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5 Famous Journal Entries from Extraordinary Thinkers

Looking for a little inspiration? Even the greatest writers, thinkers, visionaries, scientists, and well, humans, were known to seek a place of solitude from time-to-time, to jot down their thoughts and ideas. As time has passed, many of these entries have been archived and released into the world for those seeking inspiration, a shift in mindset, and learnings from other sometimes-long-ago lives.

We’ve found it’s not always the most popular statements and novels that change our lives; usually it’s the small things - the thoughts brushed off, the personal anecdotes, the stories no one realises will matter, but come to mean everything. In celebration of these things, we’re sharing five famous journal entry excerpts from extraordinary thinkers:


1. Ernest Hemingway:


1 May 1943

No, the menial tasks of everyday life are reasons enough for living. I don’t group myself with existentialists, yet I believe we can create meaning in our lives through the discoveries and plights of simple existence.”


It may come as no surprise that the “The Old Man and the Sea” author and Pulitzer winner, Ernest Hemingway, was rigorous with his practice of journal writing. In the above extract, he’d just received word that scientist M. Hofmann had accidentally discovered LSD. A known hater of the idea of an otherworldly experience with drugs (he considered it cheating life), Hemingway was moved to reflect on the time after the Great War in which one had to accept the suffering in life in order to truly experience joy and happiness.


2. Anne Frank:


16 March 1944

Above all, I have to maintain my air of confidence. No one can know that my heart and mind are constantly at war with each other. Up to now, reason has always won the battle, but will my emotions get the upper hand?”


Possibly one the most harrowing journal entries of all time, “The Diary of Anne Frank” features entries written as Anne hid in her family’s attic for two years during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. Exploring life, thoughts, and emotions, during a period of extreme suffering, as well as her hopes for life and the future, the extract stands out as essential in understanding Anne. With a war raging outside, she writes of an internal war raging within her – an all-too familiar feeling in what it means to be human.


3. Virginia Woolf:


29 December 1940

I am I: and must follow that furrow, not copy another. That is the only justification for my writing, living. How one enjoys food now: I made up imaginary meals.”


Virginia Woolf’s journals are diverse in thought and emotion, and often include reflections on her writing process. Her diaries humanise her in a way that is different to the legacy of a literary legend we’ve come to know and love. She was often overly critical of herself between moments of extreme passion for writing. Her diaries are set during and after the war, and are often political, reflecting on a number of social issues. At times, her writing takes a negative approach, reflecting her struggles with depression and suspected bipolar disorder, but there remains no doubt that she was a genius.


4. Leo Tolstoy:


25 January 1851

I’ve fallen in love or imagine that I have; went to a party and lost my head. Bought a horse which I don’t need at all.”


This journal entry is one of the ones we love the most – not in the least because of its silliness! Russian author, Leo Tolstoy, is known for “War and Peace”, which is widely considered to be one of the greatest pieces of literature in existence. However, it seems Tolstoy’s regular day-to-day wasn’t that different from our own. To be fair, there probably aren’t many of us who’ve gone out and bought a horse, but we’ve certainly all returned home from a night out, high on love (and maybe one too many drinks). It’s good to know that even the greatest writers have experienced the same things we do, making all-too-human mistakes in moments of heightened emotion – or deep inebriation!


5. Thomas Edison:


19 July 1885

Girls called my attention several times to beauty of the light from said moon shining upon the waters. Couldn’t appreciate it, was so busy taking a mental triangulation of the moon, the two sides of said triangle meeting the base line of the earth at Woodside and Akron Ohio.”


Prolific scientist, Thomas Edison, is known for some famous inventions that we still use today (or that were used as a foundation for modern tech), including the electric light, motion-picture camera, gramophone, and more. It’s hard to imagine that such a man of science kept a notebook for anything other than invention ideas, but Edison kept a pretty comprehensive journal for a while, detailing his days, experiences, and thoughts. Keeping a journal is truly a form of art, and even the most technical career-seekers can find solitude in art.


While journals are usually a private affair, some of these entries have made an impact on today’s thinkers, philosophers, scientists, writers, and artists. Moreso, they’ve helped humanise famous figures, making us realise they’re not so different. To the question of what future generations will read of us, maybe it’s time we all start keeping a journal for future generations to find and learn from…

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