Venting in Your Journal: An Ode to the Rant

by | Core Journaling | 18 comments

I received a great reader question this week. It’s a common question I hear quite a bit, so I decided to answer it here so the rest of you can benefit, too.

(If you have a question, always feel free to drop me a line and I’ll do my best to answer it.)

Maureen asked:

Is it okay to whine in my journal? To moan and groan and complain? Or am I supposed to keep things more positive, more solution-centered?

As you may have guessed from the title of this post, my short answer is: Yes – moan and groan and complain. That’s what your journal is there for.

The long answer comes back to my #1 philosophy for journaling: write exactly what you need to write, when you need to write it. And as often as you need to write it.

The key lies in the phrase “supposed to.” I don’t believe in supposing to anything in your journal. I believe solely in writing exactly where you are at the moment.

There’s quite a few reasons for this.

1. Keep yourself honest

Our journals are perhaps the only place on earth where we can totally be ourselves, for ourselves. Even those among us who strive to be truly authentic may find we censor ourselves out in the world.

I do my best to keep it real, but not everyone at my corporate workplace would appreciate my truck-driver vocabulary (f-bombs abound) or my opinion on Working for The Man. So while I push the envelope with negotiables like dress code, sometimes I need to pick and choose what comes out of my mouth.

In my journal? Not so much. I let it all hang out. It’s perhaps why I’m okay with editing myself in other areas of my life. I refuse to compromise when it comes to self expression on the page.

If you get into the habit of censoring yourself in your journal because you feel like you “should” be more upbeat or solutions-oriented, your free-flowing ideas will slow to a trickle. Your subconscious will lose trust in you. You may find it difficult to access your true feelings, which is the reason we started journaling in the first place.

2. Protect the rest of the world

When you vent your most petty, whiney, woe-is-me crap on the page, you spare the rest of the world your self-sorry angst. Same goes for your anger, vindictive rage, jealousy, and fear.

While I know my partner and close friends are always there for me and willing to hear whatever I need to vent about, I don’t think it’s fair to bring every single complaint to them. It would erode my relationships if all I did was gripe. That’s a lot to put on one person, especially someone you have an intimate relationship with.

So I focus most of my whining on the page. When there’s a particular sticking point I could use feedback on, I bring it to the peanut gallery and ask for input. Or if it’s a complaint requiring a change in someone else’s behavior, I’ll write about it until I’m clear on the situation and then approach the person in question.

If I didn’t journal, I don’t think many people would like me. I’d spend an awful lot of time bitching about traffic, politics, and my inability to find decent shoes in size 12.

3. Rebel against the “Shoulds”

I’ve got a bone to pick with Should. Really – don’t we get enough Shoulds from the rest of the world? Do we really need to assign ourselves more Shoulds? (One of my cherished friends is fond of saying, “You’re shoulding all over yourself.”)

I should sweep the floor more often. I should return my library books on time. I should prepare and eat proper dinners, at a table. I should probably blow dry my hair once in awhile.

But I shouldn’t do anything in my journal other than write exactly what I feel like writing at the moment. Having this guilt-free place to rage when I need to is an exercise in anti-Should. It’s freedom from shame and guilt and fear of shortcomings.

4. You’ll get over it quickly

When you vent on the page, you’re more likely to make a necessary change. Solutions become more clear spelled out in black and white. (Or purple sparkles and white, in my case. Love those Sakura Stardust pens.)

I get sick of listening to myself pretty quickly. If I find myself bitching about the same problem for more than a few days, I get irritated enough to take action.

So ironically, not focusing on being “solutions-oriented” will often force you toward a solution. I talk about this in my recent interview in context of a crappy mattress. If every morning you write about how much you hate your mattress because you’re not getting good sleep and it’s making you cranky and affecting your quality of life, you’ll replace that mattress much more quickly.

This is also true of less concrete problems, like frenemies who are sapping your energy or obligations that you just can’t take anymore.

5. Venting is a straight line

While I believe in writing the same stuff over and over if you need to, I don’t condone dwelling or rehashing in your head. There is a distinct difference between obsessing over a topic in your mind and putting it down on paper.

Thinking about a problem obsessively is a circle. Writing something out is a straight line. It’s definitive, it gets it out of your head. Even if you return to it, writing about your issue provides forward movement. Letting it stew in your head is just spinning your wheels.

Some folks fear that if they start whining in their journals, they’ll never stop.

That has not proven true for me. My advice is: try it and see what happens. Like I mentioned above, allowing myself unfettered ranting usually gets me over myself pretty quickly.

The other thing I’ve noticed is that when I look back through my journals at times of intense ranting, they often follow a distinct pattern. Say, three or four days a month. The same three or four days – every month. I think you understand what I’m getting at here.

If you find that venting makes you focus on the negative too much over time, balance it out with a gratitude list or detail your favorite simple pleasures. Do your venting, and then move on to “Well here’s what’s going well.” Do a round of Working/Not Working or More/Less.

