A lot of people say an important first step when you want to become a writer is to read. I agree with this 100%. You have to read and you have to read a lot. But I think there is something that is even more important. You have to write, and you have to write a lot. You have to write so much that it starts to feel natural.
You need to start journaling.
When you read, you are reading a finished product. You miss all of the creative steps! You miss the ideas, the trials, the writing, the rewriting, and the polishing that went into it. You are not exposed to everything you will need to be an artist, and this is very detrimental. A lot of people get preoccupied with the end product, and that is stifling. The best way to get good at almost anything is to do it poorly over and over until you get better.
When you journal, you harness your ability to allow words to flow out of you. You become more aware of all the early steps that are necessary to get to the finished product, and you will have record of it. It’s not easy. A lot of people would say keeping a journal is harder than writing in any other way. But it is essential to becoming a better writer, because writing requires practice.
Nobody likes to hear they have to practice a lot to get good at something, but it is always the truth. But the good thing about journaling is the practice itself is so important. It is like yoga or playing an instrument. There is joy and self care and love in the practice. Even if you never end up being a published author, you still get many benefits.
The Types of Journals
There are a lot of different ways to journal. Most people associate it with the way Doug Funnie does it. But that is not the only option for journaling. You can gain a lot from putting pen to paper a lot of different ways.
Doug Funnie wrote about what happened to him that day, every day. Some people call this kind of journaling keeping a diary, or keeping a log. And that is what you have when you are done – a log of all the things that happened to you, and in some cases how it made you feel. Here are some ways you can use this to your benefit.
You can have a record of everything that happens to you. This can be fun to look back on later on to see what you were doing that day. This can be useful to you if you need to remember something, and it can help you to have a better memory, just by association. You get to repeat and relive your favorite experiences that infuse your brain and your heart and soul.
Have something to look back on later
You have such an amazing life, and if you journal, there’s a record of it. Your life is not less important than anyone else’s. This is your autobiography. When you are older, you won’t be fooled into thinking you didn’t lead a valuable life. You will have the receipts. Take it from someone who has written journals that have gotten lost along the way. As much as I might cringe at how I wrote and what I cared about when I was a teenager, I would do anything to have those back.
Write What You Know
A good piece of advice when it comes to writing is to write what you know. You will have a much easier time not only because you already have a lot of knowledge and experience in your head, but because you will be more passionate about it. There is a reason you know the things you know. Even if you don’t want to write an autobiography or a memoir, a lot of your writing will be autobiographical. One day, you might want to write a fictional story about teenagers, and you literally cannot remember what it felt like to be a teenager. If you have your journals, you can have your first hand accounts in your own voice.
Remember people who are important to you.
Sometimes you can get stuck in the tedium of your day to day, or you can get tunnel vision on achieving your goals. This can lead to you forgetting about the things and people in your life that are already awesome, especially if you can’t speak to these people very frequently, or they are no longer in your life.
Track your progress toward a goal
It is really easy to feel like you’re not progressing, or not living an important or impactful life. Looking back on what you were writing about, how you were writing about it can snap you out of it. It is inspiring to see how much you’ve grown. You can go back to an entry where something is really big and scary, and you realize that thing is no longer big and scary to you. It is inspiring to see how much you have done in the short amount of time since then.
Track your behaviors
You can track your mood and write about your behaviors. If you also track other things (i.e. how much sleep you get, diet, exercise, moon phases, water intake, weather) you will have hard evidence of what might impact why you feel certain ways on certain days.
The Journal for Therapy
One of the greatest things about journaling is it can be a form of self therapy. Even if you actually see a therapist, you might be asked to keep a journal to help out even more. Simply writing down how you feel is an enormous act of self love. Here are a few ways a therapy journal can help.
A conversation with yourself
Actively organizing your thoughts can lead to more organized thinking. You basically are having a lifelong conversation with yourself, and you want that conversation to be as stimulating, clear, and productive as possible. We’ve all been in a place where we speak negatively to ourselves, and the more we let that happen, the easier it is to allow that to be normal. When you see your words on the page, it is a lot easier to speak positively to yourself.
