“Write Away: How to Journal”

By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”  T.S. Eliot, Poet

Have you ever been really upset and wanted to “get something off your chest”–without actually telling somebody? Or been confused about which decision to make or direction to turn in your life? Perhaps you have simply wanted to record a special time, or capture a moment you witnessed, preserving it in your mind forever.

All of these reasons and more are why some people choose to keep a journal. Others may feel they don’t have the time or inclination, or believe they aren’t a “good writer.” However, it really only takes just a few moments to journal and the best part is there is no experience required!

If you have ever considered putting your thoughts to paper, there are many ways to journal. There are also several components to this process – which is not really a process at all; it is indeed an easy-going and relaxed activity.

~          ~          ~

About 15 years ago while living in Tallahassee, Florida, I saw a ‘Life Stories’ workshop for women offered. Since I am a writer I was curious, and the description sounded intriguing, so I signed up. To my surprise, I found that women who were not writers or didn’t necessarily find writing interesting had also come!

The workshop was offered by Katya Taylor who had a Master of Education and simply liked to journal and write. She also knew how to inspire and teach others to do it. Her workshop was amazing, as well as remarkably inspirational and healing. She encouraged us to share her methods and spread the word, so to speak, and about 3 years ago I developed a course curriculum for a writing workshop using Katya’s teachings as a beginning point.

The most important thing I learned from these workshops is that everyone’s story is important and worth sharing. At the beginning of the workshop Katya said, “Every time a person dies, a library burns.” I couldn’t agree more, so here are some basic journaling concepts to keep in mind when you think about putting your pen to paper – and preserving your library and life!

Write Away!

We do not need magic to transform our world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already.”  J.K. Rowling, Author

1)In the beginning…

I know this famous author scrawled the beginnings of her Harry Potter series books on napkins. And, I encourage always being ready to jot down a spur-of-the-moment idea. However, you may wish to keep these more “stable” items handy:

+Notebook (for jotting down anything you’d like to remember)

+Writing Journal (make it special – one you will want to open again)

+Pencils and Pens (for writing – and illustrating!)

*Now that I have shared this suggestion, it is your turn to get jumpstarted on your way to journaling. So take a moment to gather at least one writing implement and find one small notebook, notepad, or journal you can stash in your purse or bag.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you truly are.” E.E. Cummings, Poet and Painter

Journals come in a wide variety of forms.

Journals come in a wide variety of forms.

2) Writing tools, spaces, and time

The place where you write generally does not matter but should be somewhere you are comfortable, and where you can focus and write undisturbed. The time of day you choose to write may vary. Sometimes, you will get a brainstorm unexpectedly and want to write wherever you are – hence, the use of a napkin!

Journals come in many forms, as well as shapes and sizes.

*Your Turn: Look around your house to identify the place where you can write without interruption. Also, as much as possible (I’m thinking especially about anyone else who has a 3 year old at home!) determine a general time when you can write. Is that in the evening, when everyone else has gone to sleep as it is for me? Or are you an early riser who sneaks out of bed before everyone else begins stirring? Can you snatch a few moments in the middle of your day? Finally, choose where you will record your writing – now you have a good excuse to visit that cute little book and gift shop in town!

Everyday courage has few witnesses. But yours is no less noble because no drum beats before you and no crowds shout your name.”  Robert Louis Stevenson, Novelist/Poet/Essayist

3) Jump-Starting Your Writing

Most writing comes from memories and experiences. We can “jump-start” our writing by re-connecting with those times through pictures, objects, imagery, our 5 senses, and phrases (what Katya called “Seeds”). Many times Seeds generate writing from a part of our life – our writing is just a ‘tidbit’ from a bigger picture that can eventually become a Narrative.

There are many ways to begin a journal entry. Keeping lists is a good start.

*One running list I keep is of phrases and famous quotations I come across and like. I use them to inspire my writing and thoughts. My latest favorite quote is: “The best way out is always through.”  Robert Frost

*Your Turn: Start a timer for one minute. On any sheet of paper, list as many ideas you can come up with to finish the list phrase I love to

Next, choose one item from your list to expand and write upon for 5 minutes.

If you have something on your mind (and even if you don’t), try writing from a ‘seed phrase.’ It is a little like a sentence starter from which many of us wrote essays in school. These are really just “writing prompts” and brainstorming! A few examples:

  • Once I found…
  • I remember a room…
  • Looking back I…
  • On a sunny day I like to…
  • A favorite garment…

*Your Turn: Pick one Seed from the list above and write for 5 minutes uninterrupted. See what you come up with!

You are now on your way to journaling! In part 2 of this series, I will provide you with several easy ways to get inspired to expand your writing further.

In the meantime, please share your experiences with any of the above activities and I will be happy to incorporate them into the next blog ~ Happy writing!

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8 thoughts on ““Write Away: How to Journal”

  1. Jenna, I love your advice and writing prompts. I wish I could find the time to journal more, but I DO enjoy adding favorite quotes to a beautiful journal that was given to me. And I think blogs are truly a more modernized approach to journaling. I look forward to reading your “part two!”

    • Thank you, Karen … I agree that blogs are a more modernized approach to journaling. Nothing like holding that treasured little book filled with handwritten memories, though, huh?

  2. Love this! I *try* to write every morning, before everyone else is up and about. I run through whatever happened the day before, any issues I need to discuss with myself, and look at the day ahead. I keep a stack of favorite books nearby to seed my thoughts when I want to look a little deeper. Nothing very creative, but I find that when I’m able to get to my journal I can start the day feeling more connected with myself than if I just rush headlong into my to-do list. But I would like to set aside some time to work from your prompts, to get a little deeper and more creative. Thank you for this wonderful, inspiring post!

    • Thank you so much! What a wonderful inspiration you are for all those who like to, or are interested in, journaling. I think your idea of keeping a stack of favorite books nearby to use as fuel for your thoughts is great! Thanks for sharing, and I will include your contribution in part two!

  3. I always journaled as a child, having a difficult childhood this was the only way I could liberate myself from the negative in my life. I stopped several years ago with intention on returning to it. I just started back up last week but I really need to find the perfect journal. I consider my blog to be my public journal but recently I have felt the need for a more private space for myself. It truly is wonderful for the soul.

  4. Yes, certainly blogs are a “modern” form of journaling yet you are right in that they are public as well. Sometimes we all need a little private space for our thoughts. Remember, there is no “perfect” journal … you need only look for one that appeals to you aesthetically if you desire a pretty cover. You can record your thoughts anywhere — even a new notebook will do! Many blessings as you return to your journaling!

  5. GREAT post! Just getting around to reading this!! I’m the “napkin writer”…that’s for sure! I just wish that I had all of the scribblings on those napkins compiled in one place! Perhaps someday!

  6. Pingback: Write Away! : “How to Journal” Part Two | Off the Merry-Go-Round

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