A friend recently asked me how long I’d been journaling & when I replied that it was almost 8 years, she said ‘so you must find it helpful.’
I guess I must.
Which encouraged me to ask myself how it supports me so I can share my thoughts with you. I’ve also included some research to encourage you to start if it’s not something you do (yet 😊).
Let’s start with some research
As I wrote in Chapter 10 of my book, Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness (where you’ll also find others describing how writing supports them) studies have shown that there are several benefits from writing regularly.
Expressive writing to recover from a traumatic experience
Research by Dr James Pennebaker (a researcher & pioneer of writing therapy) over many years concluded that writing about a traumatic experience for as little as twenty minutes a day, for 3 or 4 days, can produce measurable changes in physical & mental health. He called it expressive writing, which meant to just write, let go, & explore what happened without worrying about spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Just keep your pen moving continuously. Write from your feelings, so you’re venting onto the page.
A regular writing practice to process strong emotions
When researching her book, Rising Strong, Brené Brown found that when people wrote down their experiences of grief, they were able to make it clear to themselves what they were feeling, so that they could then articulate it to others. Again, it was important to write freely, without having to explain or justify their feelings.
I agree with both these examples & although Brené was focusing on grief my experience is that writing has supported me through both the grief of losing my Dad AND everything else I’ve experienced in the last 8 years.
And it’s so much more than that
For me journaling gives me:
1. Somewhere to go when I’m struggling
My journal is like having a therapist on hand, it’s the place I turn when life is challenging & especially when things pop up which I can’t talk to my close family about. It’s the safe place for me to write anything & everything knowing that no one will ever read it.
2. To explore & work things through
It’s the place I go to explore & work things through, where I can connect to the deeper part of me by asking what would love, patience, compassion say. And where I can use techniques & questions I learned on both Brené Brown’s Rising Strong & Elizabeth Gilbert’s workshops.
I also use the pages to process & consider events, my reactions, comments people have made, what came up in meditation or yoga, & also to celebrate my successes, & explore why they happened.
And I usually find that, if I’m quiet & listen answers/advice come from the deeper part of me, from my soul, the Lesley who knows.
3. To see how far I’ve come (& areas where I could do more work)
I keep all my journals & sometimes find it helpful to look back both to celebrate how far I’ve come & also to discover which issues are still bothering me.
I just opened journal no 2 (yes, they’re all numbered & dated) from 2014 & I didn’t recognise the Lesley who was writing there, completely differently from how I write now. Looking back can also be hard, as I remind myself of the pain I went through when dad died & how I was struggling before I started therapy & yoga.
I’ve developed a process where, as I end each journal, I read it through, highlighting passages or pages which stand out & noting questions & issues I want to carry forward into the next journal.
4. I always feel peaceful & calm afterwards
The main thing I get from writing is peace & calm. There’s something special about sharing my inner thoughts with the page, getting them out of my head which then feels lighter (as the saying goes ‘better out than in’). Mostly answers appear through my hands & not always. I always feel better.
How to start
I hope my words have encouraged you to start a journaling practice or perhaps to dig deeper into the practice you have. Here are a few tips on how to start.
Many friends (including myself) started by working through the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. The technique she recommends is what she calls Morning Pages where each morning you write 3 pages of longhand stream of consciousness.
When & how often to write
Julia Cameron recommends writing as soon as you get out of bed, therefore transferring problems from your head on to the paper & emptying the mind so you can concentrate on your day.
I used to do this & now write whenever & for how long I feel like. I carry my notebook with me & if something crops up that I’d like to record, talk through, or remember, I note it down. Sometimes I don’t write for a couple of days, others several times a day, whenever I feel it would be useful to get something out of my head & on to the page. I write a mixture of stream of consciousness & a diary. Maybe for me there’s something important about keeping a record of my life, of what I felt & did.
Keep or destroy?
I’ve already said that I keep all my journals, others destroy their writing as soon as it’s finished which can be cathartic, but of course then you can never go back & read it.
Longhand or type?
Julia Cameron recommends longhand & that’s what I prefer. If I type, partly it feels like work & there’s the temptation to both autocorrect & censor, so I lose the stream of consciousness I get from longhand.
Try different ways & see what works for you
The important thing is to start, & perhaps commit to doing it every day for a couple of months. By then you’ll be experiencing the benefits for yourself & in time you can experiment & find a rhythm that works for you.
My journal is a bolt hole where I can hide & at the same time be truly myself.
It’s the place where, when I work though issues, I almost always receive an answer & when I resist picking up my pen I know it’s exactly where I need to be.
I’ve also had some big breakthroughs on those pages that have only happened because I’m committed to a regular writing habit.
And in time I hope you’ll agree with this quote from Charlotte Bronte.
Now it’s your turn
I hope you’ve found this helpful; I’d love to know what your writing habit is, & how it supports you, or maybe what’s stopped you from writing in the past.