I noticed something this morning when I was in the middle of writing an email.
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.
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.)
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?
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:
Yesterday, in Part Three* of my series on journaling, I wrote about four types of journal writing that I find useful. There are an infinite number of techniques you can use for effective journaling, and I may well write about others in the future. But for now, I've chosen to discuss the ones I use most often and find most beneficial.
Morning Pages. First off, we have Morning Pages, developed and popularized by Julia Cameron in her seminal book, The Artist's Way. You've probably read about or heard of Morning Pages, or MPs, as I like to call them, one way or another. Morning Pages are simple–you get up, head to your journal, and write three pages, no more, no less.
Your first reaction to this idea may be similar to mine–horror at the idea that you're supposed to get up and write first thing. I think this springs from the notion that writing is hard, and it takes thought, and if your brain is not yet awake you won't be able to think and thus write.
But that is also the point–that you bypass the conscious, critical brain and just let the words flow onto the page. This is good for a number of reasons:
1. Because it gets you used to just letting the words rip. Getting into the flow of putting words on the page is excellent training for writers. And, like any other profession, writers need to train. The way the writing process works is this: first you glump all the words out onto the page in one glorious brain dump. Then you rewrite. And rewrite again. And rewrite again. And…well, you get the idea. But if you are hesitant and shy with your words, you'll never get the wonder of rough draft onto the page and thus never have anything to work with. So, you can consider Morning Pages to be part of your training.
2. Because it familiarizes you with your subconscious. And what a trip that is. By writing Morning Pages, you will learn all kinds of things about yourself, perhaps that what you really want to do is study classical music or kayak around the world. Or whatever. Why is this important? Because, here's the deal: the number one, most important thing for a writer is to be yourself on the page. That's what voice is about, people. But being yourself on the page is nearly impossible is you don't know yourself. So write MPs. You may astound yourself with your brilliance. And even if you don't, you are engaging in a valuable activity, in and of itself.
3. Because fascinating trends emerge when you aren't looking. You know how John Lennon said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans?" So too with MPs. It may never have occurred to you that kayaking was something you wanted to do, until you find yourself writing about being on water–again. You may never have thought you wanted to write poetry–until it begins to emerge in your MPs. And so on and so forth.
4. Because MPs allow ideas to pop like crazy. I've written outlines for whole novels while scribbling MPs and groggily reaching for my coffee cup. I've had ideas for blog posts, characters, scenes in projects I'm working on, you name it. Things emerge when you are half asleep and your conscious mind is not yet engaged.
So give them a try. The rules for MPs are very similar to the rules for free writing. Just write, don't worry about sentence structure, grammar, or whether you are making sense. Just write, write, write. Three pages, no more, no less. Go for it. And let me know how they work out for you.
Anybody have any experiences with Morning Pages they would like to share?
*FYI, you can read Part One here, and Part Two here. And please, please, please also go here and sign up for the free coaching sessions I'm offering. I've added new times for the first week in January.