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“What if someone reads my journal?” 

This is the most common concern I hear from people in my classes and workshops and it’s an understandable concern.  In order for journaling to be effective, we need to be free to write from our innermost selves.  How can we feel free to express ourselves fully if we are afraid someone will read our private thoughts?  I have a couple of ideas:

1) Buy a journal that can fit in your bag and take it with you everywhere you go.  That way you can write in it when you are waiting for an appointment, riding the light rail or bus, or waiting at the DMV.

2) Find a hiding spot for your journal.

3) If you feel too vulnerable, shred the pages of your journal with intention and ceremony after you fill them.  The healing is already in progress because through the act of writing, you release your mind and body from the pain and stress of holding things inside.

“Can I type instead of write?”

To this question, I am biased.  I am a proponent of preserving the endangered art of actual writing in this ballistic over-technologized culture.  None of us needs more screen time.  We need time to commune with ourselves without the bright lights and distraction of our computers and phones and ipads and everything else with which we are bombarded.

Writing takes longer than typing, allowing us to slow down with our thoughts and think deeply.  It is a moving meditation of sorts.  Though there is no research specific to the difference between writing and typing that I know of, I do know that from a sensory-integration standpoint, there is something about physically holding a pen and pressing it onto the paper that allows us to integrate mind, body, and spirit as well as calm our central nervous systems.

“I want to journal, but I can never find the time.” 

Time does not hide under the couch.  You do not find it.  You make it.  If you think journaling will benefit your life, then make a space for it.  Here are a few suggestions:

  •  Set the timer on your coffee maker and wake up 20 minutes earlier than you usually do.  You will be rewarded with the decadence of hot coffee and the quiet of early morning writing.
  • Take yourself out on a date to a coffee shop or restaurant—you, your journal, and a pen.  I began my first journal at Espresso Royale on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.  Often times, I can concentrate better with the hissing and whacking of the espresso machines and the din of conversations mixed with music being played overhead.  Within the cacophony of a coffee shop, I can think.
  • Have your journal by your bedside and write for five, ten, or twenty minutes before you go to bed.  I do not do this because I am too tired and because I like to read at night.  But I know it works for some people.

“I want to journal, but I don’t know where to begin.”

Don’t try to begin at the beginning, wherever that is.  Begin with this moment, right now (see sample exercises).  Continue to return to those two words, “right now,” like a mantra until your mind loosens up and your writing takes flight.  For example, “Right now it is 3:18 and in exactly 27 minutes, I have to pick Oliver and Lucy up from school.  Right now I am sitting cross-legged, straight-backed in the depths of the Spyhouse Coffee Shop on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis.  Right now I have a raging head cold and am wearing sweatpants and a hoodie pulled over my head.  Right now I am 40 years old and sometimes I worry I am too late to become an author, that I missed the mark somewhere in my 30’s while I was changing diapers and attending ecfe classes. Then again, right now there is no other place in my life I’d rather be…”

“What if I hate writing?”

I wonder if you hate writing because somewhere along your path, a well-meaning teacher picked apart your writing and vandalized your paper with red marks.  I believe we have been taught writing in the wrong order—instead of learning the fluidity of writing what we are thinking, we are shackled early and often by grammatical rules.

I digress.

If you prefer to journal in pictures, by God, go for it!  Get inspired by Sabrina Ward Harrison’s Spilling Open or Maira Kalman’s Principles of Uncertainty.

“Will this help me become a better writer?”

Yes!  My god, yes!  The practice of writing, for writers and non-writers alike, will enhance eloquence, a glorious skill that can only be learned in the doing, within the practice of pinning down thoughts with words.

If you write regularly, your writing will begin to dance with the thrum of your soul.

As Brenda Ueland wrote:

“Be bold, be free, be truthful.”