Tag Archives | journaling

Writing Your Way Back to Yourself

Hohos JournalsYears ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Madeleine L’Engle, author of one of the best books ever, A Wrinkle in Time, speak.  I brought my sister, a designer along.  L’Engle was inspiring, gracious, and fascinating and when her talk was over, my sister turned to me and said, “She makes me wish I was a writer.”

Isn’t that wonderful? L’Engle had presented such an incredible picture of what it’s like to lead the writer’s life that even non-writers got swept up in the vision. And to me, it just reinforced what I already knew: that writing is the best passion in the world.  There’s nothing I love more than being totally enraptured by a story I’m writing, or completely wrapped up in putting together an article about writing.

But there’s another reason beyond both of these, that I love writing. And that is because it constantly and consistently brings me back to myself. Through throwing words at the page, I write my way home, over and over again.

It’s easy to get lost these days. There’s a cacophony of noise out there—social media, news headlines, videos, a contentious and distracting presidential election.  It is way to easy to drown in all of the input our poor overloaded brains take in on a daily basis and to feel confused, puzzled or out of sorts—without even knowing why.  When this happens to me, I pull out my journal.

It is all too easy to sneer at journal writing as the purview of the wealthy who have nothing more important to do than write delicate entries about their fragile emotions.  And yet, when one is in the grip of emotion, confounded about how to respond to the anxieties of the world, there is no better antidote than throwing words on the page.  I went through a period, many years ago, when I wrote in my journal every day.  That hasn’t been true of me for a long while, but I do journal in fits and spurts, regularly enough to call myself a journaler.  At the start of this year, for instance, I filled an entire spiral with words. And then one day I was just done and I didn’t journal again for a long time.

Most often these days I don’t journal because I’d rather be writing fiction.  If one has limited time to write, one must choose what one is going to write carefully.  Also, if one wants to write fiction but is blocked, one can easily use journaling as an excuse!  All those caveats aside, I do think every writer should consider keeping a journal at least sporadically, because it is so tremendously helpful in getting the crap out of your head and onto the page.

For the record, I come from a lineage of diarists. My maternal grandmother, who I don’t remember because she died when I was barely three, recorded a diary entry nearly every day of her adult life. (Those are her journals in the photo—they hold pride of place in a shelf in my office.)  To my great disappointment, they tell very little of her inner life, but rather, drily note who visited, what she made for dinner, etc. (And to what will likely be my descendant’s great disappointment, my diaries tell very little of what happened in my world, but rather are dedicated to me figure out emotions and stories on the page.)

There’s all kinds of journaling you can do.  I could write helpful snippets about writing morning pages , or keeping a gratitude journal, or writing unsent letters,, or writing about your day. But I’m not going to, because honestly, the best thing you can do is grab yourself a journal, open it up, and write. Start where you are now, wherever that is, and end when you’re finished. That’s all there is to it.

Do you write in a journal? Come on over to the blog and tell how you use it!

6

Favorite Writing Journals (C’mon, You Know You Want One)

JournalsJournals.  Oh, God, journals.  In the recent purge of much of my office crap, I gave away a ton of them.  And yet I still have tons of them (note photo.  And I’m pretty sure I’ve got at least another box and another bag of them somewhere upstairs).  But that’s because I love them so much that I hoard them.  And then when I go looking for just the right journal for what I need (because I start journals for everything) I usually decide nothing I have works right and I go buy one.  That’s probably the exact definition of a hoarder.  But if I had a house piled full of journals, the way those people on the hoarding shows have piles of junk, I’d be a happy woman.

Anyway.  It is only a few days until the new year and I need you need a new journal.   So I thought I’d share with you some of my favorites.  And do bear in mind, this is only a partial list.   I can fall in love with the simplest notebook at my local Fred Meyer, or buy bunches of pretty ones in France and forget that I had recently vowed lifelong allegiance to a certain brand.  I’m fickle that way and I blame it on my right brain.

