More than you know: Why and how to start journaling

treasure chestThis is an edited version of my “All Write!” column in the Rutland Herald, published January 29, 2016

The most compelling reason to write as far I’m concerned is the ability to access a great wealth of knowledge about yourself.

Dr. Ira Progoff, who is considered the grandfather of personal journaling due to his development of the Intensive Journal method in the 1950s which he introduced to the world in the book, “At a Journal Workshop,” in 1975, wrote:

(Wo)Man does indeed know more than (s)he rationally understands. … (journaling) is a way to connect with the knowledge beyond understanding.

In other words, we’re smarter than we may think! Any artist, writer, designer, inventor, entrepreneur or anyone who has ever had an idea, an inspired thought, an intuition or a gut feeling float or jump into their consciousness from seemingly nowhere knows there are deeper depths than our intellect — knowledge that is beyond what we knew we knew.

prompt bookmark single_Page_2Journaling, or free-flow writing, that is not focused on a perfectly structured sentence, nice handwriting, or even “nice” language, allows the writer to access creativity and intuitive knowledge that thinking too much — i.e. self-censoring — can block.

I believe, as Dr. Progoff did, that we have all the answers inside us and writing is a way to access those answers. When you start writing from a prompt, such as “I am feeling…” things will come out that may be unexpected. Journal workshop attendees invariably say, “I didn’t know I was going to write that,” or “I don’t know where that came from!”

In our technological, left-brained, prove-it-to-me society, intuition and connection with our inner self has been lost. We are not taught to trust self. However, writing (as well as other creative activities such as drawing, dancing, etc.) allows us to discover our inner workings. Through “thoughtless” writing (quickly without thinking) we can write down things we did not know that we knew.

Kay Adams, founder of Center for Journal Therapy, writes that her journal is the “.79 cent therapist” in which you can “scream, whimper, thrash, wail, rage, exult, foam, celebrate.” And if that isn’t enough, in a study by Dr. J.W. Pennebaker it was proven through blood tests that writing for only 20 minutes a day for four consecutive days increases your immunity for six weeks! The writers also reported fewer visits to the doctor for stress-related illnesses. Now that’s impressive!

So you want to start a journal? But you’re not sure how to begin? Or what you would write? Or afraid it will become just another unchecked item on your to-do list?

You don’t have to be a “writer” to journal. This isn’t the writing you learned in school — no one will be grading or judging you. Spelling, handwriting and grammar have nothing to do with it. It is purely the action of putting pen to paper and letting your subconscious flow.

Writing a journal need not be a huge time commitment. You can write for as little as five minutes (your gratitude, for example) once a day, week, month, year.

Journaling does not have to be one particular style of writing; it can be anything from lists to doodles to mind-maps to poems to stream-of-consciousness flow writing. There are no rules on what constitutes a journal.

“But what do I write?” you ask. Start with who you are. That should be easy! Here’s your prompt to get started:

I am…

So, if you want to begin expressing your private thoughts and accessing your internal dialogue, do not be afraid of the page. Just let your pen go — don’t think, just write. For five minutes. That’s all it takes to get you started. Find yourself a new notebook, blank book, even a cocktail napkin, and a smooth flowing pen and a comfy place to sit (your car in the carpool line?) and just begin.

