The Power of Journaling

I have kept journals for years. It’s not just recording what happens each day, but it becomes a sort of ritual that captures who you are at the moment, and what you are going through. It’s a way of connecting with yourself, checking in on yourself and seeing where you are emotionally, physically, mentally.

I learned a long time ago not to write journals as if someone else would read them; it wasn’t as if I were Ann Frank and the whole world would someday know my life story. I learned over the years to just write it out, warts and all.¬†Everything’s journal-worthy; there are no rules or directions; no need to sanitize—just write.

After I divorced my first husband, my journals were filled with anger, hurt, and all the bad things I wished on the man who had hurt me (he was a cheater; my one deal-breaker in marriage). In my journal, I called him every name in the book. I let out all my anger and hurt and outrage in many journals. Years later, I burned them all. Now he and our marriage are a very short memory, and there is no more anger or hurt. All that went up in smoke.

There is great power in writing out your feelings. Once they are on paper, they somehow lose their strength and their ability to hurt you. Writing has become such a daily habit that I feel off-balance if I don’t write each day.

I write down everything that’s on my mind, even the petty stuff. It’s amazing how you can be all grown up, yet something from your childhood still has the power to needle you. This is what journaling does; it acts as a conduit for the release of emotions that, if left inside, will steadily eat away at you.

Writing, for me anyway, is a way of bringing clarity to anything that’s happening in my life. I lost my mother to metastatic breast cancer in December of 2015, and my dad on April 22 of this year. It’s been a lot to process. But writing helps. It’s a way of connecting with them, remembering them, and understanding that death is just a transition.

Since I am a huge Harry Potter fan, I see my journals serving the same purpose as Professor Dumbledore’s pensieve. The pensieve was a stone bowl into which it was possible to empty thoughts out of one’s mind. As Dumbledore explained to Harry Potter, “I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind.”

We have all had those moments when our minds are too full and won’t let us rest. For me, keeping a journal is my own personal pensieve. Once I have ‘written out’ all that’s on my mind, I can be clearer in my thinking and feel more at peace.

That said, writing down your thoughts and feelings may not give you complete peace of mind, but it’s a good step in the right direction. There is just something cleansing about seeing your thoughts and feelings¬†on paper that will help clear your mind. You no longer have to keep those hurtful and upsetting thoughts in your mind; they are already written down and you can revisit them at your leisure.

Give it a try and see how you feel. Journaling is a lot like chicken soup when you have a cold; it couldn’t hurt.

The Secret of Writing – Put Black on White

I had a great creative writing professor in college who told me the secret of writing: “put black on white.” Meaning, just write, just put pen to paper (hence, ‘black on white’)–just get those ideas out there on paper (or on computer, etc.). There’s always time to fine-tune later on. I have been writing since I could hold a pencil, and have written stories, poems, commentary, etc. In my professional life, I was a technical writer for over 30 years; not as much fun as creative writing, but good just the same.

Even though I’m not a fan of social media, I have to say that the genesis of blogging is one of the best things to come out of technology. You can have your own platform (I highly recommend WordPress), and you can write as much or as little as you want. You can pick your subjects, write about anything you want, and, best of all: since it’s your blog, you can set your own rules and boundaries.

I started this blog in September of 2013, and I decided to keep my writing as positive as possible and as truthful as possible. I reference my sources (hey, give credit where credit is due), and my constant proviso is that the opinions expressed in my blog are just that: MY opinions. I do not slander people, but I may get a little cranky about issues that strike me to the heart, such as those who carelessly abandon animals or people. Don’t get me started.

My usual process for the daily blog is this: I write the blog the night before, edit it and so on, then leave it. The next morning I review it again (usually reading it out loud; I catch more mistakes that way). When I get that little ‘ding’ in my head (picture one of those turkeys were the meat thermometer suddenly pops up to tell you it’s done) that tells me I’ve got it right, I publish it.

I write about things that interest me, and I also share experiences I have gone through or am going through, such as the recent death of my mother. When I was diagnosed this past summer with DCIS (ductal cancer in situ; the kind that is not invasive but nevertheless needs to be biopsied and evaluated), I shared that experience as well. My reasoning for this is that there are many out there in the blogosphere who have gone through these same experiences or who are currently going through them. I feel that, the more we share our triumphs and tragedies with others, the more help and comfort we give and receive.

So if you want to write, then don’t wait–WRITE. Writing is like anything else; it requires practice. Don’t expect that you will turn the Great American Novel in a day, but write day by day and you just might. Good luck and good writing!

 

The Secret of Writing is to WRITE!

Write! Seriously, that’s what it takes to write–just WRITE. (Please note that I did not say that “just writing = writing well.’ But you have to start somewhere.) As one of my professors once told me, you get started by ‘putting black on white.’ Black pen, white paper–you see how this works. What follows is the journey.

He also said that the hardest thing a writer ever does is to murder their own children. In this case, ‘children’ mean your own precious words. I wish I had a nickel for each time I’ve had to do just that. I will have written something that, in the moment, I believe is so pure, so eloquent, so descriptive, so elegant–in short, so perfect, that I can’t imagine how it could be any better.

Oh, but it can. I can’t read something I wrote even an hour ago without editing some word or phrase. It has to ring true for me, so that my inner critic-oven timer goes “DING! It’s done!” One writer I’m fond of wrote that he writes until he knows what will come next, and then stops for the day. This single phrase made all the difference for me.

Writing goes hand-in-hand with reading. If you love to read, you love words. And if you love words, you may also find yourself falling in love with putting words together. What you have in your head is a golden, glorious cloud of ephemera that you just know needs to be on paper. The trick is getting it out coherently, so that each time you read it, you can say to yourself, ‘oh, yes–I remember just how I felt writing this; it is so true.

I remember my excellent creative writing teacher in high school exhorting us all to “write what you know.” If you’re a Tae Kwon Do student, you have your subject matter right there in your head. If you drive a snowplow, you know all about the truck and the plowing equipment, how it works, what to do and not to do, weather conditions, road conditions, etc. The point is, no matter how humdrum a person’s life and/or career may seem, there are thousands of people who don’t know a thing about it and would like to know. So if, say, you run a country store where local produce and baked goods are featured, wouldn’t it be interesting to know more about the farmers and bakers who are responsible for bringing their wares into the store?

Please do not make the mistake of over-thinking what you want to write. Just the get ideas out of your head and on paper. You can always clean it up later. Just literally get black on white.

In both high school and college, we were encouraged to write in the style of our favorite poets and authors. This nearly always meant that many of us turned truly terrible papers that started off like Robert Frost and ended like Stephen King. But all this is part of the exercise that leads to finding your own personal voice. The main thing is to write, and write a LOT. Do not let this thought in your head, ‘oh, no one is interested in what I have to say.’ You don’t know that, and you can’t afford to let yourself think it.

Write–just write, and when you’re done, write some more.