Writing is a challenge even for the best of the writers. For beginners, the undertaking is so daunting that most of them give up after a few tries. When the first novel or a bunch of short stories or hastily written poems don’t bring them either the satisfaction or the accolade they were looking for, they give up; without realizing that they could have kept their dream alive by doing one single practice.
Journal writing is one simple tool that can make you an eloquent writer, a clear thinker and a much better human being.
What is a journal, anyway?
A journal is a place where you record your observations, insights, memories, impressions, and feelings. It is a keeper of your secrets and holder of your dreams and hopes. It is a whiteboard where you analyze stuff and make plans. It is a safe haven to vent your anger and share your hurts.
The simple practice of journal writing, if pursued faithfully, can make you the writer you want to become. Whether you write fiction, nonfiction, blog or business documents, you will find that the practice of keeping a journal makes you a much better writer.
Journal writing has been around for centuries. It is a practice adopted by the old and new writers alike.
Many prolific writers were journal-writers. Rainer Maris Rilke, Virginia Wolf, Whinston Churchill, Louis XiV, Henry David Thoreau, Carl Jung, Anais Nin, and Susan Sontag became the writers they are through the practice of keeping journals.
This is how Anne Frank started, at age thirteen, with the following words in The Diary of a Young Girl.
Thirteen years old Anne went on to become the most famous journal writer in the world even though her life was tragically cut short only a few years after she wrote those words.
If you have too many obstacles in the way to follow your dream, then do just one thing, keep a journal. Here are ten ways a journal will help you become a writer.
1. Journal writing will keep your writing dream alive
Twenty years ago, when I felt an urge to write, I couldn’t even put a decent sentence together. Having not written anything other than a bunch of letters I had no expertise in writing. Out of sheer luck, I picked up an old diary and started writing.
My first entry was a letter to my husband. I wrote on-and-off for a few years, gradually increasing the frequency to weekends and whenever life threw lemons at me. Little by little the urge to write took hold of me so much that any day I don’t write doesn’t feel like the day I have lived.
Journal writing, more than anything else, kept the dream of becoming a writer alive for me. All through the years while I was busy with work, home, raising children and parenting the parents, the only writing I was doing was in the journals. But this simple act made me a much better writer than I was before. I am a full-time writer now. It wouldn’t have been possible without the practice of journal writing.
2. Journal writing helps you become a better writer
When I started writing I had a very limited vocabulary. My writing expression was plain and I didn’t know a lot about literary devices and my knowledge of fiction and non-fiction writing was next to nil. All I had was a desire to write.
My journal became my teacher. I wrote in it whichever way it came, never editing, never trying to improve anything. For the first couple of years, I wrote with a pencil rather than a pen so that I could erase whatever I didn’t like but I don’t remember using it much. It was just there for comfort.
As I wrote I got better and better at it. My vocabulary increased and my sentences improved.
Journal writing provides you with a safe environment to practice. No one is going to read your journals. They are for you and you only. You can write in it whichever way it comes. Broken sentences, random rants, off-tangent remarks, unfinished poems, mundane stories – everything is acceptable.
In journal writing, it is not the outcome but the practice that matters.
3. Journal writing will bring out what lies buried deep inside you
A journal is a place where you can write intimately, truthfully, and without any constraint. No one is going to read what you write. You are writing for yourself.
It is also a very effective tool to bring out to surface what is buried deep inside you. When you write in a journal you inevitably return to the center of your being. A journal becomes a trusted companion to whom you can tell everything without the fear of being judged.
On the surface everything was fine, but deep down I knew something was wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it and the nagging feeling wouldn’t go away. I went through the day, distracted, a part of my brain continuously trying to figure out the problem.
Finally, when the day was over, all the chores done, I sat in my bed and opened up to my journal. Layer by layer I started peeling off the ambiguity. One by one, I recounted all the reasons. Every pent up emotion came out. Raw and fierce.
At times I went off the tangent, but it didn’t matter. In about half an hour I started feeling better as if there was weight on my chest and it has been lifted. I could breathe normally now.
The problem was still there but I had dissected it. It was not a huge monster any more. It lay there in tiny pieces and I was not afraid of it any longer. I knew solution will come to me sometime in future. I closed my journal and drifted off to sleep.An excerpt from my journal
Journal writing teaches reflection and brings focus. It gives you room to know yourself at depth.