Writing a personal mission statement

This post is an edited version of my 1/9/16 Rutland Herald column, “All Write!”
IMG_4018Last week I offered some ideas and prompts for envisioning and planning your future. In this post I will continue on the theme of setting intentions through personal writing methods, this time by discussing personal mission statements.
I have found, as many others have, that writing something down gives it more power (or in some cases, as with fears and anxieties, less — but that’s another topic for another post). Writing down plans, goals and steps forward (as in a weight-loss regimen) makes them more real, concrete and provides written evidence of progress which, if only small steps, deserves recognition and celebration.
(This reminds me of two helpful and proven-for-well-being daily practices: writing gratitudes and acknowledging what you did accomplish on your to-do, not what was left undone. This helps keeps the motivation going.)
This is why businesses and organizations write mission statements: to determine and make concrete their intentions, their purpose, their raison d’etre. A mission statement also lays a metaphorical path, maps a route and provides an itinerary. Without a clear idea of why and where you are going, you can get completely lost. Yes, it is fine to wander a little, but as long as you keep your sense of direction you will have a more successful journey.
This is true for individuals as well as businesses. To identify and clarify personal values, wants, needs and dreams, writing a mission statement can help give life direction. And once it is written down and placed where it can seen regularly, when life “happens” and you get distracted or discouraged, it can serve as a reminder of what you truly want out of your life, prompting you to do your best to get back on track.
There are various approaches to writing a mission statement; one is to assess the various ways humans inhabit this world:
  • Physical (physical body and health)
  • Mental (thoughts and learning)
  • Social/Emotional (connection with others and our own feelings)
  • Spiritual (connection with a higher power or inner wisdom)
For each area determine your values and wishes. Spend some time thinking through what you want out of your life and the direction you intend to go. If you are having a difficult time with any particular area, use your journal to free write — that is, writing without judgment or self-editing — about it first.
Ask yourself where you are currently regarding your physical self, for example, and what you’d like to be making progress toward. (Focusing on steps made forward, i.e. enjoying the journey as opposed to fixating on some far-off destination, is very important to feelings of overall contentment, or in new-age terminology, staying the in Now.) Or start with a prompt such as, “Right now, emotionally/physically/etc. I am …” From these written explorations you will discover your own thoughts and feelings about each area of your life. Alternatively, the mission can be also divided by the various life roles: wife, employee, father, board member, business owner, etc. “In my professional life, I would like to work toward … .”
A statement can be long or short or in any format wished: A sentence, paragraph, bullet points, even a collage of pictures. A family can have a statement also. Gather around the table, and as a committee, co-write the family’s purpose and intent for a meaningful life. Determining and writing a mission for your business, organization, your family and/or yourself, will help clarify your values and intentions for the future, thus increasing your ability to make successful decisions and be open to opportunities that are in line with those intentions.
Prompts:
  • In this (____) area of my life, I am …
  • This is what I would like to work toward …

P.S. This week I was informed, and I am honored and excited to say, that my workshop proposal has been accepted by The Center for Journal Therapy conference. I am humbly asking for support to enable me to go. All donors over $10 will receive a copy of my workshop, “Mother’s Song: Nurturing Body-Voice through Expressive Writing.” For more details and if you are willing to help, please visit gofund.me/8sj8v7k4. With much appreciation, I thank you.

Envisioning a Write New Year

This post is an edited version of the first posting of my newest column in the Rutland Herald called “All Write!” which ran January 2, 2016.

 
pen journalWriting isn’t only my career (something for which I am extremely grateful), but also has been my lifeline since I was a teenager. I started writing a diary at age 12 and began what I now call expressive writing, or journaling, a decade later while reading Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way.” The benefits I have personally experienced I now share with others.

In the spirit of the New Year, I offer a slight twist on typical resolution-setting: writing to help you envision your hopes and intentions for the future. There is something magical about dreaming and envisioning what you want out of your life. But it is also

Buy it now

as necessary and practical as a map (or GPS) on a long road trip.

In “Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest,” Christina Baldwin writes:
Before we can do something significant with our lives, we have to do three things: imagine it clearly so we know what we want, be willing to want it very, very much and take action that moves us to attainment … focused vision, focused longing and focused action.
To begin this process, you must first know where you are now, here in the present. Writing about your current situation and emotional state — what’s going on at home, work, with family, in the world — helps you to get a clear picture of your life and hopefully clarifies what things are working for you and what may not.
jtts
To then look forward to how you may want to make some changes, you can write about a currently unknown future. “Journal to the Self” author Kathleen Adams recommends a journaling technique called “Perspectives,” which is to write as if it is already a future date.
Writing from a different perspective can … hurtle you forward in time, allowing you to create a visionary picture of what you want your life to be like. This can be a very important factor in aligning your will with your unconscious desire, thus helping to ‘create your own reality.’
Allow those “impossible” dreams to have their say. This is your road map to the future. The trip may not take the exact route you thought it would, and you may end up somewhere slightly different than you imagined, but just be open to the journey.
Once you know where you are starting and you have decided on your destination, you can plan your first steps, or your action items. And think baby steps. Don’t overwhelm yourself with huge goals. Start with making one phone call or getting your resume in shape or buying a new set of paints. Just start the ball rolling, get the car started, put the walking shoes on. Starting is always the hardest part, but just do something, anything, no matter how small. And then celebrate each step.
New Year Writing Prompts:
  • “Where I am now in my life is …”

