writing feels like a scratched record which gets stuck in the same place. I hope I’m purging enough so that aside from a broken heart, I won’t physically get sick.

This is a sad time for me. Shattered dreams — agonizing realities. The pain of this pierces my heart and soul. I need to find a way to heal, but I suppose I first must live with the heartache and anguish.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

It’s amazing how the scales tilt off-balance. I’m miserable where I am and must work to get back to a positive place.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I awoke with this question: What does one do with sadness? It’s been an emotion I’ve been living with for a long time now — one which permeates my being.

There’s no escaping these painful and difficult feelings. Instead, I am doing my best to understand and learn more about how to deal with all of this.

There are times in the past several months when I have not been able to identify with the parts of myself which feel good — those that I love. It isn’t a good feeling. Yet, there is nothing I can do to get there until I finish integrating everything. It’s part of the process. I know my journaling is helping.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

This week, my mood has lightened. Hallelujah! My life force has returned. I am enjoying each day again.

Writing unburdens me. Working through difficult times and coming to the other side has been a gift of journaling.


On the March of the Living in Poland with teenagers from all over the world:

Monday, April 20, 1998

I’m in the pine forest at Treblinka. Silence is interrupted by a dog barking in the distance. Chirping birds surround me. Drops from an earlier morning rain occasionally land on my jacket.

In the distance, I see teenagers meandering through the monuments. I hear them talking, but I have chosen to find a quiet spot where few dare to travel–into the dense woods.

Earlier, our group walked up the pathway which leads to the huge monument representing a chimney. What were the Jews thinking as they approached their deaths with German Shepherds barking and Nazis pointing their bayonets at them? Supposedly, those who arrived here knew their fate. It wasn’t always the case in other concentration camps.

The ground beneath me holds the ashes and bones of my ancestors. Their lives were cut short because of hatred and prejudice.

Emerging from the woods. I see students wandering around in disbelief. Gene Greenzweig, our leader, just said to one of the groups, “We brought you here not to hate but to teach you what hate can do.”

In order to deal with horrific subjects like the Holocaust, I have encouraged students and teachers to write in journals so they can express and deal with the emotions that surface.


A writing group at Gilda’s Club for women with cancer or those in remission:

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Today in our writing class, I witnessed a soul opening. As part of the assignment, Jaes wrote about feelings she had never shared. We listened attentively as she read. When I looked around, I saw everyone reacting with tears and heartfelt emotion. The discussion this elicited was profound as the women empathized with Jaes. There was magic in that moment. Through writing and sharing, Jaes was heard, and the whole group experienced greater understanding and healing.

Writing often helps individuals with cancer uncover feelings which have been buried since their diagnosis. In this writing group I facilitate, the women dig deep and unearth much about their lives even before their cancer diagnosis. A noticeable transformation has taken place through writing. A sisterhood of special bonding has developed.


When I began journaling in 1974, I wrote because I had a strong desire to do so. I didn’t pay attention to anything other than knowing it felt good to commit my thoughts and feelings to paper. 359 journals later, I have become aware of the tremendous benefits of journal writing. Now I understand the therapeutic gift of wellness my writing brings me. It is a gift, you, too, can give yourself. The magic of the written word can never be underestimated. Your pen across the page can mend what’s broken and chart your path. Go ahead; grab a pen. Write from your heart. Find new depths of joy. Enrich your life.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.



Merle R. Saferstein
Thrive Global

Merle, a former Holocaust educator, teaches classes entitled Living and Leaving Your Legacy.® She is an author, a prolific journal writer, and a speaker.