Creative Writing for health, well-being and fun!

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Saturday, 29 August 2009

Why keep a journal?

For those of us who have been brought up to consider journal-keeping as the preserve of muslin-dressed women with time on their hands, think again. It is not something to be squeezed in between water-colouring and embroidery.

Journalling is a way of listening to yourself. So, in a world constantly exorting you to give your opinion, journalling can be a useful check on what you really think.

Of course, you may like your opinions to be a knee-jerk reaction, a response on the wing. But, if so, are they really your opinions? Are they based on evidence and your own form of expertise? Or are they the half-remembered gobbets of other people’s views. Are they views which you could not defend if challenged? And are they truly what you believe?

If you’re dishonest in your journal, you’re fooling no-one but yourself. In which case, why bother to keep a journal at all? A journal is one place where you can afford to be brutally honest with yourself. Think of the advantages of that!

But someone may read it and make a judgement, you may think. Remember the responsibility of keeping your journal as a ‘safe space’ – away from chance encounters with people you have not permitted to read it – is yours. Totally. You have only yourself to blame if you are careless with its sanctity.

If however you do care for your journal in this way, it rewards you with total confidentiality. It’s like carrying around a counsellor or a coach in your pocket. It has that much power.

Journalling - the route to your inner self

Keeping a journal opens up your inner world with powerful results.

You can, for example, record your dreams on its pages and re-telling dream-stories lifts your waking mood. Breaking your dreams, as the old saying goes. After all, we’ve all woken up – in tears or buoyant with love – with an almost overwhelming desire to tell someone about a dream. At least, if you confide in your dream journal, it won’t tell anyone else. Confidentiality is assured.

But, if patterns of dream imagery recur, your journal may also be warning you of something you need to take seriously but have not yet consciously acknowledged. In this case, your journal will not judge but will help to raise your awareness of some potential danger.

So how – exactly - does form influence the effectiveness of what you write?

Some days, for example, you may want to use your journal to understand – or even to remove – some vivid emotions disturbing your daily life. You may want to hang on to all this emotion or let it go. But, because of the mental energy required, describing it in words is a strong first step towards regaining control of your life.

At this, you may choose to write your journal in the form of a daily poem, exploring the experience through metaphor. Or your journal could become a long-running unsent letter to the person who is generating all this feverish confusion in your life. And – unless you make a conscious decision to share - the person in question need never know. This useful strategy can diffuse bubbling conflicts with your boss. Or keep the lid on a love affair. Or speak to someone who has died leaving you with things unsaid.

Journalling for beginners

Communication usually involves someone saying or writing something to someone else and receiving a response. And, as I’m proposing journaling can have a special role in communication, you may well ask ‘Where is this response?’
Keeping a journal must appear to be a very one-sided form of communication. Journals, however, have multiple purposes and can take many forms. And none of these is ultimately incompatible with the concept of communication. You may also find that – ultimately - keeping a journal even enhances your abilities in this area.

Firstly, you can use your journal as a way of finding out what you really think about something. And you may then ‘practice’ conversations there you’ll later have in daily life. About your career, for instance. In the quiet confidential space of your journal, you can work out the pros and cons of the conversation you want to have with your boss about your readiness for promotion.

Personal relationships are common journal material. In your journal, for example, you could find yourself asking why your husband has suddenly taken on responsibility for buying his secretary’s Christmas present – especially as before, Matilda’s talcum powder had always been just an extra on your own Christmas shopping list. You then have a very private opportunity to work out the answer your own question. And prepare for a conversation you know you must have.

Sometimes it helps to know why you’re keeping a journal. As with any other form of writing, start by defining your purpose or purposes clearly. Do you want to dump emotion, organise a programme of self-improvement or create a resource of stories and characters which will fuel your fiction writing?

Once you’ve established your clear intent in writing this journal – again, as with any other form of writing - you can then choose the form best suited to the purpose. If you want to dump emotion, your journal could take the form of a long unsent letter to the person who is generating all this feverish need to ‘splurge and burn’ in you.

But always remember, your journal exists to give meaning to your life. You are the one who will be empowered by keeping it. It is safe and private. And you can choose to change your purpose in keeping it and adopt different forms, whenever you want. After the catharsis of the unsent letter, for example, you may feel calm enough to itemise your calorie intake for the day. Your mood diary will become a food diary.