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Review #4: Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Samara O'Shea

Title: Note to Self: On Keeping a Journal and Other Dangerous Pursuits
Author: Samara O’Shea
Genre: How-to, diary

"Keeping a journal is easy. Keeping a life-altering, soul-enlightening journal, however, is not. At its best, journaling can be among the most transformative of experiences, but you can only get there by learning how to express yourself fully and openly. Enter Samara O’Shea.

O’Shea charmed readers with her elegant and witty For the love of letters. Now, in Note to Self, she’ back to guide us through the fun, effective, and revelatory process of journaling. Along the way, selections from O’Shea’s own journals demonstrate what a journal should be: a tool to access inner strengths, uncover unknown passions, face uncertain realities, and get to the centre of self. To help create an effective journal, O’Shea provides multiple suggestions and exercises...”
(from the front flap of the book)

This is an interesting book, both for someone who has been journaling for a while and for someone who may want to get started. It’s well described as “[p]art manual, part memoir” (David Nadelberg, in a review on the back cover) and the tone is chatty and friendly, perhaps even peer-to-peer. I found myself nodding in agreement at some parts – many entries about high school crushes? Done that. Copying quotes? Done that too, although not often into a paper journal. I also liked that there was a chapter on blogging.

Most of the chapters follow a similar five-section format, although there are some chapters which are shorter. They all begin with a quote that is presented right under the chapter title.

In the first section, the author shares a little anecdote or thought that sets up what she’ll be addressing and in the second, she illustrates the anecdote or thought with some of her own past journal entries.

The third section is straight-up “advice”. For example, she provides tips such as a short list of things to ask/tell yourself as prompts (perhaps for days when ideas for writing are slow), notes that other people’s words – poems, song lyrics, and quotes – are worth writing down if they resonate, and suggesting the value of a themed diary (travel, books, dreams, restaurants, dates). The second point is something I understand – I’ve copied quotes of various kinds into a file on my computer, hand-written some to keep readily available, and kept others that I’ve received on pieces of paper – and while may seem obvious that other people’s words can be worth collecting, it was nice to see it being recommended as a tool for journaling.

The fourth section varies from chapter to chapter and often consists of more journal entries or other thoughts similar and/or supplementary to the anecdote that started the chapter.


The fifth/last section – which is in every chapter, no matter the length – is rather unique. It consists of an extract from the published diary/ies of well-known figures, including Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath, Tennessee Williams, Samuel Pepys, Thomas Paine, and Louisa May Alcott among others.

I think that the last point was one of the reasons that I picked this book up and took it home, out of the variety of books on writing and/or journaling that were available in the library. It’s definitely something I haven’t seen in the other books about journaling, although I will admit that I haven’t read any others or looked through very many either.


In the beginning: Express Yourself, don’t Repress Yourself
Romance on Record: Express Yourself with Other People’s Words
Hearts that hurt: Express Yourself in an Unsent Letter
The spirit is willing: Express Yourself with Questions and Concerns on the Universe
Sense of self: Express Yourself in a Stream of Consciousness
While you were sleeping: Express Your Subconscious Self
A day in the life: Express Yourself with a Specialty Journal
All the news that’s fit to blog: Express Yourself Online
Crimes of passion: Express Yourself Before the Crime is Committed
A dream deferred: Express Yourself with Goals and Lists
Intimate details: Express Yourself Explicitly
Tags: diary, literary, non-fiction, philosophy, self help
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