Developing a regular journaling routine

There are so many views on how often and when you should try journaling, why doing this at all might be good for you, what you could write about etc etc but what I’ve found is that it is writing regularly that’s important. Working out how you do this is through trial and error until you hit upon what works best for you. If you don’t do it the way that works for you, in my experience you’ll soon give it up.

I personally began my structured journaling practice with Julia Cameron’s morning pages (The Artist’s Way, 1993). She suggests doing a free-write of whatever comes up over three pages first thing every morning. Sometimes in my life I have really enjoyed doing just that, sneaking out of bed half an hour early, making a hot cup of herbal tea and settling in to a place I find tranquil (the couch in my sitting room, overlooking the garden). I find it easy to write three pages, even if much of it is excruciating drivel, moans and complaints that I would be horrified for anyone to ever read!

Writing in this way is incredibly cathartic and when I’ve gone back six to eight weeks or sometimes a year later and read back what I’ve written, I’ve often been amazed at what has changed in my life. The act of writing and rewriting the stuff I’m not enjoying, the wistful wishing for things to be different, the pain I’m in over something, somehow has clarified for me what I really want and been a catalyst for going out and getting it. This kind of writing is like a notebook therapist. I’ve used the journal in the same way I’ve used a counsellor in the past, only the notebook is cheaper and available whenever I need it! So, I’m definitely an advocate for the morning pages in that respect.

However, I’ve never been able to keep that kind of momentum up. Thirty minutes in an already busy morning routine inevitably gives way to my desire to have just thirty minutes more of sleep or half an hour with my partner before the day starts or go for a run or prepare tonight’s dinner or try some yoga… Over time I’ve realised that neither the morning nor the frequency suits me all that well. It comes to feel like another onerous checkbox on the never-ending list of things I should do and that defeats the purpose.

I’ve come to accept that and I do it differently now, in a way  that feels kinder to myself. I have a goal of writing in my journal four times a week for at least 15 minutes in any way I feel I need. I make time on two afternoons specifically for that purpose and then I am flexible about when or whether I manage on two other days. But I treat it as something I am aiming for, not as something to beat myself up about if I can’t manage it one week. In treating it this way, I am not setting myself up for failure and I’m able to give myself a mental pat on the back if I actually do manage it – “well done me”! I also love writing poetry and feel real joy reading back some of the poems I’ve written over the years, so I have a goal around writing at least one first draft of a poem each week too.

If you too are trying to work towards establishing a regular journaling practice, the things I’ve found helpful to bear in mind are:

  • writing four times a week for 15 minutes is very beneficial
  • if you don’t do it one week, it really doesn’t matter
  • if you date the pages you’ll know when you’re looking back to if you choose to read it later on
  • leaving something for a good six weeks before re-reading it provides greater perspective
  • making lists is comforting when you’re lost for what to write or distracted by thoughts
  • a nice notebook, a comfortable position and a good view are a great place to start
  • making a conscious decision to finish with one positive thought, no matter how small, can help you notice the good stuff you’ve got in your life as well as protect you from sinking too deeply into the darker stuff when it comes up (which it will)

Journaling four times a week

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