But by all means, let yourself complain. Most of us have earned the right to rant every once in awhile. My guess is that includes YOU!


  1. D.O.

    Yes, a journal is an excellent place to rant, vent and work out upsetting feelings. Get it out there rather than on Facebook or Twitter and risk embarrassment later!

    • Kristin

      Oooh – yes. I’ve gone that route and it’s not a pretty outcome. Especially since the internet archives our rants for all eternity!

  2. Kari

    (sighs) I so need to vent about things more on paper than running them around in my head or bouncing them off my husband. 🙂

  3. Kristin

    Kari – I think it depends on your needs at the moment. Sometimes we really need to be *heard* by another human, we need compassionate feedback and support. A lot of times we just need to get something off our chest. The secret is identifying which is which. Also, women tend to bond through talking/complaining/sharing, while men try to solve problems they’re presented with. Either can be beneficial, depending on your current needs.

  4. Dawn Herring

    Hey Kristin,
    Guess what? I loved this post about ranting in your journal (I do lots of that when needed!) Your whole approach is comprehensive and I like the offer of balancing ideas with positive/negative.

    And I’ve picked your post today, October 21, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day for all things journaling. I will be posting it on Twitter, Facebook and my blog.

    Thanks for all your great journaling advice and your terrific sense of humor.

    Be refreshed,

    • Kristin

      Awesome! Thanks Dawn!!

  5. patty sherry

    I love this. So funny but I used to have two i called my happy journal or book of intentions, and one journal I called Patty’s rants and dark thoughts. I loved how it allowed me to be me, without judgment and I could just vent it all out there, allow myself to be with my emotions…

    • Kristin

      That’s an interesting approach, Patty! I’ve already got a little bit of a split personality — separate journals might push me over the edge. 😉

  6. Jennifer L.

    I almost never rant or vent in my journal, just because I don’t want certain things to go down in history. For me, what works well is to vent to someone I *really* trust, like my husband or best friend, and then journal about any real problems (not just passing annoyances/grievances), processing it calmly and working towards solutions or closure. This method feel right to me, but that’s what I love about journaling: Each person gets to choose what works and feels right to them.

    • Kristin

      So true, Jennifer – each person gets to choose what feels right to them. Glad you found a method that works for you!

  7. Penney

    You have hit the nail on the head as to exactly why I keep making journals, but they’re all blank! I see people’s journals, they are upbeat, full of wonderful quotes, great colors, etc. and think “What if I just want to bitch in my journal? Will it perpetuate the bitch?” After reading your blog entry I am ready to commit to writing in my journal. I WILL “just try it” and see what happens. Thank you for making it all clear for me. I have just turned the metaphorical page in journaling. You are my hero!

    • Kristin

      Penney – your hero? That was easy! 😉

      I don’t share my journals, ever. So I don’t worry about what’s in them or how they appear to others. I could see how that could cramp your style though if you were planning to share. In that case, I might keep a separate journal that’s for public consumption – like a lot of the art journals I see. I also heard from a reader who would vent on the page, and then cover it up with pretty pictures and paint. Then you get the benefit of the rant, but without the messy aftermath.

  8. Penney

    Once again, my hero! I really like the idea of ranting and then covering it up– brilliant.

  9. Maureen

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!! This more than answered my question — you offered brilliant insights here, and have given me the courage to journal again. You reminded me of why, and how, I used to journal; how journaling once offered me a safe haven with no rules, no expectations, no “shoulds” where I could be myself and express myself exactly as I needed. Your explanation of how solutions come about in spite of, and because of, whining and complaining in our journals makes perfect sense. I love this quote from your article: “I refuse to compromise when it comes to self expression on the page.” Amen, sister! I am ready to journal now, unfettered and free. Thank you again with all my heart. – Maureen

  10. Donna Norris

    Ranting in my journal is the BEST place for me to vent. Good grief, if I said the things I thought out loud – well – it would not be pretty. And I agree with this post, nobody would want to be around me if I didn’t journal. It makes me a MUCH better and nicer person.

  11. mrs mediocrity

    I agree, I have always used my journals for rants, and then i usually see something I hadn’t been able to focus on before, or I move on and get over it. Better in my journal than to a friend or my husband, no one really needs to hear all the things a person can rant or whine about!

  12. Kim Hine

    I love to whine in my journal, I have a problem with voicing my opinion (I’m working on it though) and so I do it all in my journal get over the worst of the feelings, read it back when I’m calmer and then I know what I have to do or say to whomever to sort out the situation. I proved this technique recently when I calmly and clearly pointed out to my cousin I did not like her behaviours towards one of my daughters and that as her Mother I had to say something (Normally I’d be angry or tearful and instead she ended up crying) and she asked me “how did you do that so calmly?” I said I vented about you for days in my journal and now that I’m calm I have the courage to say what I need to say the inner me came through. I also warned her that she should never read my journal or what I wrote about her because she’d be shocked!

  13. Meg

    I would LOVE to be able to vent, but I censor myself too much. What are some ideas for getting over that?