“Whatever it is that you write, putting words on the page is a form of therapy that doesn’t cost a dime.” – Diana Raab
As a writer of prose who used to have mild success writing for an audience, I had a difficult time separating myself from the notion that fiction was the only writing that counted as productivity. After a successful 2013 NaNoWriMo, mental illness took hold and I lost my steam. Lamenting my writer’s block, depression made me loathe myself for only having written two short excerpts in three years. The papers I wrote for university surely didn’t count, and my life, I felt, wasn’t interesting enough to write about. Knowing no other prosaists with whom to discuss writing, my head became an echo-chamber of negative self-talk.
It’s amazing the effect of being told you’re interesting and worthwhile. That realising that even a little bit of writing a day counts as productivity, and that any ounce of it is an accomplishment. It’s especially beneficial when the one telling you these things is someone making a career of their writing. When it happened, I can’t tell you how much it inspired me. So I bought a journal I had been eyeing for months. Lined, with places to write the date, it has a cover of marbled vinyl, the word JOURNAL embossed in bronze.
These first two weeks of January, I had plenty to write about – new years’ fireworks, seeing a film, going to the beach, dealing with family. But more than that, I could write about my feelings of these topics; I could parse and analyse them, whether positive or negative, instead of having them cluttering up my head. Journal-writing provided me a sense of peace that contributes greatly to my happiness. And more and more, I warm to the idea that handwritten journaling is a worthwhile past-time that counts as creative productivity, and that it is a legitimate way to get back into more ‘formal’ writing. Through all this, I’ve found that writing a journal has three main benefits:
#1– It turns writing into a habit.
If, like me, you’ve been feeling stuck and unable to write anything, journaling is a great way to get your mojo back. Unless writing is your job, it can be difficult to come up with something ‘worthwhile’ to write about. Keeping a journal avoids this problem because your prompt is always the same: write about your day! Starting a journal and committing to it is an easy way of turning the act of writing into a habit.
#2 – It frees us from constraint
Much of writer’s block occurs when we establish restrictive rules for our writing. Rules like ‘immediately grab the reader’s attention’ can stall us for hours trying to find a witty first line. Journaling eliminates this process because it doesn’t require an audience. An entirely personal endeavour, we simply follow our train of thought. Eventually we learn to stop concentrating on immediate perfection in our non-journal projects and our writing becomes freer.
#3 – It helps us heal
Keeping a journal when our life feels chaotic helps us to establish order. Writing down the thoughts cluttering up our heads allows us to prioritise concerns, track symptoms, and identify and reference the positives in our lives when it feels like nothing is going right. Writing about our emotions and cataloguing our stressors even boosts immune system functioning and promotes faster wound healing.
So how do you begin?
- Get a Journal! I prefer handwritten journals over typing as it separates the task from your computer and makes it easier to make a habit of it without the distraction of the internet. Choose a journal that you enjoy looking at, and a pen that’s comfortable to grip. Positive associations are powerful.
- Set aside time to write. If you want to get back into writing, it’s integral to start forming the habit as soon as possible. You don’t have to write every day (I usually write every other), but set aside a block of time to write. I usually write in the evenings, until I don’t have anything more to say, but you might benefit from setting a specific time limit.
- Choose a place to write. Find a place in your home conductive to writing. For you, it may be a couch you can curl up in as you wind down for the day. Or, like me, it may be your desk, which encourages me to write due to its connotations of work. Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy being there, and make it a place free of loud noises or distractions.
- Begin writing! Ground yourself by writing the date at the top of the page, then pick the main thing you did that day. Start describing it. I usually begin with “Today, I…”. Follow up with sentences starting with “I felt…” and “I want…”. Don’t worry too much about spelling, grammar, or structure. Nobody but you has to see it.
Keeping a journal has been incredibly rewarding for me, and I hope it can be for you, too. There’s no better time to get started! When December rolls around, we can look through our journals as a reminder of our accomplishments, and use it to plan for next year. Remember: you are interesting, and the story of your life is a worthwhile one to write about!