Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Journal Series: Getting Started

All you need to get started is a pen and a notebook. Or some form of computer software--you can use a word processor and password-protect your files, you can use Life Journal, software specifically designed for journal keepers, or, as Gianna suggested in yesterday's comments, start a blog and keep it set on private so that no one but you can read it. You can start a blog with blogger or wordpress, and I'm sure there are others out there, too.

For those who want to go the pen-and-paper route, there are many fancy blank books out there, some with lines, some not. Personally, I prefer a spiral notebook with a sturdy cover, so I can write with it balanced on my knee if I'm out and about. I don't spent a lot of money on my journals because I always feel if I've got this lovely, expensive leather-bound book, then whatever I write had darn well better be worthy of that lovely, expensive leather-bound book...and of course, it won't be, will it? In short, I get performance anxiety.

So grab a notebook that appeals to you and a pen that writes nice and dark, and moves easily across the page. Open the notebook, put the date at the top of the page, and start writing. Don't worry about quality--we're not writing a novel or poetry, we're not making art here, we're not letting anyone else see this stuff--it's for your eyes only. What we're doing here is letting out feelings, we're synthesizing input in an attempt to make sense of the world, we're whining about our problems, and maybe starting to make sense of them and think about solutions...

The most important part of this process, at least in the beginning, is to give yourself permission to write badly, to write ungrammatically, to write in whatever manner you need to in order to get whatever it is out of your head and onto the page.

But what do you write?

There's really no magic formula here: you write whatever happens to be on your mind at the time. But I'll give you some thoughts...

Natalie Goldberg ("Writing Down the Bones") suggests you write in ten-minute bursts (using a timer), and give yourself writing prompts: Write about a sunset. Ten minutes. Go...Write about your favorite food. Ten minutes. Go...Write a about a time when you were unhappy. Ten minutes. Go... Depending on what areas you want to explore, you can make up your own prompts to get you started.

Julia Cameron ("The Artist's Way") suggests Morning Pages, which are three pages of longhand writing done every morning. The idea is not to edit or put a lot of thought into it, but just write whatever comes into your head, and follow your train of thought as best you can, keeping the pen moving the whole time.

A professor I had in college liked the "Ten Minute Autobiography" exercise. You have ten minutes to write your autobiography. You can give an overview or you can focus on one specific event, or anything in between, but you only have ten minutes. I've done it a number of times, and I've found it amazing how my focus shifts depending on what mood I'm in and what's been on my mind lately.

I have used a method in which I pose myself a question to get me started, such as, Well, Jazz, why are you feeling so edgy today? and then I write about that and try to explore what might be causing that feeling and what I might do to help myself.

I usually start my day with Julia Cameron's Morning Pages. I begin by writing, It's Saturday (or whatever day it is) and we have way too much to do today...or It's Monday and I'll be glad to get these kids out the door... And it just goes on from there, a steady stream-of-consciousness sort of thing. Sometimes it meanders into something big that's going on in my life, sometimes it's just a sort of a game-planning session for the day, but regardless of what I write, I always come away from it feeling ready to start my day.

8 comments:

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Ever since I started writing my blog, I stopped writing a journal per se. I write essays (for my own benefit) and poetry, and I've been writing about my mother and how much I miss her since she died, but not a real journal. This series might convince me to begin again!

Susan

Jazz said...

You know, I've noticed the same thing. I'm still working in my journal--I've been doing Cameron's Morning Pages, but other than that, I haven't been writing as much or as deeply. I think, perhaps, that some of the introspective blog posts are filling that need...

Gianna said...

The most important part of this process, at least in the beginning, is to give yourself permission to write badly, to write ungrammatically, to write in whatever manner you need to in order to get whatever it is out of your head and onto the page.

I have to say I have that part down pat...my journal is hardly legible!

I re-started journaling SINCE starting to blog. There is so much one cannot blog about (the real personal stuff) and the blog got my juices flowing again. I missed journaling...

I'm not super disciplined about it though..I do it when I am moved to which sometimes is only once a week. but it feels really good.

I guess I have to give my therapist credit too...she suggested it and then it took off.

Jazz said...

You know, I don't think it needs to be a daily process in order to work. I've had long periods where I haven't written daily. There are gaps of weeks, months, and even a year and half in my journals. I think as long as you keep it in mind as a place to go when you need to work something out, it doesn't really matter if you're writing daily or not.

How often I write depends a lot on how much inner turmoil I'm experiencing! Sometimes I just need to write every day, and sometimes not.

Gianna said...

Since I've been very sick I need to write about my marriage. that is something I will only vaguely refer to on my blog. But the journal gets all the deep stuff. My husband is a very good man, but chronic illness and debilitation takes it toll. So it's really been great for that. And I deeply appreciate that I can trust him to never read it...I find myself lucky that way...I imagine a lot of people can't trust their partners that way...

I really love him. I need to bitch about our relationship sometime but how special to feel safe in doing that....so unlike with my mom which I mentioned yesterday. growing up with no sense of privacy was one additional form of trauma I endured.

Jazz said...

Yes, it's great to be able to trust your partner. I have that, too, and it is wonderful to know that I don't have to worry about that kind of violation.

Chronic illness does take it's toll on a marriage, that's for sure!

Coco said...

Jazz, you've inspired me. I started journalling this morning, and it felt really good. I did something I've often thought of doing before but have never gotten around to. I created an extra gmail account, and I simply journal in an email and then mail it to myself. Gmail, as you know, has the added benefit of being searchable. Similar to creating a blog, but I feel better using this method. Thank you for lighting the fire under me to do this.

Jazz said...

That's awesome, Coco, you've made my day! I hope you will find jouraling to be as beneficial as I have.