I’ve kept diaries and journals since I was a kid. But it was Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way that got me to kick it up a notch to “morning pages” about five years ago. To me there are two types of journaling-those in which you simply record what is going on in your life and those where you actively work on exploring patterns and connections that are either working for you or holding you back. Since I write three to five (sometimes more if I’m on a roll!) pages a day, I'd like to think that I qualify as an expert in journaling productively.
Here are five guidelines that have helped me get the most out of my morning writing:
Make the journal a part of your daily routine
Every morning as soon as I get up (no matter where I am) I find a cup of coffee and sit down with my current journal and pen. Though you can write on your computer, it’s a different thought process so I highly recommend doing it the old-fashioned way.
Keep writing for the entire session (10-30 minutes). Set a timer if you need to. If you feel your thoughts wandering off the page-pull them back! I’ve discovered that when I let myself get distracted, it usually means I’m trying to avoid something that is making me uncomfortable. Believe it or not being uncomfortable is a good thing which can lead to your getting "unstuck".
Try not to self-censor
I’ve written things in my journals that I would never, ever express anywhere else. Don’t share your entries with others and keep your journal in a safe place. Occasionally, I will even have a journal-burning ceremony (usually at some symbolic time like New Year’s Day). This drives my husband crazy but to me it's extremely cathartic. It’s like shaking the sand mandala, a symbolic way to leave the past behind and move forward unencumbered by it.
Fully engaging in the journaling process allows you to look honestly at yourself and others, take responsibility for your actions and feelings, and brainstorm for new solutions to old problems. Eventually you'll get sick of writing about the same old issues over and over and will be motivated to delve further to get at the root of them or to work on changing your own response. Other times you'll be writing along and something that you’ve been struggling with for a while will suddenly become clear and the solution to it obvious. I call these my “epiphanies” and I always write “epiph!” in the margin so I can easily find them if I ever need to refer back them.
Keep two journals-one for travel and the other for the daily grind
This is a good way to “mix it up”. The thoughts you have when you’re on the road versyus stuck in the daily grind may be quite different. Sometimes a change in scenery is followed by a change in perspective.
Finally-if you are considering writing a memoir-purposeful journaling is a great way to get started. It’s doubtful that anyone would want to read a litany of your experiences from birth to death, but highly likely that they would enjoy connecting with you on a more personal level.
Any other tips for effective journaling? Feel free to share them!