As an avid reader starting from an early age, writing came more naturally to me and I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Most of that writing was done in the form of journaling. I’ve got various journals, notebooks, loose papers, sticky notes, you-name-it sprawled all over my home, storage tubs from the last time I moved and practically in just about any place you can imagine.
It’s part of me to want to write things down to document my thoughts and certain times in my life. Writing also helps me remember tasks to do for the day and other important information. Frankly, I believe writing is something that can benefit every person, not just those who naturally enjoy it.
You may be thinking, “Well I’m not a writer!” or “I don’t have the time to write anything extra!” or “I just don’t think journaling or writing is for me!”
Let me tell you that you don’t have to identify as a writer to benefit from what daily (or even weekly) journaling could do for you. Journaling is a way to address everyday issues with the opportunity to gain introspection to yourself and a deeper understanding on how you think.
For me journaling is a cathartic, even a spiritual experience, as well as a way for me to hone my writing skills. But whether or not you consider yourself a writer – or even a creative person in general – journaling is the type of thing that anyone can do and gain the benefits from.
There are so many methods to journaling (just as there are various ways to write anything) and it’s really all about finding what works for you. Even if you find one or a few ways that you prefer to journal, many of these methods can be combined with other methods or even tweaked to tailor to your preferences.
A common form of journaling is brain-dumping. You just write about whatever is on your mind for the simple act of getting it out of your head. You literally take what’s on your brain and dump it onto the page. Some of my greatest writing breakthroughs were when I started writing about a topic I thought was bothering me and discovering through my writing that there was actually something else underneath the surface of my thoughts just lurking.
SOC is a form of brain-dumping that means you write every thought that comes to mind. Unlike the form of brain-dumping mentioned before, you record even the most random thoughts, whether they are connected or not…and most often, they won’t be. A form of stream-of-conscious writing might look something like this:
Today was a pretty good day i got a chance to meet up with Ashley about that thing that we were trying to get done but never got a chance to talk about. Oh well, that’s how life is I suppose. Life is a funny thing, you know, it doesn’t seem to make sense until something really crazy or really good happens to us. that doesn’t make sense though because we can’t control most of the things that happen to us we just have to deal with it. speaking of deal, i can’t believe i closed that deal the other day! It was amazing because I didn’t even see it coming. the customer seemed like he knew what he wanted then he didn’t then he did and it was just a back and forth thing with him for weeks until something snapped and he decided to take the bait. Go me!
As you can see in the example, there are run-on sentences and grammatical errors. This is perfectly acceptable in SOC-style writing – I’d actually be a bit suspicious if I found out there were no errors! (Note: I did do some minor editing for the publication of this post. I corrected misspellings because those are my pet peeves; in true stream-of-conscious writing, however, it’s best to just go with the flow and not stop or slow down to edit a single word!)
This method comes straight from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way (which is a book I highly recommend to any creative or aspiring creative to read. Seriously.). The premise behind Morning Pages is to write 3 pages first thing in the morning before you start your day – this means you write before checking your email, social media accounts, eating breakfast, and before your first cup of coffee. The idea is to clear your head by way of writing about whatever you choose to write about, stream-of-consciousness style. This leaves you no room to edit, rewrite, or judge what comes on the page. It’s all about quantity with this method, not quality.
For me, writing sometimes flows in a rush of words onto the page and everything I’m writing seems to sound exactly as I first imagined it in my head. Other times, however, it’s like pulling teeth or banging my head against the keyboard and expecting magic to happen. This is where themed journaling comes in to save the day. Having a theme or writing prompt to help loosen your creativity is a great way to get in the mood for writing and can really make way for a great end result.
If this is something that interests you, check out the 30-Day Journaling Challenge, which is chock full of prompts to help you start (or get back to) journaling on a regular basis. Plus, you’ll get a nifty workbook to help you through your journey at absolutely no charge to you.
Similar to the other goal-oriented methods of themed journaling and Morning Pages, timed journaling is exactly what it sounds like – you set a time parameter for yourself to write in and just go for it. 10-15 minutes seems to be the ideal amount of time for me because it’s enough time to get some good writing done but not so much time that I feel like it will never end. I also like this amount of time because my mind tends to start wandering after a while, especially if I have a full day ahead of me.
What do you write about?
This is one of the great beauties of journaling (and writing in general) – although there are different methods to journaling, there is no “right” or “wrong” way or topic to write about. For the most part, you will be journaling for yourself only so the topics you could cover are virtually endless.
*Ps. I do recommend journaling for yourself when starting out because let’s be honest; writing can be intimidating. Even if you are already in the habit of writing frequently, it can be scary to think about the masses of people out there waiting to read and possibly judge your writing! So save yourself from that unnecessary pressure and write for yourself, especially while writing the first draft of anything.
For my personal daily journaling, I tend to do a mixture of the Morning Pages, brain dump, and timed journaling methods. I start out by writing what I’m grateful for. This varies from “little” things like having enough time that morning to stop for a cappuccino to more overwhelming things like being able to pay my bills on time this month with extra spending money available afterwards.