But if I were going to vow lifelong allegiance to a certain brand, it would likely be one of these:

  1. The Moleskine.   We’re all familiar with these by now, as they are the journals that famous writers such as Hemingway supposedly used.  Originally available only in black with a hard cover, they now come in a million different sizes and cover colors.   I like the classic best.  The paper quality is good, and there’s that handy pocket in the back. Hard to beat.
  2. Leuchtturm Journals.  These were love at first sight for me.  Very similar to Moleskines, but they have…wait for it…numbered pages and an index.  The best features ever!  Because ever since I discovered the Bullet Journal system (see below) I number the pages of all my journals and keep an ongoing index.  Its the only way to track your ideas and brilliant thoughts.  The Leuchtturm does this for you.  And the colors–oh the colors! They’ve got Moleskines way beat on the colors.
  3. Bullet Journal.  The inventor of this system is a brilliant graphic designer who figured out a way to personalize his Moleskine to make it into a truly handy organizer, adaptable to anyone.  You can use any notebook you want for it, but now he also has a store where you can buy one designed especially for this system.  When I first learned of the bullet journal a couple years ago, I used it quite successfully for a year.  Then, in my usual fickle manner, I moved on.  But I’ve maintained some of his innovations.  And I’m sorely tempted to buy one of his journals to check them out.
  4. Plain old-fashioned spirals.  You know, the kind you buy at office supply stores with little kitties or butterflies on them.  I’ve got stacks of these babies lying around, and sometimes they just can’t be beat for practicality.  You can’t go wrong with notebooks from Mead (including their Red & Black brand, which I like a lot) but lookit all the cool ones I found on Etsy, too!
  5. Rhodia. Oh God. I just went to their website.  They’ve branched out from the classic (or “iconic” as they call it) orange and black notebooks.  There are all kinds of goodies to consider here.
  6. Claire Fontaine.  Another classic manufacturer of quality notebooks.  And I love the way they look.

Okay, so those are my picks.  Do you have a habit for collecting journals like I do? What are your favorites?  Please share in the comments.

10

How to Write While Traveling (Or Otherwise Distracted): 7 Strategies

JournalAugust2015

The best travel journal ever

I am distracted. My thoughts, I will admit, are on Europe these days.  Because, I WILL BE THERE IN LESS THAN TWO WEEKS.  So I am distracted.  And when I am there I will be distracted.  (Because, Barcelona, people.  Paris.  Collioure.)  

And yet, I am still doing my best to write regularly. Why? Because I am a masochist.  No, really, its because I feel weird when I'm not writing.  Antsy.  A little anxious.  Like something is missing in my life.  Like my best friend is gone. (I felt this way for a year after I quit smoking but that's another story.)

I just feel better when I am writing, period.

You may be distracted, too.  By summertime travel.  Or small children (as I used to be 24-7 for what seemed an eternity and now am again whenever my beloved grown children can cajole me to babysit their children, which is, ahem, often). Or those pesky day jobs.  Or caring for an aging parent.  Or any number of the things that we deal with in life.

I know plenty of people who just set their writing aside when they get overwhelmed with distraction. But I'm here to advocate that you do not do this.  Because time is precious, and short. Because if you set your writing project aside, when you return to it, you'll have to spend lots of that precious time getting yourself up to speed.  And because, writers write.  Period.

So how shall we manage when the baby wakes up at 3 AM crying, or the hospital calls to tell you your mother has just arrived in the ER again, or you have to stay at work until 11 to finish something? Or you just might get to go to an exotic foreign land?  Here's how:

Use what you've got in front of you.  When you're traveling, this is obvious.  Everything is bright and shiny and new and different and it is relatively easy to write about it.  But it might not be so evident with the less positive distractions in your life.  So, write about how exhausted you are as the mother of a newborn, how worried you are about your parent, how much you loathe your job.  Of such conflicts many books have been born.

Take advantage of odd bits of time. Because, they may be all you have.  So maybe you've got a chunk of time while you are riding the high-speed train from Paris to Perpignan but you fall asleep because you're so jet-lagged so you only end up having twenty minutes.  Or you have fifteen minutes in the morning when you wake up before the rest of the house.  I know it doesn't seem like much, but let me share a little secret: I get more done with I have less time.  On the days when I have all day to write I fart around.  I tell myself I've got plenty of time to get to it and so I don't.  But if I know I only have thirty minutes, chop chop, I'm at the page.

Carry pen and paper with you everywhere.  Because you never know when you'll have a window of opportunity open up.  (Get a load of my adorable new carry-around-in-my-travel-bag journal above.)  Maybe there will be a bit of time when you arrive to pick your daughter up from soccer practice early.  (I knew a woman who wrote a novel this way.) Whip out your pen and paper.   You know the drill.  But it is worth reminding you because recently I found myself without a pen, which was a shocking state of affairs.

Remind yourself why you love writing.  And why it is important to you.  And thus why you are going to take just a few–a very few minutes–out of the 1440 we have every day to engage in it.  I can't answer this for you, but you can.  And while you are busy doing so, you might also write about–or ponder–why you love the project you're working on.

