Below you will find an excerpt from
"Journal Magic! Lessons in Therapeutic Writing"
I hope it will give you just what you need to begin writing!
Introduction to “JournalMagic”
This book contains just about everything you’ll need to help you open the door, break through your resistances, and get started with your journal writing. Your JournalCards will assist you, and we’ll tell you how to make the most of them.
The sooner you begin your writing life, the sooner you will discover the magic and power that you carry within. You will define the magic that appears in front of you as you write. It can show itself as venting—just releasing feelings and thoughts that have been bugging you, as brainstorms that offer you meaningful insight and wisdom, or the magic may show itself to you in subtle patterns that you become aware of days or weeks later. You can be sure that you will find the magic . . . once you actually begin.
Please remember, your journal will reflect you perfectly and will not follow any formula—nor should it. The power of the journal lies in that fact—that it is a perfect reflection of you. It’s impossible do it ‘wrong.’ It can be a place where you have the opportunity to learn about the multifaceted being that you truly are! You are stepping into a new relationship with your self—which can impact all your other relationships!
Open the Door
One of the ways we know that personal writing is a popular activity is by looking at the shelves of blank books in bookstores and gift shops. That notion is reinforced when we hear counselors, TV personalities and famous coaches coaxing us to “write it down.”
When people ask me how to do journaling ‘right,’ I tell them that however they do it is right. Apparently that’s hard to grasp in today’s world, where almost everything is presented to us with a rulebook or user’s guide. “Simply begin,” is generally not viewed as adequate direction.
We commonly turn to experts to tell us the “best” way to do something, but in this case, you are the expert about yourself. You have the freedom to express yourself as you who are and as you change from day to day, moment to moment. As you write about your life and the things that make you happy, angry, silly or sad you will be reflecting upon your life and writing your journal. Not hard at all. So let’s quit lecturing and move on.
Here We Go!
Find the kind of book you most prefer—spiral bound, hardbound, fancy or simple. The pen you use is important, as well—unless, of course, you are using a computer to keep your journal. Whatever works best for you is what is correct.
Take a deep breath. Shake off expectations. Settle into a comfortable spot.
Open up your journal.
Leave that front page blank—just to give anyone who might open it by mistake a chance to close it back up. (Privacy is of primary importance!) You could put your name in it, the date you are beginning, and whatever else you want.
Do you have a comfortable place to sit? By a table? Your journal in your lap? How about some tea? Want to light a candle? You get the idea—make this experience your own.
Breathe deeply again and allow yourself some time to just be quiet.
Make it easy on yourself and begin first—and always—with the date. This becomes important when you are looking back.
You may have a place to start, so just go ahead. If you are hesitating and need a little help, then write a simple question at the top of the page, like, “What’s going on?” Or “How do I feel?” We’ll add in the JournalCards soon enough, but for now just stay with a simple question.
Set a Timer
To begin with, look at your watch or set a timer for about five minutes. Since most of us are so pressed for time in these busy days, it is wise to set a timer when you are beginning journal writing. It is much easier to stop when you know that there is a time “quota” you have fulfilled, and you will probably find it easier to begin when you know just how much time you have available to you. This isn’t a rule, by the way, just a suggestion.
Begin to write now, not planning your sentences ahead, but just letting the words appear on the page one at a time as they flow from your insides, down your arm, and out through your pen. Remember that you are not trying to be profound—and that your writing is only for you—no one else will see what you write! (Unless you choose to share.) I often encourage people to pay more attention, at first, to the process of writing and less to the content. Really, you are learning to open and move into a flow.
You are now a journal writer!
Yes, it really is that simple.
Reviewing the Steps:
Find a private space that is peaceful for you, then take some time to quiet yourself and breathe gently
Open the journal you have chosen to work with, and pick up your pen.
Date your entry and start with a simple question like, “What’s going on?”
Write for about five minutes. Try setting a timer
Don’t judge or evaluate—just keep going
Be clear about this being your own private journal. You share it only as you decide what is best for you
Be free of concern about spelling, punctuation, grammar, or penmanship
Road Blocks and Resistances
Simple as this journaling may seem, many people find that personal issues pop up in front of them and stop them in their tracks. You may find that simply talking about them will help you to move past your own obstacles. Finding out that you are not alone may help, too. You might want to write about your concerns and resistance, or you may feel that serious issues have come up that require the help of a trained counselor. Stay with it—it is worth it! You are worth it!