  • “It is January 1, 2017, and …”

  • “The first steps towards this future are …”

Happy New Year! Here’s to a 2016 that’s just write!

So you want to be a TLA (writing for healing/change) facilitator?

This evening I was asked by one of my online students how to start a TLA (Transformative Language Arts) — Writing for Change or Healing — practice/business. That is a big question and not one easily answered. There are too many factors to consider: location, niche, experience, education, personality, and financial situation, among others. So, instead I will tell my story, as briefly possible.

How to (possibly) start a TLA practice:

journal-with-lock

  1. Start a diary at age twelve. Keep writing daily through high school. Stop writing during college except for sappy and maudlin poems after break-ups with each new love of your life and consequently completely lose sight of who you are.
  2. Read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and artistsway-tstart writing “Morning Pages” like your life depends on it. (It kinda does.) Fill binder after binder with complaints and dreams for the next few years. Start calling yourself an Aspiring Writer as you write (embarrassingly pitiful) stories and essays early in the morning.
  3. Leave your job and the state to become a stay-at-home mother. Get bored real fast and design a journaling workshop and offer it at the local bookstore. Discover the Center for Journal Therapy and start the instructor certification.
  4. Move again and take part time jobs while finishing the certification and caring for two young kids.
    JTTS_Instructor_Logo
  5. Finish the certification, get marketing materials (business cards, fliers, website, social media pages) together, and start offering workshops at the local wellness centers, bookstores, coffee shops (including a monthly one for free to get your name out there).
  6. Contact/join writing groups/centers, networking and social service organizations, colleges and schools, and get your name on a list of alternative practitioners.
  7. Keep offering workshops despite low turn-out and cancellations. Get posters up wherever you can and blast social media. Do this for … years.
  8. Keep writing. Finally get the courage to call yourself a Writer. Get published. Start freelancing. Put your “facilitator” in your mini bio at the end of each article.flyer_Lower Stress Write Way
  9. Ask, and accept invitations to speak at networking, wellness, and writing events. Collaborate with other facilitators and organizations.
  10. Discover there is a Masters program in this field in your home state (at Goddard College) and spend the next three years transforming your life in the most amazing way imaginable.
  11. Open your own writing center and offer weekly workshops. Start getting more name recognition, more speaking engagements, and more writing work.

So, that’s my story in a very small nutshell. But my journey from designing my first workshop to today was a not a short one — at all. My daughter was two when I began and she is about to turn thirteen! And it has been almost seven years since I got certified and I am only just beginning to feel I am “making it.”

Here are some factors specific to my situation which I believe have helped along the way:

  1. I live in a small town. I know many people.
  2. I live in a small, rural state and am one of very few who does this kind of work.
  3. I said yes to every opportunity until I found my niche (I can  adapt my work to many areas and populations).
  4. I am a freelance columnist. My name is in the paper every week.
  5. My connections through the Center of Journal Therapy,  Goddard College, and the Transformative Language Arts Network have allowed me many opportunities.TLAN-Banner-940x198

Here are some factors specific to my situation which I believe have hurt along the way:

  1. I live in a small town. There is not a huge population to draw from.
  2. I live in a small, rural state. Writing as wellness is not considered a mainstream activity.
  3. I said yes to every opportunity and took a long time to get focused enough to find my niche and in what/with whom I worked best. My “brand” and “elevator speech” have therefore been unclear — trying to be too many things for too many people.
  4. (Related to #3) I don’t enjoy marketing myself and may have not always used the most successful methods.

