At a recent book launch for an author I’d worked with, I had the opportunity to chat with a gentleman about writing, and more specifically, journaling. He told me he’s journaled for most of his life and recently took the time to read through his journals. He said that as he read, he experienced moments when he wanted to tell his younger self it didn’t have to take so long to “learn the lesson.” His suffering didn’t have to go on for as long as it did. He could see many themes within the decades of his life that might one day become part of a book—maybe even more than one. Whether he’ll write a book or not, he found that reading through his life was a healing experience as he rediscovered what he’d lived through.
One of the most important practices I do on a regular basis is journal. I consider it a sacred practice—a ritual that allows me to connect with the deepest part of myself. It’s also a practice that lets me vent, whine, and wallow when I can’t seem to move beyond a situation that causes me pain and suffering—usually of my own creation—and prevents me from accessing that deeper connection within. I find that when I start my day in my journal, by the time I’m finished, I feel more centered and grounded as I tell the truth of whatever I am dealing with.
Journaling allows me to feel connected—most importantly to myself.
In the process of journaling, I clear out thoughts that may be causing me worry or angst. I capture significant moments from the previous day and even significant dreams from the previous night. I reflect on recent events that might have an impact on my life in the days ahead. Journaling offers the time and space to consider the past and contemplate the future. It’s the place to pour out whatever is impacting me and how I feel in that moment. By clearing those thoughts and feelings through the process of writing, it helps me be more present to the day ahead. I seem to do a better job connecting with others and with my intentions or schedule as I move from one activity to another.
The practice of journaling is also a way for me to capture what might become part of a story I write. It most definitely lets me see what I’ve lived through, what I’ve come to know, and where I continue to struggle.
The Artist’s Way
I first began to journal after participating in an Artist’s Way Circle, based on Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In Ms. Cameron’s book, she describes two things that one must do regularly to reconnect with the creative parts of ourselves—morning pages and artist’s dates. In this blog, I’ll focus on her “morning pages.”
Just as Ms. Cameron recommends in her book, as soon I woke up, I started to write “three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness.” Referring to the pages, she states, “They might also, more ingloriously, be called brain drain, since that is one of their main functions.” And, as she explained, “There is no wrong way to do morning pages. These daily morning meanderings are not meant to be art. Or even writing. I stress that point to reassure the nonwriters… Pages are meant to be, simply, the act of moving the hand across the page and writing down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too petty, too silly, too stupid, or too weird to be included.”
Ms. Cameron says that morning pages are nonnegotiable—not to be skipped or skimped. I’d love to say I have never missed a day, but that hasn’t been the case. There have been times when I’ve gone without morning writing for long periods of time. During those absences, I’m sometimes in a difficult period in my life—a time when the pain, fear, anger, and hurt is so intense that I can’t “sit” with it and most definitely can’t write about it. At times, the situation seems to require my entire focus. I know journaling during those times would be helpful, so more recently, I have attempted to write when I’m in the midst of struggle.
I’ve also experienced days when I couldn’t seem to make time to journal in the early morning. Whenever that happens, I don’t beat myself up for it, but I do take some time to consider why I skipped. Was it because I overslept or because I had an early-morning commitment? Or was it because I didn’t want to look at my feelings around some issue? Once I understand why I didn’t write, I make note of it internally.
Journaling can be done at any time of day, but I do love to journal as soon as I awaken, before I speak to anyone or begin my day’s activities, just as Ms. Cameron suggests.
To honor the sacredness of my journaling time, I first prepare a cup of tea. Then I sit in the quiet of the early morning. These days, I’m joined on my couch by our fifteen-pound dog, Leo, who sits on my lap while I write, so I prop my journal on the couch’s armrest. I’ve written in all kinds of fancy journals, but for many years now I’ve used wide-rule composition notebooks. I usually tape a photo from nature on the front—the image of a being I’ve asked to support me. A red-tailed hawk is on my current notebook.
A regular practice
Whatever time of day you choose, for whatever amount of time feels right, I recommend that you begin a regular practice of journaling.
As Julia Cameron says, daily writing is best; however, from my experience I know that’s not always possible. Do your best to do it as often as possible. When you get out of the practice, pay attention to why. As with the questions I ask myself, contemplate your own reasons for not journaling. If you find that avoidance is a key reason, be sure to take a look at why and what you might not want to face. Then recommit to the practice. Not only is this a sacred practice—it is an act of self-care.
So, grab a favorite pen (or get a new one), choose a journal that pleases you, find a comfortable, private place to write, and begin. You might even find fodder for your next book!