You’re not sure how to journal and whether you should be doing it. You’ve read that other people journal and say it is a good way to come up with creative ideas. Julia Cameron in the book, The Artist’s Way says that you must do it every day, three pages long hand.

But that takes so much time. You’re tired and you don’t want to get up half an hour earlier just to write “stuff”.

Is journaling a waste of time or will it enhance your creative process?

If it is worth doing, what is the best way to do it?


How to journal

There are two main rules of journaling. The first is that there isn’t a right or a wrong way to journal. It is whatever works for you. The second is that it is completely private. No one else has to read it which frees you up to say what you want, however you want it. You don’t have to use perfectly formed sentences displaying the finer points of grammar or utilise swanky vocabulary.

You can do it first thing in the morning, or last thing at night, or somewhere in between. If you do it in the morning you are likely to be more focussed about what you could do and then you have the opportunity in the day to take action. Journaling at night is more reflective. Both are good and both can contain elements of each other.

The rationale of morning pages is that you do it as soon as you get up, before the inner critic in your head has woken up. This frees you to write what you really feel, uncensored. Then you get on with your work. It’s like playing a musical instrument. You usually warm up on scales, arpeggios and other exercises to build your technique. Only then do you start practising actual pieces of music.


How I use morning pages

I love morning pages. It helps me get my head straight. I use it to rant about my frustrations, plan my day, calm myself down if I am anxious about something and I also find it very useful if I have to make a decision about something. Sometimes the decision might be as trivial as whether to have my hair coloured in a different way, other times it is more lofty such as deciding whether to invest in a course.

I also use it to have imaginary conversations with parts of myself. For example if I have back pain I will write out a conversation between myself and my back. Many times my back has then told me exactly what I need to do or stop doing to make it feel better. If I am troubled by something or struggling to make a decision I will write a dialogue between myself and my inner wisdom. This process gives me insights that I wouldn’t otherwise have had and also means that I am happy to go along with any decision that I have arrived at.

I confess that I usually don’t do the full three pages as stipulated by Julia Cameron. I usually come in at a page and half and I do this four or five times a week. I’m more likely to do the full three pages if a few days have slipped by without me doing it. It takes between 10 and 40 minutes, the latter time frame used to be if I had my smart phone next to me because I allowed myself to get distracted and look at Facebook. Now I leave the phone in another room to make sure this doesn’t happen.

I don’t do morning pages if I commute into London although I might scribble out about a paragraph once I’m on the train.  And I don’t do it on a Saturday. Saturday is my day of rest and I don’t do work of any kind.

I always handwrite it but you can journal on a computer if you prefer that.


Using journaling to generate ideas

Recently I came across a fantastic process whereby you don’t do morning pages but you just spend a couple of minutes brainstorming ideas. It takes less than ten minutes and you can do it at any time of day. You just number one to ten down the page (or type on your computer) and quickly write down 10 ideas of what you could do in your art. In my case this would be topics that I might write about. This doesn’t mean that you have to do all of those ten things. It is simply a method where you can freely think about them.

When I try this I can usually only come up with about eight ideas. A few will be boring, a couple will be very outrageous and then there will be one or two which I think are worth following up on.


Benefits of journaling

Doing morning pages has been the mainstay of my writing practice. It is the first step each morning to actually writing something.

Other benefits of journaling are:

  • It can generate lots of creative ideas.
  • I find that I am more motivated generally. I think this is because I get bored about writing what is hanging over me day after day so I just get on and do it.
  • It grounds me as a writer.
  • If I am worried about something I have to write then I sometimes start doing it as part of morning pages. This gets me over the initial fear hurdle and everything begins to flow
  • You never know where journaling might lead you. I remember hearing one of my favourite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert, say that she was doing morning pages when she came up with the concept of Eat, Pray, Love. From this journaling she tossed around with the idea of going to Italy to eat pasta and learn the language and also to return to Bali. The rest, they say, is history.

To summarise

There is no wrong way to journal.

You can do it any time of day, although morning pages is a specific method done as soon as you get up.

Only you get to see it.  You are not writing for anybody else and no one will judge what you are writing.

If it works for you then do it. If it does nothing for you then don’t make yourself because you think it is something you ‘should’ do.

You can do it regularly or just occasionally when you are stuck on something.


Now that you know how to journal, give it a whirl. You never know where it may lead.


Over to you

What’s your method of journaling? Leave us a comment and tell us how you love to journal? Is it worth your time? What are the benefits that you get from it?


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