Right now, the outside world here in Denton, TX is a semi-frozen deadzone. Half an inch of ice on the roads, and we cancel school and retreat into our cozy living rooms for hot cocoa and television re-runs. Happily, I am no different!
This two-day mini-retreat into the solitude of my living room couch has left me with little to do and much to think about. I have already watched an entire season of an old favorite TV drama, cooked multiple recipes, cleaned the kitchen (twice), and finished reading a novel.
Often, I find that these little busy-making activities really attempt to keep me from my thoughts.
Now that we embark on the second half of day two, I am sitting down with my pen in hand. I am determined to get these mangy rascals out there into the real world.
Many of you are aware of my journaling hobby (habit, history, obsession, whatever you’d like to refer to it as).
For those of you who aren’t, here’s the short version: I have been journaling ever since I can remember.
My first journal is a little 3×5 inch pink booklet with an old-school silver lock, filled with inch-high writing about my best friends, accompanied by stick figures. I assume that this journal was written when I was about five.
Since then, I have filled book after book with words. My bedside table back home houses a stack of some fifteen (or so) journals, filled to the brim. Here I am, still going strong!
Upon hearing this, my dear friend Emily exclaimed “Wow! You must have no problem at all with forgetting things!”
Maybe, and maybe not.
Over the years, I’ve gone through my ups and downs. There are months missing. There may even be years missing, between the pages of those journals. I go through phases of writing every day, and then not writing again for a week. I deliberately leave things out of my journaling process. I frequently sit in front of my desk with absolutely NOTHING on my mind to write about.
That all goes to say that I have experienced about every struggle that a journal writer could have… and here I am to tell the tale.
I still think it’s important, and I still think that journaling is the most effective tool I have for understanding my life, my mind, and my world.
I’m here to make a case to you– to those of you who may want to start journaling, to those of you who have tried and have already given up, and to those of you looking for a new way of understanding yourself.
I’m here to encourage you to give this tool a good try.
Not sure where to start? I’ve been there.
Many of my journal entries begin with the words “I’m not sure what to write.”
My first nugget of wisdom is this: Just start writing!
I learned the practice of “stream-of-consciousness” writing when I endeavored to write every single morning upon first waking up– a practice called “Morning Pages,” encouraged by author Julia Cameron in her book “The Artist’s Way.” Check out an explanation of this here.
I have since gone away from using morning pages, simply because I am WAY too sleepy to sit quietly and write first thing in the morning! However, the concept of writing continuously without stopping stuck with me.
The deal is, if you can’t think of what to write, just write down any thought that crosses your mind. Write that you don’t know what to write. Your only goal is to keep that pen moving across the page.
If you do this for very long, you’ll write down thoughts that pop into your head. You’ll write down the thoughts that spring out of that first idea. And soon, you’ll end up writing about things you didn’t even know were bothering you. Things you didn’t even remember or realize.
By doing this, you allow your subconscious to “speak” to you– in a sense.
Journaling works, but only if you’re actually writing. If you’re not sure where to start, then that is exactly where to start. Get that pen to paper.
Nugget of wisdom number two: Leave your inner critic at the door!
There are so many times when I would journal about my day, and deliberately leave out certain things. I wouldn’t write down exactly how I felt, and I would hold back my most extreme emotions. At one point, I held my self-expression at bay so far that I could only write in poetry– which produced some darn-good verses, I might add, but the underlying message still remains sinister.
I wasn’t free to write what I wanted to write. I wasn’t free to write the truth. And in so doing, I effectively hid the truth from myself.
If the goal of journaling is to get your thoughts down onto paper and out of your head, then your job as professional-censor needs to cease the second you pick up your pen.
I found myself consumed by thoughts like these: “What if someone found my journal and read this?” “What if people think I’m crazy?” And, strangest of all, “What will my children think when they read these after I’m gone?”
My answer to these doubts is this: Who cares?!?
Your journal needs to be a safe place where you can write exactly how you feel. It must be a space where you can write any thought, no matter how silly-sounding or scary.
If you’re anything like me, you will need to remind your inner critic that the point of journaling is to work these thoughts out on paper. The point of journaling is to give you a place to express those thoughts that might not be socially acceptable to voice out loud– and you must remind yourself that it’s healthy to do this!
And, for goodness’ sake, after you’re long gone, WHO CARES what you wrote down when you were 22 years old? I know you won’t.
Nugget of wisdom number three: Re-read what you have written!
Here is where some of you may disagree with me. Many people advocate for writing all your feelings down, and then burning the pages to ash. They say that this process makes you feel “relieved” for “letting things go.”
Let’s be real here: I get WAY too attached to things to burn my journals!!
If that’s your cup of tea, then so be it. You can skip this portion of the post. However, for those of you who are looking for a little help on self-reflection, please continue on the path to righteousness.
I have found recently that journaling alone is not enough for me to truly understand what’s going on in my head. I can write and write and write, and days later have no idea what I was feeling or thinking. I simply can’t remember. This is why I find it important to go back and re-read my journal entries.
Sometimes, I will write a particularly interesting few pages, and I will stop to re-read right then and there. I will underline things that strike my interest. I will circle emotion-words, or questions that I’ve written down. And then, I will go to the end of my page and begin writing again– this time lining out my thoughts about what I had written before.
This step is called “reflection,” and it is something that I find to be missing in my daily life lately. I need to reflect on what’s happened, what I think, and how I feel. I need to remember, and analyze, and understand.
So, burn if you wish– re-read if you wish– but definitely take the time to do something with what you’ve written. Make a choice as to how you will respond.
Writing can be difficult. But the process can be rewarding, eye-opening, relaxing, and incredibly helpful.
Give it a try this week! Grab a blank notebook, a pretty hardcover journal you have lying around, or even some printer paper, and get started. You may thank me later. 🙂
What are your thoughts on journaling? Have you ever tried it before? I’d love to hear your thoughts below!
“Isn’t it mysterious to begin a new journal like this? I can run my fingers through the fresh clean pages but I cannot guess what the writing on them will be.”
― Maud Hart Lovelace