Are you at a crossroads, unsure which way to turn and going nowhere fast?
Are you in emotional pain?
Do you need to process something but don’t want to talk to other people about it?
Journaling can be a fantastic way to process your thoughts, examine your fears and figure out a plan of action. All you need is a notebook or a scrap of paper, and a pen or pencil. Alternatively, you can type at your computer if that is more comfortable for you.
Journaling isn’t about perfect prose, or grammar, or spelling and it isn’t something that you have to publish, like a blog or a book. There are no rights and wrongs. No-one has to read what you have written. You can just let your thoughts topple onto the page.
Below are some ways you could do this.
Have a bloody good rant
This exercise is fantastic if someone else is upsetting them and it is difficult to talk to them directly. Just rant your feelings down on the paper. Imagine you were yelling at the person, or the situation, and tell them exactly what you think.
This will help you get to the truth of what is really making you hurt. It might not be the apparent topic of the dispute but something else it triggers in you.
When I am journaling, I often have feelings that crop up as I write a particular phrase. This gives me more insight into the situation or it helps me to figure out whether something is very important to me or less important.
If you can sort through your feelings and find the underlying cause is to your frustrations, then it might help you to eventually have a constructive conversation with that person. If it is a situation that has driven you to distraction, once you know what is really bothering you about it you might come up with an action plan to help you cope with, or change, the circumstances.
Have a dialogue with your problem
I have done this in the past when I’ve had a bad back. I have a conversation with my back. I’ll write “Back” and then say what it wants to say. On the next line I write “Cali” and respond. This dialogue goes back and forth.
When I first did this with my back it was very angry. It was pissed off that I only did the exercises that help it when I’m in pain, and not before it got to that point. I found myself apologising to my back and pledging to do better.
Nowadays when I feel a problem brewing in that area, we’re on the same side. I tell my back not to panic that we’ll get through this together and the issue will pass. And it does.
Have a dialogue with your inner wisdom
This is similar to the above technique except it is between you and your inner wisdom. Begin by writing a question from yourself, something that you have a dilemma over or something that is bothering you.
On the next line write “Inner Wisdom” and then answer from this place. Carry on the dialogue with Inner Wisdom (or “IW” as I abbreviate it).
You can drop into this exercise as part of a wider journaling practice or when you have a specific problem to solve.
I also do a variation of this where I ask questions that just require a yes or no answer. Again, I am appealing to my inner wisdom to give me the gut feel of whether my hand forms a Y or an N as I write.
You’ll be surprised at the wisdom you can access from yourself.
The “Selves” exercise – or talking from the different sides of yourself.
This is one of my favourite exercises. I learned it at a creativity workshop with Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic. (This is a wonderful book about the creative process and worth a read even if you aren’t a fan of her other work.)
I do it every few weeks when I reach an impasse of what to do next with my writing, or if I have to do something which scares me. Pre-pandemic I used to do this over a flat white at my favourite coffee shop, following my Friday morning Pilates class. With lockdown, I initially struggled to find the right headspace now that the café was shut, but now I go for a walk then come home and do the exercise.
Big Magic has 6 chapters – Fear, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust and Divinity. Gilbert says that these are all selves within us and throughout the workshop we wrote a letter to ourselves from each of these perspectives.
For the first one we imagined that Fear was sitting across the kitchen table from us and we were letting it speak. It got to say everything that it needed to, we didn’t interrupt and we didn’t talk back. We just let it speak and heard what it had to say. We didn’t judge.
Enchantment is the fun, adventurous part of us. It might like to go for a walk in the woods or camp at the edge a lake. Its curiosity makes us do things for the sheer joy of doing them and not for any serious or financial reason. This is the self that nurtures our creative spirit and likes to do things “just because”. Enchantment is the way you can keep feeding your creative well so that you don’t run dry or mentally exhaust yourself. Whenever I write to myself from Enchantment it tells me that it would like to go for a walk in the trees.
For the permission letter, we wrote to ourselves from someone in a position of authority that we respect. That could be your high-school principal, a well-known leader or a wise person in your family. It doesn’t matter whether you personally know the person or whether they are alive or dead. Just think of someone whose permission to go ahead with a course of action would mean a lot to you. Sometimes when I do this exercise, I also give myself permission not to do something.
For persistence, even if we were flighty in some areas of our lives, we recognised the times where we had hung in, solved problems and survived difficult situations. If you are stumbling in your creative life at the moment, there are other areas of your life where you are persistent. If you can do it in one area of your life then you can do it in another.
Trust was about promising to Enchantment that we will find ways to feed and nourish our soul.
And then came Divinity. This was powerful. This is the side of yourself that ultimately knows that everything is going to be OK. The letter came from deep within ourselves and answered the issues raised by fear.
Talking to your divinity is another way of accessing your inner wisdom that I mentioned early. The knowledge, love and insight of your divinity will amaze you. Whenever I do this exercise I come away with a game plan that I feel comfortable executing and an understanding of why something feels difficult for me.
Life is difficult
Life is very difficult at the moment. We are experiencing unfamiliar situations because of the pandemic and mourning a previous existence. Issues of race, privilege, bias, outrage and hurt are also swirling around us and maybe causing us to feel immense discomfort. I have heard many writers and artists comment that it feels trivial right now to continue with their usual art. They just can’t find anything to say that feels worthwhile against the huge struggles which people are facing.
If this is your current situation, please don’t worry. I also haven’t written much in terms of publishable content in the last three months but I have done a lot of journaling. This has allowed me to connect with my creativity and try and stay sane for another day.
When you have a quiet moment, grab a notebook, have a chat with your inner wisdom and reassure yourself that in your current circumstance, you can only do your best, at a pace which works for you.
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Great tips Cali, thank you.
As you know I also have a journaling practice; thanks also for the reminders, although we both went to Liz’ workshop I tend not to use those prompts very often.
I would also add to anyone who’s unsure about the merits of journaling, just start.
There is no right or wrong, try different techniques & see which ones work for you.
Thanks Lesley. As you say, there are no right and wrongs about journaling. That’s the great thing about it, no one else can judge as long as it works for you.