4. Journal writing will help you know yourself
Writing in a journal helps you self-examine. It is a supreme way to record your thoughts and to understand your own thinking process.
The patterns of your thinking, emotions, and actions start becoming evident very early in the process of journal writing.
Unfolding these patterns can empower you to see what you are giving time and attention to; where your thoughts are taking you; what emotions accompany your thoughts; what insights are there and what changes are needed.
The self-awareness brings acceptance and widens our perceptions. The less aware we are about ourselves the more closed and restraint we become. The more secure we feel about ourselves, the easier it is to open up to what’s around us, including to other people’s views and experiences. Journal writing supports this.
5. Journal writing will help you become an observer
Journal writing will train and hone your eye for beauty. It will invite you into the present moment while also allowing you to roam your past. It will open you to experience awe and wonder. It will let you intensify and renew your pleasure in events and situations that have gone well. It will support your recovery and the gaining of wisdom from the times you wish had never happened.
The habit of journal writing creates the most interesting distance between you and your thoughts. Your feelings change when you write your thoughts down and you are able to change your perspective. Experiencing your own powers of observation, coupled with a greater awareness that you have choices, increases your sense of self-mastery and inner stability.
As your journal writing continues, this means that you become not only an acute observer of your own life but also an acute observer of life itself.
6. Journal writing will help you understand the world around you
Journal writing is a supremely effective way to engage more intimately with the world that is all around you.
It will help you become less judgemental and critical of other people and generally less judgemental and more supportive of yourself.
Journal writing is a self-directed source of inner development, yet it also makes the world beyond your own self more real and more vivid. It can be an interface between you and the outside world.
The change might take place at the glacial speed, but you will find out that your writing will become less and less about yourself and more and more about the outside world even if it is about the palm tree outside your window or the birds chatting to each other.
7. Journal writing makes you an original writer
Only you can write your journal. Only you know most about yourself. And only you have your own perspective. When you write in your journals you are not imitating or copying. You are just being you. In your journals, you find your voice.
The freshness that comes from writing a journal permeates your life.
It is impossible to write a journal consistently and not become more reflective, insightful and original in your writing.
8. Journal writing helps you silence your inner critic
Journal writing is all about process – not goals or outcomes. It is freeing – not constraining. Journal is the place where you can retire the inner critic. How you write, what you write, matter only to you. You are writing to please yourself, no one else.
Sometimes when I read my old notebooks I get drawn into them like a novel. I almost forget that I have written it. Some insights are so profound that I stop and wonder where that came from. All negativity about my writing ability vanishes and a sense of acceptance to my own abilities surfaces.
Journal is a thinking place, where you are least inhibited. Many writers use journals as the place to develop ideas or reflect on their intellectual work in progress.
It can be a place of discovery, of learning, of emotional relief and insight. It can also be a playground, where the everyday rules of writing, reflecting, problem-solving, goal-setting, production and planning no longer apply.
9. Your journals are the containers for your stories
An empty page in your journal is an invitation.
It is a place to collect your stories. A perfect repository of your anecdotes. This is where you describe things that can’t be captured in pictures. Like your home, what it means for you, how it functions and what comfort it brings you.
In your journals your practice noticing and capturing details to make your writing intense. Through your journal, you learn to see the world in more vivid colors. Widen your vision. Excite your senses.
I was hanging clothes on the clothesline when I took off a pair of socks I had already hung and straightened them by pressing them between the palms of my hands. Then I put them up again my cheeks to feel their texture. I hanged them up again, this time slowly and nicely so that when they dry I can fold them the way Marie Kondo suggested. It was then the realization struck me – I now have time to thank my socks. I laughed when I read that suggestion in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. Now I just did that.Excerpt from my journal
These stories make perfect reading for rocking-chair days.
Journal writing is a supremely effective way to engage with your own inner world – and to engage more intimately and confidently with the world that is all around you.
10. Your journals itself will become your writing
Over time your journals will become your life’s work, something more precious, truthful and rich than any book you can write. Many journal writers have left their journals as their legacy. Anais Nin made an art form out of her journal writing. She left behind 150 volumes (about 150,000 pages) many of those got published in her life making her a feminist icon of the sixties.
If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing or sing in writing then don’t write because our culture has no use for it.Anais Nin
Start a journal you don’t have one, and for the love of writing keep going if you already have one.
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