I also write out prayers that are on the short and sweet side before diving into what I call my “main journaling.” At this time, I get to the meat of my journaling where I write like the wind, getting things off my chest and silencing my inner editor the entire time. I write about what I’ve got to do during the day, big projects that are making me anxious, relationships that needing sorting out, ideas and MANIFESTOS for my future. Sometimes if I’ve got a problem or issue that needs to be addressed, writing about it lends way to discovering different ways I can handle it. This in itself is priceless to me.
Handwritten or typed?
Again, there’s no right or wrong way here, folks. I personally prefer to handwrite when I journal because I love making the words flow from my heart and through the pen to the paper. I love the scratching of my favorite fountain or rolling ball pen on the paper – I even love the smell of the ink! Even if your handwriting experience isn’t nearly as sensory or connected as mine is (and it’s perfectly fine if it’s not!), there’s a special beauty in handwriting your own thoughts. Let’s explore:
- It causes you to slow down. In today’s hyper-digitalized world, it’s so easy to get caught up in the fast pacing of, well, just about everything around us. Writing by hand helps you to really reconnect with your own thoughts and get to a rooted place of writing that is oftentimes forgotten because of the ease of computers, smart phones, and tablets.
- Fully connect with your writing. I’ve heard many people say they feel more connected to what they’re working on when they handwrite.
- It helps you work on your handwriting. This might be a moot point for many of us since we are in the Great Digital Age and the digital ways to capture things grows seemingly everyday.
- It can be intimidating to stare into the blank, unrelenting white screen in front of you. I don’t know about you, but sometimes the blank screen seems to be taunting me, making me feel like I have to produce perfect words and phrases right off the bat. It feels so permanent, even though I know the ‘delete’ or ‘backspace’ button is literally within reach. Still, the freedom I feel with handwriting can’t be replaced.
- It’s a unique way of documenting your life. I do still think there’s an art to handwritten things be they letters, Thank-You notes, or simply signing documents. To be able to produce something by your own hand is a gift that I think is too easily taken for granted. I believe when you take a creative route that is less traveled and outside of your normal habits or not as EASILY UNDERSTOOD BY EVEN YOUR OWN SELF you allow yourself to step out of your comfort zone which can open your mind creatively in a way you may not even be aware exists. That’s a beautiful thing!
While I prefer journaling by hand, I understand if you’d prefer to type. I just so happen to be a proponent for typing as well! Just as there’s a time and place for everything, there’s a method and preference for every person. It’s good to know what your options are and the important thing here is to simply write.
When you type your journal entry, it can be easier for your hands to keep up with your train of thought if you are even a decent-paced typist. You can also save your typed words in your favorite app, computer software, or even in the cloud so that you can get to it anywhere there’s Internet access.
While I strive to and highly recommend journaling daily, this is a personal choice based on my goals for journaling and what I hope to accomplish. I journal to express my thoughts, see the blessings in every day, reconnect with myself, my thoughts, and my feelings, and to become a better writer. Your goals for journaling could be the polar opposite of mine and might not even be related to creativity at all.
Whatever your purpose for journaling may be, pick a timeframe you are most likely to stick with. I suggest every day. It may seem like a lot but in actuality if you set aside 15 minutes a day to sit down with yourself and write, it gets easier as you continue to do it (as do most things you practice on a regular basis). If journaling daily isn’t your thing, try sitting down weekly and writing down the highlights and lowlights of what happened during your week. Did something particularly interesting happen to you that’s still got you on a high? Write it down. You could also write when the mood hits you. While this method isn’t ideal for someone who perhaps is intending to hone their writing skills (as consistency in getting better in a craft is key), journaling is a personal thing and shouldn’t be boxed into rules if something doesn’t work for you.
If you’ve ever journaled before, no matter what form it was in, why did you journal?
“Oh, it was just that one time I was angry and needed to get everything out on paper!” you might be thinking.
That’s great! Having even the smallest IDEA of where to begin can be the starting point you need to figure out what you want out of this whole journaling thing. And if you have no point of reference? No worries, my friend. Just think about what you’d like to accomplish with journaling. For instance, what would you like to gain? Greater insight to your thoughts? Self-discovery (whatever that means to you)? Tighter writing skills? Clarity on an issue? What would you like to lose? Self-doubt? Fear of the blank page?
Organized journaling is something that’s newer to me, but it’s definitely worth giving a shot – plus, there are many benefits to keeping track of and organizing your entries in real-time as they’re written to make it easier to locate them later on down the road.
One way to organize your entries is by using an indexing system. To start indexing, skip a few pages at the beginning of your journal or notebook (or reserve a few pages at the end) that will act as placeholders for you to gradually fill in as you go along. Number your pages as you journal. Every now and then go back and read some of your passages. As you read, you’ll be able to see themes developing or common trends popping up from your pages. You might see topics like “love,” “stress,” “career/job,” “friends,” etc coming up page after page. You might even see some things bubbling up that you had no idea were there – see how journaling can be a great source of self-reflection?
I’m so excited for you to start on your journaling experience. I truly believe in the power of journaling and how it can help you think through your own thoughts and be a happier and more balanced you.
Are you excited to get started on your journaling journey? Go for it!