Right then. We’re going to start this course gently (and, in fact, continue to be gentle, and finish gently, too) by easing you into the concept and practice of journaling, furnishing you with some prompts, techniques, and inspiration, and seeing where it takes you. 

Because although there are absolutely no rules to follow here, we would argue that the most important aspect of journaling is finding a practice that suits you

So that’s exactly what we’re gonna do, starting with a very important question:

WHAT IS JOURNALING AND WHAT AM I DOING HERE?

Well, hopefully you’re here because you liked the sound of a no-pressure writing approach. Or perhaps you’ve always wanted to write a journal but have no idea where to start. Or perhaps you’re stuck on your work-in-progress and need a creative buffer. Or perhaps you’re stressed out, overwhelmed, and in need of somewhere to process your thoughts. Or any combination/all of the above. 

These are all excellent reasons to be here, and journaling can be all or any of these things. 

It can be whatever you need it to be. Journaling is an intensely personal practice, and what you need and get out of it will be entirely different from the next person. 

It could be a place to keep track of real life events, reflecting on your day, diary style. It could be a way of emptying out your brain at the end of the day, or beginning your day with a page of fresh thoughts. It could be a stream of consciousness hybrid of thoughts and poetry and ideas and musings. It could be a depository for your feelings, hopes, worries, dreams, frustrations, and secrets. It could be the writing equivalent of practising your musical scales – a series of writing exercises to keep your creative muscles warm. 

Once again: there are absolutely no rules to follow here. Just guidelines, suggestions, and – hopefully – some inspiring exercises to help you find your own way. So throw out any preconceptions you may have around what journaling ought to look like. 

For example: 

There’s no requirement to have a fancy notebook and multi-coloured pens and washi tape and pretty formatting. There’s no need for you to write in your journal every single day. There’s no need for proper punctuation, spelling, grammar, or even coherent sentences. There’s no need to ‘perform’ or create something beautiful or tangible or complete. 

It’s a process, not a product.

In fact, journaling can be a great way to shake off the guilt and stress of trying to be ‘productive’ all the time, and just let your writing go where it wants to. By letting go of trying to control the act of creation (and letting it happen, instead), we’re better able to reflect on what’s going on around us, and inside our own heads. Journaling can help us process difficult feelings, explore subconscious thoughts, and sometimes even offers up exciting new writing ideas…

And, even better, no one needs to see a single word of it. It’s ALL for you. Something to indulge in and meditate on – morning, evening, at random, every day, once a week – whenever the fancy takes you. 

No pressure. No perfection. No judgement. No editing. No agenda.

Just you and the page. 

Lush, right? 

Let’s get started then.

FIND YOUR PRACTICE

To get the most out of journaling, it should feel enjoyable, easy, and beneficial – not a chore or something you feel guilty about not doing – so finding the right approach is really important. 

Of course, this will vary from person to person – it might even vary for the same person, day by day. My current journal contains all sorts of different types of writing, depending on my mood, energy, needs, or even down to how much time I had to write that day. There are lists, brain-dumps, rants, attempts at stories, memories, diary entries, observations, letters to myself, random scribbled drawings, and there’s no fixed approach to what I write each time I open it up. It just…happens. 

But it took me a while to loosen up and give myself the permission to do it – to write what might be absolute twaddle, straight out of my frazzled head and onto the page. To not second guess or tweak or fine tune my writing. To let it happen, however it happened. To switch styles or techniques half way through a paragraph and wander off on tangents at whim. To let myself just sit in the moment and write for no other reason than to write.

So, with absolutely ZERO pressure, I want you to open up your journal and pick up your pen and write down the following words at the top of a blank page: 

I hereby give myself full and free permission to write.

Now that it’s down on paper, how do you feel about that concept? Do you believe your own words? Are you already doubting it? Are you still uncertain what that might mean for you? 

Write down some of those thoughts, if you like, or perhaps consider some of the things – responsibilities, people, fears – that might be preventing you from allowing yourself to write.

Think about all the things you’d write if you had unlimited time, space, peace and quiet, money, inspiration… 

Write them down. Turn it into a list. Write as if you’re talking to yourself. Jump from idea to idea with no concern about connecting sentences. Write however feels natural to express these thoughts.

Write about how writing makes you feel. Challenged? Excited? Alive? Free? What do you love most about being creative? 

Now come back to that initial sentence. Perhaps write it out again. Say it out loud. Give yourself permission to write and mean it. Allow yourself to fill a page with all the thoughts we’ve just explored for the sake of exploring them. 

Do you believe it this time? 

Because it’s that simple, and that easy, and that’s really all there is to it. 

FIND YOUR DELIGHT

We’re going to finish up today’s session with a small caveat, and an ongoing exercise to take with you for the rest of the day/week/year. 

Writing in a journal often brings up deep, personal, sometimes raw feelings, and it’s very easy to fall into the habit of using it as a place to dump all our worries, anger, frustrations and resentments. This can be cathartic in its own way, but it can also send us into a spiral of gloom or self-deprecation with nothing to balance it out. 

So remember to speak kindly to yourself in your journal. Try to counter any negativity with something positive. Actively seek out the bright spots. Write down something you’re grateful for, or something that delights you.

One of my favourite journal-style books is The Book of Delights by Ross Gay – a collection of ‘daily instances of delight: from a friend’s unabashed use of air quotes, to cradling a tomato seedling aboard a plane, to the silent nod of acknowledgement between the only two black people in a room.‘ 

It is, quite frankly, delightful. And sad, and sweet, and poetic, and funny, and philosophical, and utterly unbound by the ‘rules’ of essay writing, journal writing, or any kind of writing. 

And it’s a wonderful reminder to seek out everyday delights.

The other day, for example, I wrote about a tree stump that I pass every day taking my kid to school. It should be a shame, really, that a tree has been cut down. I think it was done to improve visibility for traffic near a busy crossing, which is obviously a good thing if it stops someone being hit by a car, but it was a mature tree – not that I can remember what type it was or what it looked like – I only noticed it once it was gone and there was this perfectly smooth stump-top left behind, at just the right height to slide my hand over each morning like a prayer. “Stroke the tree!” I say to my kid, and he rolls his eyes and keeps walking. And I am delighted, every time, by its solidity and its rippled surface and the way it connects me to the ground – this tiny moment of nature in amongst concrete and exhaust fumes and rushing to school. 

Two images depicting a smooth-topped tree stump at the side of a road

(Phwoarrr check out that stump…)

So look out for delights to put into your journal. Tiny things. Everyday things. Personal things. Innocuous things. Make a whole list of ’em, just like Pablo Neruda’s Ode to Common Things.

And if you see a tree stump, give it a nice hefty slap from me.

Let us know how you get on with your journal of delights in our writing forum, share your ideas and chat with your fellow WHQers. ‘Tis a lovely place.

And, when you’re ready, check out the next lesson!

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