Quit worrying about not writing.  Because, what you resist, persists.  What you focus on grows. So stop worrying about not writing and use that energy to write.  A brief story: when my son, now a strapping man with a great job and the most adorable little girl in the whole history of the world, was a child, he used to complain and moan about cleaning his room.  And I always told him that if he just put the energy he was using to whine into cleaning, his room would be finished in a jiffy.  I think a lot of us are like that.  We spend so much time thinking about why we're not doing something, we forget we could be using that time to do it.

Just take notes.  Or make lists of things you want to remember.  Years ago, on a trip to Mexico, I made lists of the things I wanted to remember: the way the jungle pressed in on the resort, the flamingoes in the pool by the lobby bar (where they made the good, strong drinks), the terror I felt as I tried paragliding.  I didn't have time to journal, but I took good notes.  And came home and wrote a story about it, which you can actually read here.

If all else fails, have yourself a good think.  You're gazing out the window of the plane.  Think about your plot.  You're rocking the baby in the middle of the night.  Figure out your main character's backstory.  You're sitting by a hospital bed.  Ponder deep themes.  I believe that thinking is highly underrated for writers.  But the trick is to keep your brain on the plot, not the glass of wine and delicious dinner you're going to have when you get to Paris.

Those are my suggestions.  What about you?  How do you deal with distractions?  Leave a comment!

15

8 Ways to Blow Up Your Writing Brain by Journaling (+ Tips)

I'm an off-and-on journaler.  I've had periods in my life–long stretches, like ten years–when I got up every day and wrote in a journal first thing.  (And to prove it, I've got three huge tubs of them.) I've also had journaling droughts, where I don't actively write in a diary. Copy_reflexion_author_260936_l

Article after article suggests that journaling is good for you in a number of ways, including your mental health. Studies show that journaling is linked to reducing stress, helping to deal with traumatic events, and  increasing your physical health (it boosts your immune system and lowers blood pressure). It has even been shown to help in sports performance and reduce employee absenteeism.  (You can read more about these studies here.)  And that is all well and good–really good, actually–but the bottom line for me is whether or not journaling helps me with my writing.

And  I'm here to tell you that the times when I am writing in my journal regularly are much more productive and creative for me than the times when I am not.  I actually thing journaling is good for everybody from writers to visual artists to musicians to business people.  Journaling helps you sort things out, process life, and come up with ideas.  And I don't care what you do in the world, those are valuable processes for everyone .  For writers, one of the biggest benefits I see is that it helps us see life as story, and that stories abound in life.

But sometimes, I will admit, I open my journal and my pen hovers over the page and I can't think of anything to write.  So over the last few months I've been keeping track of the various ways I use my journal and I now present them to you.  I've also included some handy journaling tips at the end of this post.

So you can blow up your writing brain (I mean this in the best of ways) and your creativity.

Account of day to day life.  This is probably the most traditional kind of journaling, the kind of activity we used to call writing in a diary.  It can be a great starting point for a journal entry (see below).  Austin Kleon calls it keeping a logbook, and makes a case for doing it regularly. It is probably the kind of journaling I do least, but when I do do it, I love looking back on the accounts of my days..

Idea incubator.  One of the best reasons to keep a journal as a writer.   I think every writer should have some kind of notebook where you record ideas, things they've seen, books to read, etc., even if you don't actively write journal entries.  (You might like the bullet journal idea below for this.)  For a fantastic post on using the writer's notebook, check out this post.  I love it so much I'm going to print it out and put it in my bullet journal.

To sort things out.  This is the kind of journaling the mental health professionals want you to do, and with good reason–because it works.  Process your crap on the page and deal with it, instead of waiting for it to come out at an inopportune moment.  (Talkin' to myself here, too.)

As a vessel for the spiritual.  Those of us on a spiritual path know that writing in a journal can help you figure out your relationship with the divine, talk to God, converse with angels or spirits–whatever you desire.  I would go so far as to suggest that journaling can become a form or meditation or prayer.  I know it often is for me.  My favorite writer for this is Janet Connor.

As a bullet journal.  This is how I organize myself, and until I found this system I was constantly searching for the best way to keep my life together on paper.  (No, I do not use a digital system.  I hate phone and computer calendars.)  But the bullet journal is much more than just an organizer or planner–it can hold all your thoughts and ideas.  Mine has become a hybrid which I use for my journaling entries as well.  If you are interested in this system start with the original link, and then google "bullet journal."  You'll find a ton of helpful post and articles about it, complete with clever hacks.  I find mine works best, though, if I keep it as simple as possible.

