Editors Note: I’ve been journaling every day for nearly five years. When I first started, I mostly wrote down my (often quite harrowing) dreams. And maybe I would map out my day. But the more I do it, the more I find that writing long-hand first thing every morning is actually where I am at my loosest and most creative. These days, I often get ideas for my memoir or figure out how to structure a workshop. And I always come away feeling more relaxed. Today I’m sharing a post from when I first started keeping a journal in 2017 on five reasons to start journaling.
On occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood.
Following the guidance of creativity Guru Julia Cameron – I’ve started keeping what she calls “Morning Pages.” Morning pages are three pages of longhand, morning writing about absolutely anything. They are to be written first thing in the morning, and shown to no one. As Cameron puts it, “I like to think of them as windshield wipers, swiping away anything that stands between you and a clear view of your day.”
So now every day, before I do anything else, I sit down and write three pages of whatever is top of mind. With a pen.
I’ll have more to say about what else I’m learning from Cameron another time. Today, let me focus on five reasons to start journaling:
1. It’s therapeutic. If, like me, you often wake up in a panic-driven sweat, consumed by anxiety from your dreams, a current life crisis, or simply the latest episode of Homeland, keeping a journal helps. It lets you get out all of the bile that’s sitting in your system – not just your anger and frustration, if those are there, but also your fears and your worries. I often spend about half of my three pages on my dreams alone, just narrating what happened in them, how I felt, and which random characters from my 50 years of existence happened to wander in and pay a visit. Dear God, is it cathartic to get all that down on the page and out of my head and my body. If you can’t afford a therapist, journaling can help.
2. It will stimulate your creativity. This is why Cameron recommends it. And it’s true. In the past two weeks since I started journaling regularly, I’ve not only had ideas for my book, but for blog posts, creative non-fiction, op-eds and short stories. They come to me, unbidden, without needing to brainstorm. They just jump out of my unconscious. And every time that happens, I jot them down and save them. It’s fantastic that by actually taking time away from writing, I am fortifying my writing. But you don’t have to be a writer for this to help unlock your creativity. It can apply to all manner of creative endeavours: sculpting, painting, dancing, singing. Whatever it is that’s inside of you and wants to come out.
3. It will make you more productive. This isn’t the primary reason I started journaling every morning, though I suppose I am hoping that in sparking my creativity, I’ll also become more productive. But others swear by journaling as a tool for helping you prioritize, clarify thinking, and accomplish your most important daily tasks. It’s worked for the likes of Albert Einstein, Reid Hoffman and Leonardo Da Vinci. It might also work for you.
4. It will help you focus on the big picture. In my own case, in addition to all the writing ideas journaling is generating, it’s also helping me to zero in on what I really want to do next with my professional life. At this point, those insights come more in the form of verbs and feelings than in concrete job descriptions. But they are beginning to cohere and take shape, pointing in the direction of me.
5. It’s fun. I mentioned earlier that one of the key, non-negotiable aspects of keeping a journal is to do it long-hand. That initially feels very old-school for we of the key-board generation, but once you get the hang of it, it really does help you to feel more connected to what’s on the page. Right before I left my previous job, my colleagues bought me a really fancy fountain pen as a good-bye present. While I was delighted with the gift, I didn’t initially know exactly how and when I’d be able to use it. Now I do.
So try it. And let me know how it goes.