Keeping a daily journal might save your life

If we’ve ever met, you’ll no doubt be aware of my obsession and reliance on the humble paper journal. Over the past 3 years I’ve been drawing a lot for a change of pace, but before that I was never far from my journals or long without some kind of writing implement in my hand.

What you might not know (yet) is that writing saved my life. I go into this in great detail in my PhD research, but I’d love to pass along a few tips on how to start a journal and why journal writing is so important.

Create some space for you

Developing a journaling practice isn’t just for Emo teens or white girls (though I’ve been, and still kinda am, both). James Pennebaker and his crew have done some incredible research into the physiological benefits of expressive writing, which I’ve touched on before, but I believe there’s more to it than that.

Spending 15 to 20 minutes a day, a few times a week, reflecting on what you’re experiencing, creates space. It creates space for you to become less reactive and more responsive to what’s going on around you. In the same way that the stillness of meditation allows you to explore your inner world, journaling gives you free reign to work through anything and everything on your mind that you might not have time to think about during the day. And we could all use a little extra time to think, right?

A direct line to your ‘self’

How the FUCK are we meant to know what we want if we don’t take the time to ask ourselves what, in fact, we really want?

Writing it down makes it real.

Writing it down helps you to articulate your goals.

Writing it down is empowering.

Just for funsies, get a pen and a piece of paper. Write down an answer to the following question:

What’s the one thing I wish I had done last year?

Have a think about it. Is there something you wish you had seen, done, experienced or ticked off your bucket list in the last year?

Got it?

Great! Now write down three things you can do to make it happen. You might need to save a certain amount of money, or book a flight, or learn how to unicycle!

Now, look at your answer. Stare it down. How do you feel, seeing it on paper? Pretty fucking good, right? Writing is powerful. And it’s free. Use it.

If you’re on board with the whole journaling thing, you might need a nudge in the right direction to get scrawling.

Here’s what you need to begin

When I was a teenager, I wrote in a journal every night before bed. It was my pre-bed ritual. I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep until I had brain dumped the day’s events onto paper. And when I say every night, I mean every night.

Photo by Martha Dominguez de Gouveia on Unsplash

A journal

I always chose a journal that I loved the look and feel of – that way it felt like a special treat to grace its pages with my thoughts and ideas. Over the years, I’ve tried a plethora of journals – everything from plain spiral bound notebooks to Moleskines, to the more elaborate kikki.k variety and more recently, one of my faves, ALLSWELL. There’s a lot to choose from so take your time. Lined paper is great for handwriting, while blank pages are good for illustrative scribbles or sticking stuff in.

 Photo by  Andrew Seaman  on  Unsplash
Photo by Andrew Seaman  on Unsplash

A decent pen

Pens. I don’t even know where to start! For as many journals as I’ve had, I’ve probably had three times as many pens. Lately I’ve been geeking out on these MUJI gel pens, but if ballpoint is your preferred vice, I’m a big fan of Lamy.

 Photo by  Annie Spratt  on  Unsplash
Photo by Annie Spratt  on Unsplash 

A clutter-free space

I find this crucial to my writing practice in general. If there’s shit everywhere, I’ll get too distracted. So if you can’t find a clean table or spot to write at home (and CBF cleaning) maybe pop down to your local café or library. But, if you’re like me and write at night, just take your journal to bed with you.

“I have my journal, I have my pen, and my space is all set up – now what?!”

I’ll post some writing prompts later this week, but you might like to pop some journal time in your calendar to hold yourself accountable.

If you’re ready to dive in, however, perhaps your first entry can be about what your relationship to writing feels like. You might hate writing, or feel like you’re shit at it. Write about that – get to the heart of your thoughts about the written word. In order to get anywhere, you’ve first got to decide you want to go.

Do you feel awkward when you write? What exactly is it that prevents you from writing? Tell me in the comments below.

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