There are a lot of reasons why someone would keep a journal: it’s therapeutic, they could be trying to figure out something important and complex in their lives, or they might simply want to document what their life entails.
For the writer, journaling, however it’s done, is essential.
Every writer I know has a lot going on in their heads. Whether it’s story ideas, worrying, or even the classic writer trope of having some form of mental illness (fun fact: not all writers have mental illnesses like depression or anxiety, nor do you “need” a mental illness to be a writer. Stop this damaging myth!). Regardless, journaling is a therapeutic and essential act, I believe for everyone.
There is a wonderful cartoon going around with two people talking. One has a thought bubble of tangled yarn, and the other person’s speech bubble is organizing and tidying the yarn into individual balls. The latter is often labeled “my therapist,” though I’ve seen replacements such as “coach,” of my personal favorite, “writing.”
This is what writing in general can do, but also what journaling can do for you.
Our thoughts are not organized. We of course all have the ability to organize them, but it sometimes takes some know-how. Most of the time, when we are jumbled, it’s because we can’t get our thoughts to behave and organize themselves. They’re these images, sounds, and concepts, floating around our brain space, bumping into each other, interrupting each other, until we find ourselves somewhat confused.
When you decide to put your thoughts down on a piece of paper, or a document, or to make an audio recording of your journal, then you’re funneling your thoughts into something cohesive, or at least, practicing doing this. It means that only one word can come out at a time, and your brain has to work to make the expression of a thought come out in some recognizable order.
Through this, the journaller can usually find some semblance of understanding in what they’re thinking. It doesn’t 100% of the time work, but it’s a good first step if nothing else. However, with practice and regular routine of journaling, you’ll find it is effective.
Furthermore, one of the best things you can do as a writer is to write. But we don’t necessarily always know what to write for our projects. We might be still mulling over a concept and how we want to formulate it in a project, but aren’t ready to start the project yet. However, it is still essential to form or maintain the habit of regular writing.
Journaling is a great space holder for this. You are still in the habit of writing, or creating the habit, but you don’t necessarily have to be working on anything but yourself. You can record what you dreamed about the night before, or an interesting conversation you had, or your frustrations about the day, or better yet, the excelling things that happened/you saw/you appreciated during the day.
Creating a writing habit is essential to preventing writers block. Writers block is simply your brain resisting creating. The words are there, in you, ready to come out. So is your story, as well as a myriad of other stories. However, there is always a resistance to the unknown, and every story we write, no matter how well planned, is the unknown.
When you create the habit of writing daily, however that might be, then it becomes familiar, and thus, resolves such resistance.
Journaling is also a method of creative exploration. This means that you can explore a story idea or a concept without any pressure of committing it to the actual project itself. You can ask yourself questions regarding the genre you write in, what you think of your main character, whether or not you’d have a drink with them, if you think they carry the plot well.
You can suggest to yourself interesting facts that you learned about a tiny village on a Greek island, and ask yourself what you would do if that was where you lived as an outsider, or explore the idea of being a cricket farmer to create cricket flour.
Likewise, you can discover different mediums of writing. How does it feel to try different forms of poetry? What about writing as if you were writing an essay about your day?
The beautiful thing about a journal is that it is personal and private. No one gets to see it unless you want them to. But it is a space for you to play, to processes, to think, to unravel thoughts, and to explore.
Morning pages, a concept created by Julia Cameron, is the practice of getting up and writing longhand for at least three pages in your journal. Before you do anything in the morning (except relieve yourself if you need, of course), you get up, go to wherever it is you write, and sit down and journal, non-stop for at least three pages.
The idea is that you do not stop until you’ve reached the end of the third page. This means no pausing to think what to write, no thinking about how to spell something, no scribbling out. Just writing.
There have been claims that this morning act alone helped people get through difficult times, such a rough divorces. I won’t make that claim, but in hard times, everything is worth trying.
The benefit of this is that it gives a goal to reach: three pages. But it also allows you the freedom to have a stream of consciousness conversation with yourself to get you ready to write.
I suggest that you practice this not only when you get up in the morning, but before you sit down to write creatively. It is a way of breaking through your writing blocks and cobwebs that have formed since the last time you wrote. Have your document or notebook, however you prefer to write, ready and next to your journal so you can go seamlessly from Morning Pages to your work in progress.
Do you keep a journal? Why, or why not?
When I was younger and in school, I always hated questions that ended in “why or why not?” For me, the answer was always obvious. “Because I don’t want to,” “Because I don’t like it,” “ Because I refuse to participate in something that goes against my core beliefs” (I as a little bit of a snot-nose when I was in school).
However, as I’ve gotten older, I see them less as incessant questioning to get me to write more than a one-sentence answer. They’re an invitation to dig deeper, to really explore the meaning of the question as well as my answer.
When you try journaling, take the opportunity not just to record, but to explore as well. As writers, our job is to explore the human condition. Why not start with ourselves?
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