I wrote my last word on the last line of the last page of my current writing journal today and felt an enormous sense of relief.
“At last! This book is complete! I can move on to the next stage of my life!”
For some reason over the last few years, different writing journals have coincided with different life phases for me.
There was the breakup and rebound journal; there was the “what was I thinking?!” journal; and there have been many “I’ve got this awesome new project!” journals. Some journals last a month, others six months and others span years.
I’ve been journaling since I was a teenager and have dozens of notebooks filled with stories of angst, drunken rants, sorrowful laments and broken hearts. There have been one or two happy stories as well.
Journaling is my little catch-up with myself, chronicling what’s been happening in my life. It’s my mental clearing space where I dump everything that’s going on, everything that’s on my mind, everything that’s made me happy, everything that’s hurt. Everything.
I rarely go back and read what I’ve written (except to check if I’ve already written about it). Journaling for me is not about storytelling. It’s about making sense of the world. I write to work out what I need to do next to make the most of my “one wild and precious life”*.
And it works. I feel so much better after journaling. It is my therapy.
My serious journaling began about 10 years ago when I gave Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” a go as way to develop some writing momentum. Every morning for 30 days, I wrote three A4 pages about whatever I wanted, whatever came into my head.
Nowadays I journal weekly – although the frequency depends on what’s going on for me. If I need a bit of clarity I write daily.
I still keep to the three-pages. Something magical seems to happen in that space. The first few pages are a series of “This happened. And this happened. And then THIS happened” and by the time I reach the third page I’m actually getting into the nitty gritty of whatever’s bothering me. By the end of page three I’ve worked out what I’m going to do differently to change my situation.
Journaling for me is not just therapy. It’s also coaching.
On the page, I’m a pretty good listener for myself. I’m curious. I’m kind. I’m loving. I’m an advocate. I ask the challenging questions and call myself on my bullshit. I ask myself how I could do things differently. I ask myself what I’m going to do to change the situation. And I keep myself accountable.
After I’ve written, I take my new attitude, ideas or habit out into the world, give it a go and get feedback from others. Some things fly. Some don’t. I then write about it the next week. It’s actually a form of reflective practice. The “practice” just happens to be my life.
And so after months of feeling like I’ve been treading water, I am entering a new phase in my life with a fresh new journal to not only record the events, feelings, ideas and milestones but to make it fully lived.
I look forward to writing about it. My wish is that I find the courage to share more of the stuff that makes life precious. The stuff that makes me feel vulnerable but also taps some universal truths.
Writing may begin as therapy for me but in the end its true power comes from its ability to connect us to one another.
*From ”The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver