“Throw your journal away!” is often the first advice new writers hear from more experienced authors, journalists, and bloggers. Whether journal writing for writers is a helpful strategy, an easy distraction, or a way to avoid having to get down to the serious business of producing something that will sell and that people will be interested in reading, has been debated for years.
I’m of the mindset that it’s not only possible, but beneficial, to use journaling to improve your writing. Here’s how:
Use your journal to warm up before beginning your day’s work. Athletes stretch out before running a race and musicians practice scales before playing a difficult piece. Journaling can be a fantastic way to start your writing day. Make it part of your routine by doing it the same time every day and soon you’ll notice that you’re digging deeper and writing better. I use two methods of journaling to settle and center myself.
Rambling journaling can help you clear out your mind so you can focus on “quality” writing. Basically you dump all those niggling little thoughts and your endless “to do’s” on the page so they are no longer taking up precious space in your overactive mind. Feeling overwhelmed by life’s daily chores? Organize on the page instead of in your brain, Make a list in your journal of three to five non-writing things that you absolutely must do that day and let the rest go so you can have some productive hours at the keyboard. If you find yourself doing more household things as the day progresses, stop! Return to your journal list, cross things off, then get back to your real work-writing!
My second way of journaling is purposeful. This involves working through your monkey mind and concerns on the page. Is your spouse, co-worker, mother-in-law, or friend bothering you? Write down the problem and why it’s upsetting or frustrating, then brainstorm ways to deal with it. A journal is the perfect place to be totally honest about yourself and others (just vow to never show it to anyone!).
Writing openly about negative behaviors and learning new coping strategies will allow you to continue, free of unnecessary emotional baggage, down the path toward being the best writer possible. If you’re too uncomfortable with the strong feelings this arouses, you can rewrite the troubling dilemma in the third person.
Make sure you set time limits so your journaling doesn’t become wallowing in self-pity or counterproductive. Get a cup of coffee or tea and set your timer for fifteen to thirty minutes. When it goes off, put your journal away for the day.
Use your journal to record your impressions of current news events, politics, arts and entertainment, or sports. Emphasize what they mean to you in particular and to society in general. You may think you’ll never forget events like September 11th, the historic election of 2008, or the deaths of celebrities like Michael Jackson and David Bowie but time really does diminish memory so capturing feelings, reactions, and emotions that may become distorted or fade away entirely over the years is a good idea. Remember, these memorable events are not only significant to you, but to generations of future readers as well.
Keep track of how far you’ve come and where you still want to go in your writing career in your journal. Somehow recording your writing goals, aspirations, and hopes and dreams has a way of making them seem more attainable. On those days when your creative well and your bank account are running dry or when you feel so discouraged that it seems like all you ever do is spin your wheels, revisit your journal. Reading about how many things you’ve achieved through hard work and perseverance and how much you’ve grown as a writer, and a human being, will cheer you up!
Like any habit, journal writing is best used in moderation. Once you’ve figured out how some daily unstructured writing time can best help you hone your writing skills, it can become a valuable addition to your writer’s toolbox!