The second rule is… Ignore the inner critic. Forget all the spelling, grammar, and punctuation rules your high school English teacher drilled in class (and I can say this… I was a high school English teacher) and simply write. Let go of your definition of “good” writing and just write. It’s ALL good!
For those who would like a bit more guidance, however, I will attempt to offer a few methods to help you get started. Try several different ones and then adapt them to suit your personal needs. As long as you are writing – no matter how much, how often, or what method – that’s all that matters.
- Free-write, or in other words, stream of consciousness. Set the timer – ten minutes is a good place to start – and then write. Don’t allow the pen to stop; don’t cross out; don’t overthink. Just write non-stop for ten minutes. If you’re not sure what to write, then pen, I’m not sure what to write. I promise you, if you make that statement three times, you begin to think of something else to say.
- Make a List. Most of us enjoy lists. They are quick and easy, as there is no need for complete sentences or elaboration. Numbers work well, as it is always nice to see “how much” you accomplish, but I often use bullet points. What lists should you make? The options are limitless. Favorite foods – movies – books – songs – games. Number of happy memories – Christmas memories – school memories – vacation memories. Significant accomplishments – bucket list items – places you want to visit. Listography is a wonderful website to help you brainstorm different topics.
- Mind mapping, or some of you may know it as a spider diagram. Write the name of the topic in the center of the page and circle it. Now begin brainstorming. Write each new idea as a separate off-shoot. Cluster similar ideas into one off-shoot (or spider’s leg). If you have an unrelated thought, start a new leg. The advantage of this style of journaling is it quickly allows you to make connections between seemingly random thoughts.
- Word Association. I use this system quite a bit when trying to uncover my deepest emotions. For example, I wanted to probe “what nourishes my soul.” I started by looking up the definition of nourish: to supply what is necessary for life; to cherish, keep alive, build up. The word cherish popped out to me, so I researched that definition: to hold or treat as dear; to feel love for; care tenderly; cling fondly. I then looked up synonyms: treasure, admire, adore. This led me to do further word searches for love and passion which led to thrive, flourish and bloom. Sometimes researching antonyms can lead to unexpected discoveries. For example, the opposite of flourish led to languish and wither. Each one of these words elicited a different emotion for me to journal.
- Write a letter. There are several variations of this format. You can do as Anne Frank and write a letter to your journal, giving it a name and treating it as a trusted friend. Or you can write a letter to yourself, offering words of kindness (or tough love) that you need to hear. Or you can write a letter to someone else – perhaps a deceased loved one, to say a proper good-bye; or perhaps to someone who has wronged you, offering forgiveness. It will be up to you if you choose to send the letter or not.
- Role-Play. Sometimes we need to work out issues with another in the solitude of our own thoughts. Writing dialogue is a great way to voice what you need to say – and then to give thought to the other’s perspective as you write the response.
- Quotes – Poems – Song Lyrics. Use these as prompts to begin your own writing process. Start with the meaningful words of another, and then add your thoughts, feelings, and responses. Often this kind of journaling leads to great personal insight.
- Photographs (or memorabilia). This is my passion. I believe a photograph tells a story – but since a picture is worth “only” 1,000 words, personal perspective in necessary to give it significance and meaning. While I am passionate about using personal photographs as journaling prompts – there is some validity to using unfamiliar photographs as well. Googling a topic (winter trees, for example) and then previewing the related images can spark all kinds of creative ideas to write about.
As I said before, this list does not exhaust all journaling possibilities, but hopefully it will give you a place to start.
If you are a seasoned journaler and employ another method of journaling not mentioned here – please share in the comments below. I am always interested in trying new ideas.