Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Writing is about keeping your eyes open

I’ve been writing “Thoughts from Dr. Joe” for the Valley Sun for 10 years. I don’t recall ever missing a week. I’m often asked, “Don’t you feel pressure coming up with a different story each week?”

Let me share some secrets that have made the process fairly easy. It’s good wisdom for writers and would-be writers. I always carry a notebook. I particularly like a leather-bound version. I’m a fast forgetter; consequently, unless my thoughts are committed to paper I’ll lose an idea forever. There are a million ideas! No, a billion! But one has to keep both eyes open to see but one. We now have a smartphone app for every conceivable recording need. However the process of writing and the effort in doing so stimulates the cerebral cortex of the brain thus enhancing memory, attention, awareness, thought, language and consciousness. Writing is a much better deal!

Another secret to writing is partly found in a philosophy — a delight of everything imaginable. I’m insanely curious and look into everything that comes before me, not just what I’m feeling but also staying alive to laughter, rain, goodness, evil, joy and sorrow. There are so many stories. Subsequently I record dates, adventures, people, behavior, desperadoes, success, failure and heroes. One day I might need what these variables have to offer.

I started keeping a journal in 1960 when I was in the eighth grade. That’s the day I met Amia Davia. I was so enthralled by her beauty that I had to write about her. When Dante Alighieri met Beatrice Portinari in 13th century Florence he was so moved he wrote “La Vita Nuova” and the “Divine Comedy.” He started journaling, keeping a record of his sightings and feelings of this lovely girl. He kind of started the Renaissance.

Some of my journals have but one entry, like the Yankees beating the Cincinnati Reds in the World Series in 1961. However, in 1970, the year I was in Vietnam, I didn’t miss a day. Over the years I’ve rewritten most journal entries and subsequently I’ve put them in the voice of an adult.

I find satisfaction in writing down experiences. It’s a journey into the interior of one’s self. Although these experiences may appear trivial, there’s an immortality of the self in the process. Our lives often appear like an open book continuously being written. When our story ends it will be as through we never existed. Those who keep a journal will leave a piece of themselves behind.

I have a practice teaching students how to write. I particularly focus on the college essay. Students invariable ask, “How do I become a better writer?” Without hesitation I suggest, “Keep a journal.”

Aristotle said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” The most effective habit prompting success is doing. I insist that in the process of journaling proper vocabulary, punctuation, penmanship, grammar, sentence structure and spelling are strictly noted. Good writing is a matter of discipline. Writing daily, even if it is merely a couple of lines becomes a habit. You get better as you go.

I am a storyteller, a letter writer, a journal writer, compelled to keep an account of life. A consciousness of what has transpired is more vivid when it is translated into words. Thus I often find greater clarity when I am retelling the story in my journal. Journaling has allowed me to gain a perspective of life that you simply can’t get when you are standing right smack-dab in the middle of circumstance. Think of it like standing in the tall grass of the Great Plains and looking at a satellite photograph of the West allowing you to see your place among the entirety. Many unanswered questions are found in that picture.


JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a retired professor of education and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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