Morning pages.  Julia Cameron popularized this version of journaling in her book, The Artist's Way, and it is a perennial favorite because it works.  The process is simple–you get up and you write three pages without thinking.  That's it.  You don't have to craft beautiful sentences or write about how your boyfriend stood you up.  Just write and see what comes up.  Not only is it helpful to get your ya-yas out, over time, certain themes will emerge that may help you see your life more clearly.

A space for free writing.  Sometimes you don't know what to write but you know you want to write.  Your journal is the perfect place for this.  Grab yourself a prompt and have at it.  Set a timer and write for 20 minutes without lifting the pen from the page.  Miraculous things will emerge.

A place to write about your current WIP.  I spend a lot of time writing about my current novel.  If I get lost in the plot, I write about where I might go.  I write about characters and their back story.  I write about the homes they live in and the places they work.  Writing in a journal is a godsend for helping you figure out your story.  You may want to keep a separate notebook for this, so you can easily access the information when you need it.

Those are just some of the ways I use my journals, and there are a ton more that I don't have room for–like making lists or mind mapping.  You'll come up with your own favorites.

Tips:

Start where you are.  I had a friend who found journaling a great help when she went through cancer, but then she stopped.  She wanted to get started again, but felt she had to commit to the page everything that had happened since she had last written.  Nope.  Just start where you are, with whatever you want to write about.

Index!  This sounds tedious and overly organized, but it is a lifesaver.  It is a key part of the bullet journal and I've started using it for my all my journals.   Label a page at the front or back of the book as an index, then number your pages and when you write something you want to keep track of, note it.  Oh, and I recently found the Leuchtturm journals, which not only have page numbers already printed on them, but also a pen strap and a gorgeous rainbow of colors! I can't wait to order one.

Keep at it.  As with everything we do, at first it can seem awkward and useless.  But the more you write in a journal, the more you'll see the various benefits and keep at it.

Maintain a list of prompts.  It's really helpful to have a page in your journal where you write down prompts and then if you don't know what to write about, there you are.  Feel free to use mine–there's a ton of them here.

If you really get stuck, go back to day before and write what happened. It's as good a starting point as any!

Do you keep a journal?  What's your favorite technique for journal writing?  Please comment!

 

11

Revisiting Morning Pages

Planner_binder_ring_261350_lOver the last month or so, I've gone back to doing Morning Pages.  I started mid-December and have been picking up steam ever since.  I've been writing so much in my journal that I began a system of indexing it so I could keep track of everything.  Ideas pour from my pen.  I figure things out.  I write about what happened the day before.  I list to-dos, start scenes, unknot pesky writing issues.  And once again, I've become an enthusiastic proponent of morning pages. 

What are Morning Pages?

Morning Pages were popularized by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist's Way.  As she describes them, "Morning pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning."  Don't think about them too much. Just write.  There's no wrong way to do them.  For real.  (Though Julia does recommend keeping them to three pages.  Shorter than that, and you won't get the benefit.  Longer, and you spend too much time with them.)

My History with Morning Pages

I first read the Artist's Way many years ago at a very difficult time in my life.  Our house had burned down and that had thrown me off kilter creatively for awhile.  (Ya think?)  I'd seen the book at the book store (told you it was a long time ago) but was put off by the word "artist" in the title, thinking it was more for visual artist types.  But I bought it eventually and went through the whole program.

I resisted Morning Pages at first.  One thing, like this guy, I'm not much of a follower.  I squirm about when people tell me what I should be doing.  And then I tend to do the opposite of what they say.  But I'd committed to doing the program and so I started Morning Pages.  And did them religiously for the next ten years.  At least.  I did them because they worked for me in every way–creatively, spiritually, and emotionally.  

And then I quit.  I think it was when I started writing fiction first thing in the morning and didn't feel I had time for Morning Pages.  That was about ten years ago and since then I've dipped into doing MPs off and on but haven't made them a regular practice.  But I'm recommitting to them once again because my results this time around have been spectacular.

Why You Should Do Them

For about fifty million reasons, really, but mostly because they will boost your creativity, help you find and maintain your spiritual center, and maybe most important of all–because they will freaking make you feel good.  

As I've been gathering my thoughts about this post, I've run across a couple of related quotes that I share with you here because, though they are not specifically about Morning Pages, I think they shine light on why they work so well.