Lots of folks have been frightened about writing since their school days, when they had to compose essays—following the rules of grammar, using proper punctuation, spelling perfectly. We all learned to write our letters and compose our sentences early in our schooling. However, for many of us it left us—our thoughts and feelings—out of the experience. G. Lynn Nelson addresses this issue in his book, Writing and Being, in which he shares his own discovery process, one that evolved as he began to journal and discovered the enormity of feelings he had to express. That story is one that many of us can relate to. As school children, we were so busy in our heads (learning the rules) that we had no room to attend to our feelings or to discern what was important for us to express and write about at the time.
The journal gives you the chance to change all that. As the expert in your own life, you decide how you want to spell, if you want to punctuate or use “proper” grammar. The idea is to be completely free to focus on your own expression. The more you practice this writing without rules, the more open you become to your ideas, your feelings, and your “magic.” (Should you later decide to turn some of your private writing into something public, you would, of course, alter it to conform to those standard rules of grammar.)
Another roadblock that most of us encounter is the critic we carry within us, the one who likes to try to push us around and tell us how we are doing. Especially when we are beginners, the critic will try to stick its nose into our journals. The inner critic, who also likes to evaluate and judge what we do and say, is tied to the rule-following part of us, our left-brains—the linear, logical and orderly part of our minds. This left-brain carries ideas that we picked up as youngsters, as our parents and teachers taught us how to follow the “rules” about getting along in the world. Unfortunately, the left-brain often gets out of hand and squelches us from expressing the very parts of ourselves—emotions and creative ideas--that most need to be expressed! Like our parents, the critic is well intentioned, but needs to be quieted in order for us to open to richer aspects of ourselves.
With practice, your journal can help you to overcome the influence of that stubborn inner critic. Here’s how. As we journal, since there are no rules, the critic can relax. This takes a little practice, since most of us are habitually on guard in most parts of our lives. As our critic relaxes, another part of our brain—the right brain—becomes engaged. The right brain holds our creativity and emotions and fun. Eventually, we are able to express more from this creativity center. Then we are able to discover more and more of our own magic. The left-brain, where the critic hangs out, finds out that the right brain has something important to share. Brain hemispheres begin to work more cooperatively—giving you more brainpower! So you can tell your critic to take a vacation when you work with your journal! Your creativity will expand as you bypass this menace to movement!
Part of what makes it possible to reach into our right brain and to let go of that left brain critic is knowing that what we write is for our own eyes only. If you share parts of what you have written, it must be only because you choose to. This is very important. Without this assurance of safety, you will not be able to dip into the unknown parts of your history, your dreams and your imagination. You will not be able to let go of your critic, to move into your creativity, or to engage your special magic. This is an obstacle that must be avoided.
What other roadblocks have you encountered? The issue of someone else reading your journal was addressed above, but you may need to have a family meeting about privacy to ensure that safety. Are you concerned that writing it down “makes it real?” I would suggest experimenting with small issues at first, while you develop trust. You may even allow yourself to tear up what you have written. The important part is getting it out of you; keeping it isn’t always necessary. Another resistance people encounter is fear of the blank page. Hopefully, this guide will help you to move beyond that.
I believe you will be able to move through any of the rough spots that may have emerged. They could bring great opportunities to move into greater depth right away! If you still feel stuck, you may want to get in touch with me and consider a session in Journal Coaching. It is a phone/email connection made to help you deal with current issues in your life using your journal as your assistant. Get in touch!
Powerful Research Proves What We Know
There is no question that writing in a journal offers healing benefits. More than thirty years of in-depth research by psychologist James Pennebaker supports that contention. He has shown that writing for as little as fifteen minutes at a time for four days in a row resulted in lowered blood pressure, enhanced immune system functioning, and fewer doctors office visits.
Later research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999, suggests that arthritis and asthma patients who journaled just three days in a row, for thirty minutes at a time, experienced a measurable reduction in symptoms for up to four months. In both cases, participants were asked to write about difficult or traumatic life situations. It is important to write about the hard parts of life as well as the joyful ones. Remember, though, however you do it will be just right.
More Questions . . .
How often should I write in my journal?
Think about it as though you were creating a new friendship. How often do you want to connect when you are just getting acquainted? That could range from every day to once a week. Find your own range, but remember that it is both a habit and a relationship that you are working toward establishing. You will have to decide how important this relationship is to you. Greater frequency is better—and remember, you can write for just five minutes and still cover a lot of territory. Trust yourself to do what is best for you—and do your best to avoid self-criticism if you miss a few days. Just begin again….
Do I just sit down and write?
