Umm Zakiyyah's hand writing in journal

Journaling Helped Me Find My Voice


everyone is carrying a story.

but only a few will allow the pen to break their souls

wide open.

even if.

I started my first personal journal when I was fifteen years old. The diary was an Eid gift to me from a friend I’d known since childhood. I still have the journal today. It has a pink, cushiony hardcover that bears the title A Writer’s Notebook. I’m not even sure my friend remembers giving it to me.

Written in my own handwriting opposite the inside front cover are my name, the date “April 16, 1991” and the number 1 with a circle around it. It has been more than twenty-five years since I penned my name on that first page and noted the date. But it was more recently that I encircled the number 1 with my pen. I wrote this number to mark the pink A Writer’s Notebook as my first. Now, each journal I’ve had since then has a similar notation, with my latest journal having the encircled number 17.

Seventeen journals. There is so much that the pages of those journals bear witness to. Some of it I recall. Some of it I’d rather not.

Sometimes when I have a free moment, I pick up one of the journals and open it to a page to read what I’ve written. Sometimes what I read makes me smile. Sometimes it makes me reflective or pensive. Sometimes it makes me cry. Sometimes the tears are happy tears, sometimes they are sad.

In my earliest entries, I write a lot about conversations and interactions with friends and classmates. I also write a lot about my worries about the state of the world. This always gives me pause. Because there is so little about me. But today, I can read between the lines and see what is not there: my need for an outlet, my need for a voice, my need for validation, even if I can’t quite find the words.

In a recent entry, I reflect on a moment of gratefulness:

Today I’m grateful for the very few friends and loved ones I have in my closest circle, who don’t punish me for my boundaries, who don’t scorn me when I’m in pain, and who don’t expect from me any more than I can give. And I’m especially grateful that they take full responsibility for their words and actions and never punish me for what they have said or done, expecting me to read minds and hearts beyond what is actually said or done. I’m also grateful that when they say, “I’m sorry,” they really mean it—and that they know when I apologize, I really mean it. But most importantly, I’m grateful that they see themselves as flawed human beings, and that they see me as a flawed human being, and we still love each other anyway…

It is journal reflections like these that inspire my writing voice. Reading these reflections often make me reflect on the real life situations that inspired them. Some of the situations I’ve penned in detail in my personal journals. This particular entry reminds me of an earlier entry when I was trying to make sense of everything that had happened between me and a friend who I now know was toxic. Little did I know, those journal entries about that toxic friendship would become the writing voice for my bestselling novel His Other Wife, which began as a short story series and led to nearly a million hits on my site. In this way, my simple journal reflections have become writing prompts for me and have helped me find and develop my writing voice.

Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other WifeJoin UZ University to learn how you too can find your writing voice and share inspirational stories with the world:

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