Here is what Jen Sincero, author of You Are a Badass, says about journaling: 

Meditate and/or journal and/or spend lots of time in nature, dance - do whatever you have to do to strengthen your relationship with The Motherlode. Because when you get into the flow and out of your head, your doubts, fears and worries fall away because they do not exist in the flow. Awesomeness, strength and joy exist in the flow. Connection to your mightiest self exists in the flow. Get. In. The. Flow. Yo.

Yeah, and sometimes it is not so much about connecting to your mightiest self but just setting yourself up for the day.  I'm re-earning that doing MPs is replenishing.  One morning recently I woke feeling foggy, vague and overwhelmed.  I had so much to do–and my brain didn't seem to want to do any of it.  But then I pulled my journal out and started writing.  And suddenly I saw that things weren't so bad. Moreover, everything that I needed to do came into focus.  

This is because morning pages create space.  They do this in a couple of ways.  First of all, they are a physical space in which to download all the things–bad and good–that clutter your brain.  Dump 'em all on the page.  Second, they create space in your brain by getting all that stuff out of it. Suddenly, the world opens up when your mind is not so cluttered.

Here's what Tara Stiles, author of the Make Your Own Rules Diet and some other books on yoga that look really cool says about the necessity of finding space in our lives: 

We all feel great when we have space for ourselves. Room to breathe, feel, think, and exist. When we lack that space, we often (unknowingly) form destructive habits to provide the temporary illusion of it. We can’t escape our need for space, but we can change how we create and sustain room for ourselves so we can live happy, healthy lives. 

Makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?

If You Want to Try Them

If you haven't tried Morning Pages, you are likely grousing that you don't have time for such thing. I hear you.  But I say you'll create time by doing them.  Because you'll have more clarity, less anxiety and more of an ability to focus on what you really want to do throughout the day.  So try it:

Set your alarm for 20 minutes earlier than you usually rise and make the coffee the night before so its all ready to turn on.  (Sometimes I start my pages sitting at the kitchen table while the coffee is brewing.) Grab yourself a notebook and pen and have at it.  Or try doing them on the computer here.  (Yeah, Cameron says to do them longhand and I agree.  But I'm also a big proponent of whatever works.  So if writing on the computer works better for you, go for it.)  That's it!  That's all you have to do.  Okay?

If you need more information on the process, there's now an Ebook that Julia Cameron wrote specifically about Morning Pages, which you can find here.  Though I'm here to tell you that you really don't need it.  Trust me.  All you have to do is write.

Update: In the department of synchroncity, just as I was scheduling this post, an email from Tim Ferriss, author of the Four-Hour Workweek, popped into my inbox.  And it was about–you guessed it–the value of Morning Pages.  Read it here.

Have you ever tried Morning Pages?  Did you find them helpful?

Photo by alitaylor.

16

Journaling: Days of Future Past

I've been writing in my journal regularly again and I love it because I come up with all kinds of brilliance epiphanies.  (You can read my most recent journaling epiphany here.)

Yesterday, the thought occurred to me that there are two kinds of journalers:

–Those who basically dissect the past in their diaries

–Those who prefer to write about the future

I fall squarely into the latter camp. Hmmm.  Let's discuss.

Anais Nin famously said, "We write to live twice, in the moment and in the retrospection." Nin, also famously, was a kick-ass writer who specialized in getting her journals published.  And said journals were full of all kinds of juicy affairs, as well as creative thoughts.  (Or so I've heard, I've only managed to get through part of the first one.)

Brief aside for an interesting thought: if Nin were alive today, would she be a blogger?  I suspect so.

But when I write about what happened to me the day before, I get bored and rush through it.  I feel compelled to note it for some mythical future reader (unless I decide to burn all my journals, which is a real possibility).  I don't really enjoy this living twice thing.  And its not that I'm bored with my life, because I'm not, I love my life, for the most part.

So what gives?

What comes out in my Moleskine, when I allow myself just to let loose, is a volley of ideas, things I want to ponder that perhaps grew out of what happened recently, thoughts on blog posts, articles and books.  That kind of stuff is what populates my journals.  Also recipes, notes from phone calls, lectures, sermons, and conversations, names of websites, phone numbers and so on.

But not a lot about what happened to me the day before.  When I force myself to write in my journal a certain way, that's what comes out.  In the most boring of fashions imaginable.  I'm bored with it, so I feel sorry for my future readers, because if I'm bored think how bored they will be.  (The one exception to this is when I write about specific things in terms of a writing exercise, such as noting details of a person I saw, or relating dialogue.)

