The power of journaling

I’ve been journaling relatively regularly for the last 3 to 4 years. It was prompted by finally getting around to reading Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, in particularly the section on Morning Pages. On her site, she explains what these are:

“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

This idea of writing down one’s thoughts is something that my father often encouraged me to do as a teenager. The act of getting stuff out of your head and onto the page helps create some kind of order to your thinking. My sentences became shorter and, one day, I realised that I was a poet, of sorts.

Today, I write for a living so, sometimes, I really don’t want to see words, let alone put them down, but journaling sits outside of that.

Throughout history, there have been those who have kept diaries/journals. The ones we know are those who are prominent, considered genius, etc but it is something that, I sincerely believe, is of value for anyone.

In an interview with Esquire, , actor Willem Dafoe talks about what his journals mean to him. Ash Carter writes, “Less well-known is Dafoe’s practice of keeping a journal, which he’s been doing ‘almost daily’ for more than 40 years. ‘I really am the product of a certain time,’ he says. ‘They’re very practical. Not even reflective. Just reporting as an exercise to learn how to express myself. I also write down jokes, phone numbers, reminders, things I heard, things I saw.’”

My routine is simple. Do the school run. Make a cup of coffee and some breakfast. Decide on the playlist I am starting my day with. Decide on which fountain pen of which colour ink I will write with. (I collect fountain pens; a nod to my childhood. Probably the German influence. Then, write in a notebook for as long as it takes to get three pages down. I am getting better at not being distracted by my mobile phone and not worrying about responding to emails and messages that may have come in that night.

I am also prone to over-thinking the pages. When I do, it does become harder to get the thoughts down. And, weekends tend to be difficult because I enjoy a good lie-in, since my children are old enough to fend for themselves in the mornings.

journaling
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Journaling better

While the Morning Pages were the gateway to journaling regularly, Ryan Holiday’s thoughts on journaling have also helped in my modifying my morning writing. Holiday is the key person behind the site The Daily Stoic, and also published The Daily Stoic Journal. Some of his posts on journaling include This Is The Most Important Thing You Can Do Each Morning and 14 Ways To make Journaling One Of The Best Things You Do In 2018.

The Daily Stoic Journal is a great way to start journaling, with a guide of sorts on what to put in the pages, but I prefer a blank notebook – I have a box full of moleskins from the various events I used to attend, which should last me a few years.

In his one post, Holiday refers, and links, to a post that Tim Ferriss wrote on journaling titled What My Morning Journal Looks Like also inspired by Morning Pages. Granted most of these posts were written some time back and it would be interesting to hear how they have evolved but what is more important for me is how these have helped me find my own way.

I am now on notebook 6 and I haven’t looked at any entry since I started. Unlike Dafoe, mine are reflective. I write about what’s going on. About what has happened. To motivate myself. To remember. To unpack ideas or concepts. And everything in between. There are occasions when I jump between thoughts every four or five lines because my mind is racing.

The one thing I haven’t done, as yet, is actually read my past journal entries which, if you read Austin Kleon’s The Importance of Revisiting Notebooks is actually doing me a disservice, especially as a writer. I suspect there is much in those that would make decent blog posts or essays or even project concepts.

I have promised myself to do better. While still scribbling into notebook after notebook, every day.

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