Journaling ‘Back in the Day’
Back in the 1990s, I came across a book called The Artists Way by teacher, author, artist, poet, playwright, novelist, filmmaker, composer, and journalist, Julia Cameron. The books goal is to help you unlock or retrieve your artistic creativity by, among other things, using two basic tools, Morning Pages and the Artist Date.
In this article, Ill be focusing on the Morning Pages as a form of journaling you can use to cure writers block. You can find out more about the Artist Date, at Camerons web site.
Before reading the book, I had spent many years as a business and technical writer, but wanted to branch out into more creative forms of writing. However, every time I tried writing articles for popular consumption and fiction, my need for perfection would stifle my creativity, and I usually ended up writing nothing at all.
Having read Camerons book and written Morning Pages for more than eight years, I can happily say that writers block is a thing of the past. Im not saying its going to take you eight years to cure the writers block you suffer from. Quite the opposite youll find that spending time every day (or as often as you can) journaling in the way I describe below is all that youll need to start writing again.
Benefits of Journaling
I can point to three benefits of journaling that explain why it is so effective in eliminating the underlying causes of writers block. Journaling
- Silences your inner critic. This is the voice in your head that constantly tells you why youre writing is no good or not good enough. It wants your writing to be perfect, but trying to achieve perfection when you first start writing will kill the flow of words faster than you can say, Writers block! As youll see below, journaling frees you to speak your mind in whatever way you desire, and the mere knowledge that you have this freedom is often all that is needed to get the words flowing.
- Helps you find your unique, writing voice. It takes a while for new writers to find their unique voice, that style of writing that identifies the writing as yours. Voice also includes the topics you enjoy writing about, and journaling is an excellent way to find out what they are.
- Is extremely therapeutic. There are many books available that offer suggestions on what to write about, called writing prompts, to jump-start your writing, but when I journal, I do so more often than not to get stuff off my chest that I have difficulty expressing otherwise. All of this stuff that comes up when journaling is what Cameron says blocks your creativity, no matter what kind of artist you are. Therefore, getting it out and onto paper is a powerful step toward removing the blocks that keep you from expressing your artistic creativity.
You may be tempted to journal on the computer, but Im going to encourage you to write in longhand (I explain why below). The only tools youll need for journaling, therefore, are –
- Something to write in. I like to use an 8 ½ x 11 wire-bound notebook with college-rule paper (more lines to the page than wide-rule paper). To make them last as long as possible, I purchase those large, 5-section notebooks. But use whatever size notebook or blank paper you feel comfortable with. One benefit of selecting a smaller notebook or journal is that you can take it with you and write when the mood or inspiration strikes you.
- Something to write with. A pen works for me. Some may prefer to use a pencil because, if you mess up, you can always erase the mistake. But, as youll see below, erasing is a no-no in this method of journaling (although scratching out is fine). Also, if youre writing a lot, youll have to sharpen the pencil from time to time, and this may interrupt the flow of words.
How to Journal The Artists Way Morning Pages
Im recommending that you use Camerons Morning Pages as a model for journaling because it gets you into the habit of writing every day and producing what I consider to be a significant amount of writing.
Write in the morning, before your day gets underway.
Cameron recommends writing in the morning. Youve spent the night processing all that went on the day before while you slept, and the fruits of this processing will be available for retrieval when you first wake up. You want to capture it as soon as you can; otherwise, as you get involved in your daily activities, this often important information will sink back down into your subconscious and you wont even know it was there
Write in longhand.
Dont journal on the computer. Writing in longhand is a slower, more visceral and tactile way to write, taking you deeper into the body than typing on a computer does. The act of writing longhand may very well help dislodge unconscious, energetic blocks that have become lodged in our muscles and that keep our creativity from flowing.
Write three leaves.
One page front and back is a leaf. A page, on the other hand, is one side of a leaf. Writing three leaves gets the juices flowing and forces you to exercise your writing muscles. Make the best effort you can to write three leaves, but dont get discouraged if you find you cant write this much at first, for whatever reason. And dont let this stop you from writing. Write as much as you can every time you sit down to journal, and pretty soon youll be writing three leaves and more in no time.
Dont censor, criticize, or otherwise judge what you write.
Write whatever comes to mind, no matter how good or bad it sounds to you. This is called stream-of-consciousness writing. If you cant think of anything to write about, just start writing whatever youre thinking about. For example, write, I cant think of anything to write about. This is dumb. I should be getting ready for work or getting more sleep. Simply write whatever thoughts are in your head; youll be surprised as you get going by how much you are able to write.
Cameron also recommends that you not read what youve written for at least eight weeks so as not to let the inner critic through the back door. Simply write your morning pages and then close your notebook or journal and forget about them until the next morning.
Dont erase what youve written.
Thats why its better to use a pen than a pencil. Its okay to make mistakes. Simply scratch them out and keep on writing. Theres no need to worry about neatness or the lack thereof either. Erasing slows you down and is a form of inner criticism and perfectionism. In this process, there are no mistakes, and perfection is irrelevant.
Dont let anyone read what youve written.
If you know that someone is going to read your Morning Pages, youll be more inclined to censor your writing which leads you right back in the direction of writers block. Hide your journal if you have to, make sure family members know it is off limits. If someone asks to read it, diplomatically tell them, No. Your journal is for you and you alone.
Be Easy On Yourself
If the Morning Pages method of journaling is a bit too rigorous for you, then you can adapt it to suit your needs. At a minimum, try to journal at least three or four times a week and do your best to fill three leaves of paper. But again, dont beat yourself up if you cant write this much in the beginning. As long as you are consistent and committed to journaling to unblock your creativity and writing, youll be able to achieve this amount of writing in one sitting sooner than you think.
As you continue to journal consistently, whether you do it every morning (or at some other time of the day) or several times a week, youll find that when its time to tackle a writing assignment, the words will flow much more easily because your inner critic has been silenced and you have formed the habit of not only writing, but writing a lot.
Thanks to CFleenor for the image of the journal and pen.
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