I'm not a person who reads books twice, either.  Recently, friends and family members have been so enthralled with the book Shadow of Night that they've either read it or listened to it twice.  The thought of doing that slays me.  There are so many books in the world, I want to go on to the next one.  (Of course I'm still slogging through Shadow of Night, so I've not even finished it once yet.)

All this forces me to one conclusion: I've a shallow, impatient mind.

Sigh.

What about you?  Do you have a deep, thoughtful mind that loves to dissect every aspect of the day before?  What do you journal about (if you dare tell)?

**Don't forget to sign up for the Get Your Novel Written Now class, which starts in October!

8

The Carry-Along Book

This is going to be a short post today (I know what you're thinking–ha!  when has she ever managed to write a short post?) because, ta-da, my office furniture is assembled (thanks to my long-suffering husband) and I want to spend time moving myself back in.

This is actually the very first post I've written from my new desk.  Amazingly, I can sit comfortably at it with my computer on the desk, instead of in my lap, as has been the case for the last few years.  I can already feel my shoulder problems easing.

I promise to post photos when it is all in order, but the picture to the right is a bit of a teaser, an image of one of the wall cabinets.
Wallcabinet For those of you who are familiar with Ikea products, it is the "Effektiv" line of office storage and it is quite handsome as well as efficient.

But all of that is actually a warm up to the real topic of this post, which is something I'm calling the carry-along book.

I've written numerous posts about journals and journaling, and the importance of choosing just the right journal for your tastes.

But lately I've been doing things a bit differently.

My journaling has taken the form of Active Imagination, which to me, requires a bigger canvas on which to throw words, so I've been using large sketchbooks from my new favorite place, Columbia Art and Drafting.

(In case you don't know about Active Imagination, I wrote about it in the most recent issue of my newsletter.  It's a technique devised by Carl Jung, and it involves accessing a "trusted source" which can be your intuition, your higher self, God, the goddess, whatever in writing.  Just choose a source and then do an actual dialogue on the page, using the names.)

But the larger sketchbook is hard to take with me.  Yet I need a place to scrawl notes, to write down things of interest, to note observations.  One of the practices in my-soon-to-be-renamed Writing Abundance system is cultivating, which is basically the habit of observing, listening, and gathering.  Taking stuff in so you can spit it back out on the page. Usually this stuff goes right along with regular journal entries, but that won't work at the moment.  So I needed a carry-along journal.  

Which I didn't even know until I started using one.

When I was in Nashville I found myself drawn to a journal on a rack at a coffee shop in the 12th Avenue South neighborhood.  (Somebody help me out here, I've forgotten the name of the place.)  
Journal
Journal2 

As you can see from the lovely accompanying photos, the journal is awesome.  It is small in size, 6 by 8 ish (my ruler is still packed).  As a matter of fact, I hesitated to buy it because of its size, thinking that it was too little to journal in.  But I was so compelled to buy it, I did…and then I started the Active Imagination and the rest is history.

 One of the great things about it is the way it is bound, with the edges
threaded and two separate covers bound together, allowing it to lie flat.  So now I'm in love with a new style of journal (this one was handmade but I found others in this style are available commercially).

But all of this points out something crucial about writing: it is a living, breathing practice.  And sometimes that practice changes as we change.  I reserve the write to go back to my beloved Moleskines, and I probably will at some point.

Meanwhile, if anybody knows how to make this kind of journal, I'd love being pointed to a link.

So, what kind of journal do you write in?  Do you mash everything together in one, or use a carry-along journal and another for lengthier entries?  Or perhaps you have numerous journals?

***By the way, when I grow up I want to be Ann Patchett.  Read her great essay about the Nashville floods here.

****I almost forgot, the maker of this journal is Holly Frees, of Hope Sewn Journals. 

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Make the Words Flow

I noticed something this morning when I was in the middle of writing an email.Myjournal

The words were flowing as smooth as a glass of fine wine. 

I started paying more attention.  And realized that I was allowing myself to go a bit deeper emotionally in my response.  So I stopped and thought for a bit, and realized why this was. 

Because I've been jingling every morning again.

Now, I'm an inveterate journaler.  I've written about journaling over and over again, so much so that you are no doubt sick of it.  Recently, I was reading Katrina Kenison's memoir, The Gift of an Ordinary Day, and in one scene she is delighted to find that over the last 18 years or so, she has filled 10 to 12 journals.  Um, I'm filled hundreds.  I have tubs of them in the downstairs closet, and more bursting out of cardboard boxes in my office.  So I've got some journaling cred.