Figure out how you feel about things
Make better decisions. So many of our decisions are made with the wrong things in mind – your image, money, how other people will think about you. When you journal, it is more natural to make decisions based on how it will make you feel. You will have a sharper focus on the person you will be after making the decision. You have to live with the decisions you make, and we so often forget to think about that.
Get to know yourself better
Both having deep, stimulating conversation with yourself and figuring out how you feel about things can lead to defining your core values. Your core values are unique to you, and the sooner and more intimately you get to know them the better. Your beliefs drive your behavior, create a strong self identity, and broaden your impact.
It feels good.
It fosters hope, causes a brighter outlook on life, and will give you more confidence to get what you want. You will have a better view of what you actually want to happen.
It is safe
It’s private – nobody else has to see it. If it becomes something you depend on, you won’t turn to drinking, shopping, or other harmful vices. You also won’t find yourself always needing to vent to friends or family members who might not always be physically or emotionally available.
The Creative Journal
You can also use your journal to write creatively. Any kind of writing your thoughts out can be a creativity booster, but sometimes writing with a little direction can be extra helpful in leading to mastering your craft. Creativity is important. It is a vital wedge of everyone’s happiness formula.
Prepping before your project
It is not as much pressure to write your ideas down in a journal, and it can really help your ideas develop. Writing by hand can be really helpful because there is less structure than there typically is on a word processor. It is more personal because your handwriting is unique, and it is less tempting to select all and delete.
Journaling prompts are specific questions or phrases or even words that get you writing. These are particularly helpful when you have writer’s block, or writers fatigue, or writer’s anxiety or whatever you choose to call it.
You can doodle, draw, paint, or scribble. This can help you to put out abstract ideas onto paper more easily. Short of that, it can help clear your mind. Coloring calms you down, and it can help you process things without having to look at your actual (often daunting) words.
Testing out art supplies
Just fill in the page with markers or crayons or highlighters or pens. This is good for the times when you need to feel like you are completing something. It is also nice to have swatches of your markers so you can see what you have (especially when the caps of your markers don’t match what they actually look like – the frustration is real).
A Different Kind of Journal, or All of the Above
There are even more different ways to journal, and the best way to journal is the formula that works for you. (The formula that works best for me is about 50% journaling for therapy, 30% keeping a log, and 20% creative.) These are the benefits of journaling in general
Becoming a better writer makes you better at communicating overall. You write a ton: e-mails, texts, Twitter, Instagram captions, YouTube comments, or memos. Even if you don’t, you still have to talk and interact with other people. If you are not good at it, you will waste a ton of time trying to write or say something effectively.
Writing things down increases the stickiness of information in your head, and deepens the insights into your memory. This makes it much easier to recall things you have learned, and associate it to new things that you encounter. The more efficient you become, the more valuable you will find your time.
It can help to start a routine
You can make sure you don’t go to sleep unless you journal, or you can do it first thing in the morning. This little routine doesn’t involve other people – it hardly even involves your body – it is all for your mind. If you skip it, nothing bad will happen to you. So when you do it, you are proving to yourself that you care, and it is important to have that kind of routine in your day. It is important to do things just for yourself.
How to start:
It can feel difficult to start journaling, and it can be even harder to continue to journal. I will be posting some tips on journaling soon that will hopefully help. But for now, just get a pen and a notebook and start writing. Ignore the pressure to have it look a certain way. Nobody else is going to look at it except you. And even if you have a vision for what you want your journal to look like, you have to practice to get there. So just start writing. That is the biggest hurdle, because once you start writing, you are a writer. Then the possibilities are endless.
So much of life is devoted to figuring out how to do it all. Journaling is there to help you figure out why you do it all. It doesn’t have to make sense. It is a way to process things in your head, or to get blocks out of your head.
If you are still hesitant to start journaling, that is okay. Maybe it won’t work for you. But I still suggest you try it. You might not think it seems fun, but I would say if you’re not having fun, you’re not journaling.
It’s easy, inexpensive, and you decide to do it for yourself. You can always stop, so there is very little investment. But if you keep at it you’ll find it can be one of the best time investments you ever make.