For years I’ve written a journal. I don’t know if journal writing has improved my life but when I don’t write in the morning, it feels that the day hasn’t begun as it should.
A comfy chair in my den is my preferred spot for journal writing. Occasionally I choose to write in bed propped up with several cushions. At the cottage I write at the dining table that overlooks the path to the beach; alone with my thoughts, I write while watching people stroll past for a morning swim or people walking or running for morning exercise.
Fueled by a cup of black coffee, and before the day is interrupted by emails, phone calls, or conversations, early morning is the time when thoughts flow freely. The morning brings fresh and original ideas. Describing my intentions on paper shapes the day. Journal writing also creates a heightened awareness of what I want to accomplish in the hours ahead.
Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way advises writing daily pages as a method of sparking creativity. She advocates writing three pages in longhand on 8 1/2 by 11-inch paper every morning. I don’t usually finish three pages, but I do write in longhand rather than on my phone or computer. Using the hand for writing establishes a direct connection between brain and pen. The slower rhythm of longhand also focuses awareness.
Journal Writing as ‘Brain Dump’
Many advocates of journal writing consider a journal entry in the morning as a ‘brain dump’. It’s a method of clearing a jumble of thoughts. I often list the things that float around in my head. Perhaps I have a small job to finish, a phone call to make, or an email to send. I may need to take meat from the freezer for defrosting. There may be garbage to set out on the street for collection or a plant that urgently needs watering.
When feeling overwhelmed, I make a list of what’s cluttering my brain. Lists are invaluable for organizing and remembering what needs attention. Once tasks are listed, they likely get done. Ticking completed items off the list at the end of the day results in feelings of productivity.
I don’t succeed in accomplishing everything on my daily list. When I find that I’m writing about the same things day after day without taking action, I can analyze what’s holding me back and why I’m resisting. When I keep putting the same item on my list, I evaluate whether I’ve planned too many things or whether the task is too big for the time available.
Sometimes the list is comprised of feelings that I’m processing. Labelling feelings and emotions helps me understand and regulate myself. With clarification, it’s possible to gain wisdom and prevent a repetition of silly reactions. Isn’t it better to write about feelings of anger or rejection instead of behaving inappropriately?
Journal Writing to Set Intentions
Most often, I use the journal to set an intention for the day. Setting an intention helps me to stay positive and focused. I think about how the actions during the day will align with bigger values and aspirations.
When I set an intention, I feel more in control of the day rather than just allowing myself to drift along. The intention may be to make a lunch meeting a productive event or to use exercise time at the gym to be kind to my body. Intentions energize.
Journal Writing as Therapy
My journal writing often describes short-comings, challenges, and failures. If I’ve been abrupt in speaking with someone, I attempt to describe my feelings as well as the triggers that caused a reaction. When frustrated, fearful or anxious, I examine how I’ve interpreted and reacted to various situations.
Journal writing helps when dealing with loss and grief. When we had to euthanize our cats last year, my journal pages provided a safe space to express the heartbreak and the emptiness in the days and weeks that followed.
Because my journal is private, there is no need to censor what I write. Releasing those haunting thoughts provides resolution. It’s my ‘journal therapy’. Surprisingly, insight comes and life events are processed through writing.
Journal Writing Creates a Narrative
Writing about experiences helps to create a life narrative. I capture plans for family gatherings, expressions that my grand-daughter uses, activities I share with my husband. I write about books I’m reading, theatre outings, and movies. Older journals provide a personal record of feelings about motherhood, challenges of career life, and challenges of changes in past decades. Since retirement, I often write about ageing, ageism and life plans.
Journal writing captures the mundane along with the big dreams and aspirations. I recount interesting events or happy coincidences. my journal is a log of things in my life for which I’m grateful; it’s also the repository of dreams for what I have yet to achieve; and, sometimes, it’s simply about what I plan to cook for dinner.
My journal is not intended as a memoir nor a diary. Journal writing differs from blogging in that ‘my journal is not public. Journal writing has become a powerful tool for reflection about my life and what it means for me.
I’m sure that many readers keep journals. I’m interested in hearing your thoughts about the positive benefits of journal writing. Does it enhance creativity? Does it help with problem-solving? What medium ( eg. pen & paper, digital app, gratitude list) works for you? Do you write every day? Do you re-read journals? Does your journal writing move you to action?