But every once in awhile I take a break from it.  I decide that I should get right to my novel writing first thing in the morning, since it is the most important thing in my life and all the experts say to do that first.  So I shun my journal and go do my other work. 

And then something calls me back.

I pick up my journal again and before you know it, I'm writing like crazy every morning, and then sometimes several times a day.  And I have to admit, as I realized while writing the email, my work is better off for it.  Here, I've decided, is why:

  • The words flow more easily
  • The process of going deeper comes naturally, without effort
  • I'm more connected with my emotions
  • I notice more
  • Writing breeds more writing.

Take special note of that last item.  If I take time to write in my journal, those words breed more words. Has anybody else ever noticed that?  The more I write, the more I'm capable of writing.  It is almost magical.

One of the reasons this may be is that the act of writing in my journal shakes loose the muse and often what I write about is how I want to do a certain scene in my novel.  Nearly every day, a blog post comes through.  I get ideas for all kinds of things.

So.  Writing in your journal doesn't have to take up your whole day, and it doesn't have to be first thing in the morning.  Pull out your moleskine at lunchtime and write for 10 minutes, or have a mini-writing session during your afternoon coffee break.  You'll be amazed at what happens.

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Coming to Consciousness

Writing helps me come to consciousness.Colombia_brown_wake_225874_l

This morning, writing in my journal about a problem, I was again reminded of how writing helps me become conscious. 

Specifically, I've been working on being present and conscious with food.  You know, chewing instead of gulping meals down.  Setting my fork down and pausing in the middle of a meal.  That kind of thing.  I was doing great on this quest, even through all the craziness of a week and a half in Nashville.  But suddenly, upon returning home, I'm not doing so great any more.  I find myself gulping and inhaling.  And worse, I can't even remember what was so appealing about being present with food in the first place.  In other words, the goal has lost its value for me.

So this morning, in my journal, I spent time trying to figure out why.  And I realized that it has to do with emotion.  Processing the events of my week in Nashville, the sudden shock of being back at home–emotion.  And, apparently, for me, being the Cancer that I am, emotion trumps all, even worthy goals.  So now I have a clue as to what's going on and I can deal with it.

Once again, writing has made me conscious.

Here are some of the ways that happens:

  • It helps me figure out what I'm thinking
  • It helps bring me present (which is no doubt a precursor to the above)
  • It illuminates aspects of my subconscious I couldn't see

I'm referring, here, specifically to journaling.  But I think it applies equally to writing fiction, or a screenplay or a creative non-fiction piece.  Because I know when I write a novel, I'm writing to explore the themes and issues that I'm presenting. 

The ability of writing to bring me to consciousness is also why I've never had to see a therapist.  I figure things out on paper, instead of on the psycho couch.  (And then I get to spend therapist money on an awesome coach instead.)  It is why I am constantly puzzled about how people who don't write survive.  It is why my idea of hell is being stuck somewhere without pen and paper.

But sometimes we have the best of intentions of processing on the page, but nothing happens.  So, herewith are the most common tools I use.  (And remember, these tools work equally well for journaling or any other kind of writing.)

Tools

Free Writing–Yes, the old standby is still one of the best ways to drop a line directly to your subconscious.  Set a timer, decide on a prompt and write without letting the pen stop moving across the page.  When you are done, go through and underline the best bits, and use one of them as a prompt for the next session.

Writing Exercises–I love that author Richard Goodman insists that writing exercises are primary, not secondary writing.  Writing exercises can get you far.  From the humble exercise can come a story, an article, an essay, a novel, or even simply an illuminating journal entry.  Exercises can be found all over the internet, in books, on this site, anywhere.  

Morning Pages–Julia Cameron's three pages a day in the morning are very useful for bringing things to light.  Sometimes illumination will happen in a single day, sometimes it may take a week or a month for you to see the patterns.  But MPs are are a great way to understand yourself and your writing.

What, pray tell, are your favorite tools for coming to consciousness through writing?

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When Is A Food Journal Not For Your Diet?

Journal_80101_l  Well, after a brief break for Christmas and sloth, it is time, finally, to resume my series on journal writing with a final flourish. It is a flourish because what I'm going to discuss is my current favorite type of journal writing, though I reserve the right to have a different favorite next month, because, well, that is what happens with journal writing.  And maybe even regular writing, too, if there is such a thing as regular writing.