There are many valid techniques you can use to journal besides timed writing or free writing. Your JournalCards will give you dozens of suggestions, but there are a few classics that can be used repeatedly. Those will be thoroughly described in upcoming chapters (not included here) Please consult with me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or buy Journal Magic! Lessons in Therapeutic Writing"...or...do both!
JournalCards! What are they?
The JournalCards packet is a set of fifty-five different cards, each having a word, a picture and four questions on them. They are meant to help jump-start your creative process. We have found that when they are used at the beginning of a journaling session, whether you are journaling alone or as a member of a group, they help to shift the focus—quickly and easily—from a “normal” left-brained, logical approach, to a whole-brain, deeper perspective. Because your own intuition picks each card, you will find that they often fit perfectly into the very topic you need to explore.
Where did they come from?
JournalCards were created to answer the primary complaint I heard from new journal writers which was, “I don’t know what to write about!”
You will find yourself responding to different parts of the cards each time you pick one. While a word may fit perfectly the issue that is most on your mind at one time, the picture may touch you in a special way another time. The four questions are meant to help you sift through your current thoughts so as to find a direction that is closest to where you want to go at the time. Different questions will fit better for different situations you may be going through.
I created these cards after years of enjoying Runes and Medicine Cards and Inner Child Cards. I find cards quick, accessible and fun. When a card is created in a positive way, it can help us to shift from a negative or unhealthy perspective to an attitude that empowers, uplifts and offers guidance. That was certainly my intention in the creation of the JournalCards.
A Little History
I have been a counselor for about thirty-five years and find the use of questions a way to help guide people toward discovering more of their own power, their inner gifts, or their personal magic—whatever one chooses to call it. We all need to learn how to ask our own questions, and the JournalCards offer a way to learn how to do that. It’s like visiting with a counselor—after a few appointments you may know just what they are going to ask. My hope is that as you use the cards your own questions will float to the surface. You will find yourself achieving great personal growth as you work with these cards. Sometimes, however, you may need more guidance than you can obtain from just writing. Those are the times when you may need an outside voice to help you. Of course, share your cards if and when you visit your counselor.
How to Use JournalCards!
There is no right or wrong way to use the JournalCards. Certainly, we don’t want to set up rules in a rule-less process, so allow the cards to speak to you according to your feelings in the moment. You can even go so far as to permit yourself to choose another card when you don’t like the first one! You are the person who wants to create a richer and more complete relationship with yourself and those you love; so let the cards assist you in the “getting to know you” process.
One, Two, Three and More
The most common way of using the cards is one at a time. Use one to open a journaling session or as the focus for one brief journaling entry. Remember to set a timer to give yourself some structure as you proceed. As you become more comfortable with the cards, use them as support in the midst of your journaling, as well. You may find yourself attending to one question—and you might then choose a card to offer you some “out of the box” perspective.
Another way to use a single JournalCard is at the end of a writing session. You could pull a card to help you summarize your feelings or to give you an idea to take along with you as you proceed through your day. You will find that a single card may also be useful in a discussion with a close friend or loved one. Even talking about ideas that spring from the cards can be meaningful and fun.
Two at a time is a way to start more gently, I’ve discovered, because then you can choose the one that feels most comfortable to write about. Often I have seen a card picked by someone that was so ‘right on’ that it was scary for the writer. Choosing two cards allows more choice and less fear. The two-card approach can also be used to explore a masculine or feminine perspective. Choose a card with the left hand for the feminine perspective and with the right hand for the masculine approach. Similarly, two can be used to exemplify any other polarity, such as selfish and selfless, parent and child, strong and vulnerable, and so on. Sounding like fun, right?
I personally love using the JournalCards in a series of three as I explore a particular question or concern I may have.
The first card I pick represents the current situation in my life. The second card stands for an action step that would be useful to take in regard to that situation. The third shows us what the newly evolved situation could be if we take that recommended action.
This is a delightful and meaningful exercise. I can’t think of a time when it was not deemed extremely useful in our local journaling groups. Sometimes it takes a little work to make the cards fit into an action or as part of a current concern, but my experience is that if we stay with it, something “clicks” and we gain a new perspective.
Current situation in my life
Action step to take in regard to that situation
Newly created scenario after action has been taken
I think you will find the JournalCards will take you places you couldn't have imagined yourself. Enjoy them.
If you want to create something like JournalCards, type out a series of questions, quotes, or statements. Print them out and then cut into separate pieces of paper and put them in a bowl to draw from when you are ready to write. Be creative...and enjoy your journal writing process!