Most of us have heard about the health benefits of keeping a journal. Medical experts, spiritual leaders, and practitioners of the art have touted them for years. Even people with no interest in the practice think of it as a mental health exercise and a way to get in touch with yourself. But a lot of people, especially the nonwriters and nonartists out there, don’t think of it as a way to spur inner creativity.
It provides a great way to sweep off the cobwebs and enhance focus on your creativity, says Dolly Gardner.
“To journal is to tap into your subconscious. To journal is to connect with yourself. And when you are connecting with yourself, your creativity has maximum opportunity to surface and flourish.”
We start out creative as children, Anjali Mani says. As we get older, experiences like loss, grief, fear, and life status changes curb our inner muse. “Our inner critic says things such as I’m not good enough, I don’t sound correct, I must be crazy for thinking this way, I can’t do this.”
Anjali says we enter the competitive world of adults and build protective layers that rob us of our innocence. “Journaling helps us get back to that innocence.”
Journaling is an act of expression, Dolly tells us. “When you journal regularly, particularly if you allow yourself to go with your thoughts, then it actually becomes quite difficult not to be creative.”
And who doesn’t want to be creative? Anjali tells us, “Creativity is energy. It is movement. It is the act of doing. To be creative means to engage in something that sparks activity of some kind. I like to look at it as a collective use of our senses in the outer world. Creativity equals expression.”
Dolly suggests going with the flow and combining different exercises, like letter writing and journaling. To get the most out of the experience, she recommends:
- Freewriting. “It is an incredibly powerful
tool that aids with almost all kinds of creative/brainstorming problems.”
- Set a timer for ten minutes.
- Start writing and don’t slow down until the
timer stops. Don’t stop to think, don’t edit what you write, and don’t second
guess yourself. Just write.
- Use creative writing prompts and journal writing
prompts to get started. If you feel stuck, these provide a great push to get
- Talk to yourself. She recommends making one
“participant” your non-creative side, and your creative side the other. Really,
you can do it however you like, but when you have a conversation with yourself,
you’re usually looking at multiple sides of an issue.
- Doodle. A BBC
article by David Robson says that doodling helps us concentrate and
- Write in an unorthodox manner. Write sideways or
in circles or squares. Use different colors. Or write in pictures.
- Write a poem. Don’t worry about the style. Just
be you. “Just write a poem. About something. About anything.”
- Talk to your muse. Imagine it as a person and
hold a conversation. Have several conversations and get to know it.
This works well for getting things off your chest, invoking warm feelings, and just looking inside your head. You might write, “Dear Diary, I hate my boss. He’s a real. . .” and just explore your feelings. How about, “I feel happy and warm every time I see Abbie. Her smile makes me feel light and giddy.” Or maybe, “The finch that lives in my hedge is chirping its heart out. It makes me want to chirp, too. I like birds because of the happy sound. And their feathers look fluffy. A cat heard my buddy chirping and came to investigate. I like cats, too.”
Each of these examples has a wandering, blonde-joke feel to it. I exaggerated the quality a bit to show what it looks like, but your freewriting may not seem so loose.
Don’t worry about it. Just open your mind and write like mad for ten minutes or so.
Prompts are a fun way to loosen your mind and get the creative juices flowing. You can find different types all over the Internet. Here are a few good standbys:
- Think of something you are genuinely grateful
for. Write about why and how it makes you feel.
- Work through something weighing on you, like
work dissatisfaction, your health, etc. Ask what makes it an issue and come up with ways to deal with it.
- Write about the last meal you ate – why you
picked it, how it tasted, if it met your expectations, etc.
Draw a picture of you as a rock star in front of a crowd of adoring fans, the mom of several kids with a great body, you now and then, etc. If, like me, you don’t draw well, use stickers, online images, and pictures from magazines. Just have fun with it.
You can doodle things like smacking your boss, but avoid this. It doesn’t address the issue at hand and puts you in a negative frame of mind. Keep doodling light and airy.
Maybe it’s good, maybe it ain’t. Maybe you’re a poet and don’t know it. But putting down thoughts this way is a lot of fun, so get in the boat and row it.
Talk to yourself/Talk to your muse
I like this method the best and use it in several ways. At the most basic, after complaining, I’ll tell myself something like, “Oh, get over it. Everybody spills a drink from time to time.” (Or gets the wrong order, or ends up stuck in traffic. Whatever.)
Fiction author Orson Scott Card teaches a game of 100 Questions to fiction writers that works well here. For instance, you might write, “I want to lose weight.” And you mean it. But what do you mean by it? Using the 100 Questions game, you can fine-tune your goal like this:
A: I want to lose weight
B: OK. How ya gonna do it?
A: I’ll eat less and exercise.
B: Excellent. What do you plan to eat?
A: Oh, you know. Salad, soup, fruit, that kind of stuff.
B: But you hate that stuff. Even if you manage to stick with it, it will make you miserable.
A: I like soup. And fruit.
B: Yeah, cream soup and cling peaches in heavy syrup.
A: Well, I have to change something.
B: How about baby steps?
A: What do you mean?
B: Well, the first week, eat a little less meat and fried foods. Eat a smaller burger or whatever. Add an extra spoonful of vegetables.
A: I could do that.
B: Then the next week, eat fewer potatoes and add another vegetable side dish.
This actually combines 100 Questions with talking to yourself. One little conversation takes you from the boredom of calorie restriction and foods you hate into a creative way to change your eating habits to achieve your weight loss goal.
And you can use it for anything. Take happiness. I want to be happy. So do you. Who doesn’t? But what does that mean? What makes you happy might not work for me. Even if we like the same thing. You might like binge-watching a TV series, where I might enjoy one episode a night. But many of us don’t have a clue what happiness means to us. This creative method helps
you figure it out:
A: I plan to get happier.
B: Cool. How?
A: I don’t know.
B: What would make you happy?
A: Traveling. You know, seeing stuff, meeting new people, that kind of thing.
B: What’s stopping you?
B: OK. What’s the easiest, realistic way to get enough money to travel?
A: Work more.
Then you address the fact that you hate your job and start another question session to decide if traveling makes working more worth it. From there, you can look at why you hate your job and brainstorm ways to cope with the OT. You might even discover how to deal with your job in general or give yourself the nudge you need to look for a new one.
You don’t need to hit 100 questions every time, or any number for that matter. Maybe you get what you need in five questions. But like the travel example, your “discussion” might lead you down one rabbit hole after another.
And don’t force square pegs into round holes. If 100 Questions doesn’t work the way I showed you, tweak it to meet your wants, interests, and needs. Just make it work for you.
Many people who practice journaling have an open creative side. We’re writers, poets, artists, and musicians. But all people have a creative side. We just embrace it differently. Look at history. Men who hunted, trapped, attacked, and defended felt compelled to keep a diary, a daily account of their lives. Not the typical picture of a journaler. Men, women, and children needed to record their thoughts while starving or fearing for their lives. Think Jamestown and Anne Frank.
Look at the posts many of your friends put on Facebook. Describing an event of the day and how it made you feel? Journal entry. “Ate The Chosen Juan food truck tacos. Heavenly!” Micro journal entry. (And yes, that’s a real food truck where I live.) This just adds an interactive element to your journaling.
Exercise extreme caution when making your entries public, like on Facebook. When you do, you invite people to criticize your thoughts and creativity, something you generally want to avoid when it comes to journaling. As a fiction writer, I can tell you this criticism can be hard to take at the best of times. General Journaling Rule No. 1 states: Keep your journal private!
Most of all, journal on and have a good time.