So here goes.  My current favorite type of journal writing is the Chronology.  This is my name for actually writing about the things that happen in your life, the people you run into, the day to day events that make up your existence. 

The desire to write a chronology of our days is why may of us are drawn to journal writing.  It is the urge to make meaning of our lives, or perhaps the desire to leave something for posterity.  The chronology records history in the making if we're lucky–witness the diaries of pioneer women that have been such wonderful records of that era. 

The chronology is also fertile ground for practicing the writer's craft.  In noting the details of your best friend's outfit and how she never seems to wear things that match yet she always looks great, that you start to understand how to create characters that come alive on the page.  In writing a description of the coffee shop you visited the day before, the seeds of description and setting are created.  And so on, through all the aspects of observing a day to day life.

The chronology is what fills our journals with rich detail and interesting tidbits.  And yet, this kind of writing is what is often sorely lacking in my own diary.  Why?  Because when writing a journal on a regular basis, I tend to get lazy.  (Um, this seems to be a theme for me this week.) It is far easier to indulge in a whiny emotional outburst or write quick morning pages that are really more about the day's to-do list than to really write about the what happened the day before: how the sun looked on the river as you crossed the bridge, or the way your son's face lit up when he took a bite of chocolate.  

I realized how the quality of my journaling had deteriorated when I read My Life in France, by Julia Child this summer, after seeing the movie, Julie and Julia.  If you saw the movie, there were several scenes where Paul, Julia's husband, is seen sitting at a desk writing letters to his twin brother back home.  Those letters were apparently so filled with detail and wonderful tidbits that they were used heavily by Julia and her nephew in writing her memoir (which is, by the way, delightful, and well worth reading).  Upon reading this I was struck by what a rich vein of gold letter writing results in, and then I realized that journal writing could be the same thing.  My journal writing could be a rich vein of gold, if only I weren't so indulgent about all those whiny outbursts.  Or obsessed with to-do lists.

So I resolved to actually write something of worth in my diary and began to sit every morning and write an account of the day before.  Yet this chronology meandered and lacked cohesion.  (I know, I know, its a journal, it is not supposed to be perfect.  But, as with all writing, I need to feel comfortable inside the form before it takes off for me.)  And then I read a charming article in O magazine.  I'm sorry I can't point you to the exact month because I tore it out and gave it to my daughter, but it was sometime this past fall.  The article was written by a woman who had recently had a baby.  During her pregnancy, she wrote down every single item she had eaten and with whom, the idea being that her baby was the sum total of all of this food and company.

And from this I got my brilliant idea–keeping a Food Journal.  No, not the kind that nutritionists and diet experts tell you to keep, though that can easily be incorporated.  This kind of food journal notes not only what you ate, but where you ate it, who you ate it with and what they were wearing, what song was on the radio as you drove down the freeway with a McDonald's breakfast sandwich in hand, whatever.  And then that leads to a paragraph about how, you guessed it, the sun shone on the river as you crossed the bridge over it and so forth and so on and before you know it you've written a chronology of your entire morning, full of lush detail and interesting anecdotes and now you're onto lunch, which is a whole other story in itself, because your numbskull co-worker told that stupid joke and then your boss yelled at all of you while she had a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe.

So what the Food Journal really does is give you an excuse.  It gives you an excuse to write about everything that happened in your day, and in giving you a structure, it makes it so much easier than to meander about in your brain and try to remember what you did.  Food is life, as we know, and it turns out that writing about food makes remembering life easier.

This kind of journaling takes a long time.  Writing about your entire day could easily take your entire morning.  So you might want to limit yourself to one aspect of it.  Or not.  What I find is that this kind of writing, the loving attention to the detail of reality, leads me back into the writing that I truly love doing–writing novels.  And then the hell part is that I get so engrossed in writing novels that I don't have time to keep a food journal or really any kind of diary.

But that is okay, because my journal will be there waiting for me, as it always is, when I feel the need to write morning pages to get myself back on track again.  Or to do some writing exercises because I've lost my way and feel blocked.  Or because something happened to me of such import that I feel the urge to write about it.  That's the great thing about journals–they are always there for you.

Here are the links to the other posts in this series:

Journaling: One Path to Writing Abundance

Practical Considerations for Journal Writing

All the Wonderful Forms of Journal Writing

Journaling, Part Four: Morning Pages

Journaling, Part Five: Whiny Emotional Outbursts

Photo used under Creative Commons 2.5 license.

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