Write, Write, Write It Down: A Beginner’s Guide to Journaling
For many, including yours truly, writing is a way of thinking. Sometimes the mere act of putting pen to paper triggers a breakthrough or a creative approach to a previously unsolvable problem. The benefits of journaling are well documented: better mood, enhanced sense of well-being, reduced symptoms of depression, and improved memory. At times, writing can be just what the doctor ordered, whether you’re shaking off the blues or even working through an anxiety attack.
I’ve been writing quite a bit more this last year, and if I’m not in the right headspace, the blank page can be intimidating. Here are some of the ways I’ve been able to work through my own writer’s block to make it less so and a lot more useful in understanding my inner world and communicating what I need to others.
Make a Plan for Better Writing
Like most skills, you have to set yourself up for success and writing is no different. Most people report their surroundings and setting can make or break the difference between a productive day of writing or journaling, which shows how our train of thought could be impacted more by our environment than given credit.
Here are a few tips I’ve found help with my journaling practice.
- Write at the same time each day. For many, the first thing in the morning is the best time to tackle big, complex writing tasks. I’ve found the evening, just before bed, to be the best time to do gratitude writing. Depending on your writing goal, decide when you want to dedicate your day to your new habit.
- Find a space that is private and you feel good in that is free from distractions. Journaling is a personal task which is most often best done in the privacy of your own home or office. I like to do mine in bed either before or after Joe joins me. I also prefer to do my writing for work (which is inherently personal at times) in a place other than my office. The Coven has a great vibe, and I like that it feels like I’m in a coffee shop and can’t be distracted by other coworkers or things that need to be done at the studio.
- Write a couple of days in a row. Three or four days in a row can help boost your confidence enough to feel just a little bit of the pressure lift.
- Give yourself time to reflect after you’ve written. Read what you’ve written after it’s complete. Then revisit it a few hours later, then a few days later. Getting distance from your words is therapeutic and creates clarity.
- Don’t set any rules for how you structure your writing. Just get what is in your head on the page. I have found it helps to make an outline or list all the topics I want to cover, and then I write in each section when an idea strikes me, which is nonlinear. It doesn’t make much sense, and it might be inefficient, but it’s what gets my words out on to the page.
- Keep your writing private. You don’t need to share it with anyone— not your spouse, therapist, or best friend.
Writing for Breakthroughs
While the act of journaling is proven to help manage depression, anxiety, and stress, it’s also a helpful way to find peace and acceptance through acknowledging what may scare us or intimidate us. Especially when it comes to discord in our identity, writing for yourself requires you to give yourself a little grace.
- Leave judgment at the door. Avoid letting it be an exercise in self-blame or shaming.
- Acknowledge it takes bravery to write down your fears; part of the reason writing is so hard is putting your feelings and thoughts into the world requires vulnerability. Getting comfortable with discomfort can help you move past being paralyzed by fear and onto more important matters.
- Don’t believe everything you think. It’s important not to allow yourself to wallow in the negative aspects of life, especially if you’re anxious or depressed. We can, at times, not have a clear view or understanding of our surroundings when we’re not 100% healthy. We can’t always will our way out of these feelings, so it is essential to learn to identify them without giving them all your power. Remember, your thoughts are not your reality!
How to get started
Now that you’ve got the right setting and mindset, we’ve put together some ways to kick off our writing practice. I like to think of these as exercises that can get your comfortable with the act of writing without having to dwell on what to say.
- Describe your experiences. Pick one thing that happened in your life and begin to describe it. It doesn’t have to be chronological if that feels difficult but focus on making your words paint the picture in your head. What did the room look like? Was there music playing? What season was it? Do you remember what you were wearing?
- Record affirmations. I like the process of writing down what I will or will not do at the beginning of the month. It helps me reset some bad habits and gives me a fresh start for the month. There is no right time to do this, so if you’re feeling particularly reflective, this is an excellent prompt.
- Stream of consciousness. When I’m feeling blue, this is the type of writing I’ll do. My brain usually feels like it is moving through Jell-O, so this process helps my mind wake up. There is also little expectation for getting a masterpiece out of the writing itself, and it is beneficial to remind yourself there will be days when the magic happens and days when nothing happens. That’s just how writing works.
- Start a dialogue with your inner child. What would you say to your six-year-old self on the playground or the seventh-grade you in the cafeteria? Starting a dialogue with versions of ourselves can bring some exciting content to your page.
- Make a list. It could be a grocery list or a list of things you want to do someday. I find lists are a great way or give some organization or structure to your thoughts. Lists are my favorite way to warm up before jumping into something meatier.
- Write about what you’re thankful for. This can instantly boost your mood or give you perspective.
- Explore what you want your life to look like in the next 1, 5, 10 years. The act of writing down what you’d like your future to look like is proven to help make it a reality. Why not spend your writing practice dreaming a little?