What I believe you don’t have to do that I did:

  1. Get a MA or other advanced degree in this field. Experience is the best teacher.

What I believe you do need to do:

  1. Be passionate about this work.
  2. Do the work yourself. Be introspective and Write. Write. Write.
  3. Have some training/experience in ethical and successful facilitation practices. Creating safe space for your clients is a priority.
  4. Familiarize yourself with the theories and modalities of TLA/Writing for Change (through the TLA Certification, for example.)
  5. Collaborate!
  6. Find your niche(s). Find your people. Stay focused. (But be willing/prepared to puzzle-piece your career together with lots of different projects and collaborations).
  7. Be confident that your work is of value and you should be paid accordingly.

But my number one piece of advice:

Never stop believing you can make this work because if you can’t imagine doing anything else, you will.

 

It’s spontaneous, baby!: Writing that changes you

When someone asks me what I do I often have a hard time saying what that is. Well, that’s not exactly true — I can tell you aaaall about it if you’re ready to settle in for a chat. My work, the type of writing workshops I facilitate, as I’ve written about before, cannot be easily squeezed into a neatly labeled box.

I just returned from the Transformative Language Arts Network‘s Power of Words Conference held at Unity Village, MO, near Kansas City. There I gathered with my people, my tribe, brother and sister artists who sculpt emotions into words and words into images — poets, playwrights, singers, storytellers, essayists, novelists, journal writers, facilitators — anyone who uses words as agents of change — social, political, or personal change.

Although we all have different stories to tell and different ways to tell them, we have one thing in common: we know — because we’ve experienced it — the power of words.

Which brings me back to labeling my work. Now, thanks to a beautiful soul named Miss Annola, I have this powerfully descriptive word to more accurately explain what I do.

On the second morning of the conference, the 90 or so attendees huddled up into “talking circles” where we discussed whatever popped up. Annola told us about her writing group back home, which she called it a “Spontaneous Writing Group,” meaning they wrote together in the group from a prompt. I thought, that’s it! I facilitate spontaneous writing groups! 

In the light of all the powerful ways words can be beneficial — evoking emotional resonance to form personal connections between people, creating new stories to live by, transforming painful memories to heal old wounds, teaching and learning and understanding new information, tapping into innate wisdom and creativity, finding your own voice —  getting excited about the power of new label for what I do may seem more about branding. But I do believe spontaneity is the key to any transformative writing.

Julia Cameron calls it out-running the censor, Anne LaMott calls it writing the shitty first draft, and Natalie Goldberg calls it writing down the bones. It’s writing without stopping, without concerning yourself with what you’re writing or how you’re writing it (perfectionism does not belong here!). You’re just writing. Connecting head to heart to hand (to use another Natalie phrase) to get to the core of it, the kernels of truth, the gems of universal wisdom.

On the last day of the TLA conference, in a wonderful workshop called “Change Your Story, Transform Your Life,” led by Jenifer Strauss, we were asked to write down words or memories or items that immediately came to us when looking at a certain question. Then we had to pick just one of those, the one that most “spoke” to us in that moment. Using our choices we built the foundation of a story.

It was in the spontaneity that we discovered what we most needed to write about in that moment. 

And this is what I do in my own workshops. I ask you to trust the pen and trust yourself. Trust that in that moment you will write what needs to be written, what wants to be expressed. While it may not be your best writing — that comes later after you’ve sifted through and found the gems (yet another Natalie-ism), and are ready to start the revision process — writing spontaneously, getting out of your own way, before your censor tells you you’re doing it wrong, is how you’ll discover your voice and the story it’s longing and needing to tell.

A Path to Publication, pt 15: An editor is your friend

I try to shake loose my mind, so something fresh can fall out… This process acts like a sifter—sand falls through and bright nuggets come to light.

–Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

In my last post I wrote about the struggle I was having with a particular essay. Every tweak made it seem even more hopeless—it was still crap. This Facebook post sums up how I was feeling at that time:

If I didn’t know I’d regret it highly, I’d figuratively rip this essay into a million pieces and forget submitting anything, anywhere, ever.

Well, I am happy and extremely relieved to say, after finally letting it sit percolating for almost two weeks, the essay is finished and submitted to the magazine. And I am also beyond happy to say: It was good.

Yes, eventually, it got good. I could claim to be a writer again. Phew.

How did this happen? Well, Anne LaMott was right (of course), you really do need to let it sit. But, as Anne also says, it is essential to write that “shitty first draft” and, believe me, my first (and second and third…) draft was incredibly shitty. (And reeeeaaaally long.)

Why? If I’m a good writer shouldn’t I just know what constitutes should be in a piece and what needs to be left out? How things best flow and what theme should run throughout? No, not at first. That’s what revising and editing are for. First drafts are for just getting it out. Getting out of your head and heart what you need to express. Some of these things may never see light of day beyond your journal or computer screen but out they must come. As Shrek says, “Better out than in…”

Here’s how one of my friend-editors put it:

By writing this piece over and over again, you finally got out of your system how you wanted it to go, and let it tell you why you were writing it and what it was really about.

Which brings me to the subject of editors.

I knew someone a long time ago, an artist who struggled with self-confidence issues. This person was a good artist but, as is the case for anyone practicing a craft (even if it’s practicing the “craft” of living) having a mentor could have been helpful. My friend wanted nothing to do with it, I believe because he felt it implied he wasn’t good enough to do it alone.

There are writers like this, those who think their natural talent is enough. But let me tell you, having a mentor/editor or a group of such, is essential to your growth as a writer.

My main editor-friend is a gift to me. She is honest in her critique but generous in her praise. She willingly plowed through version after version I sent her, gently coaching and coaxing me. With her guidance I dug through the dirt to find the gems.

At times I didn’t take particular suggestions because they didn’t sit right with me intuitively–when I felt it was straying too far from what I knew was my truth. Together with an editor, you get to sift through all the unneeded “stuff.” And ultimately, after letting the essay rest for a while, my full truth flowed far easier and authentically because I’d already played with the muck around the edges and the gems were more obvious.

I also sent my work-in-progress to two other writerly friends to have it seen by other eyes and new perspectives. Their feedback was invaluable too. They too were honest in their comments when something didn’t quite work for them and supportive with their positive feedback. Their joyful (almost proud-motherish) reactions to the final draft was validating and humbling.

Writing this particular essay was difficult. It was a personal narrative about a painful part of my past. Bringing it to fruition was akin to a hard labor and birth. But my main midwife-editor and assistant doula-readers guided me through it, not undermining my ability with their presence and advice, but supporting and fostering it.

Once again, I thank you, Jen, Gabriella, and Jennifer!

Yes, I was there: Katrina, 10 years on

In recognition of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I am re-posting this remembrance of my family’s experience. Ten years ago I was in my home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, approximately two hours north of the Gulf coast. As I sat tightly cradling my child against me trying to stem my terror, 200 mile-wide Hurricane Katrina was barreling north up Route 59 at approximately 100 mph…

Last one down and right through the roof

..(Originally posted September 3, 2008)

Sitting in the hallway on a mattress. The wind is howling. The roar is constant, like sitting in the middle of a major highway at rush hour – only louder. When it gusts, it shakes the house and you can’t hear the person talking right next to you.

We monitor the speed of the wind by how close to horizontal the small sapling is outside the bedroom window. Trees are toppling, peeling up the lawn into a game board of four-foot craters. The tornadoes springing out of the hurricane are snapping other trees like pretzels in a child’s fingers. The house across the street has two corners sheared off. One of the largest, vine-choked pines sways, leans, and then in a sudden blast from the south, slams into our neighbors living room.

Garbage cans, branches, and other debris is cartwheeling down the street, including part of our roof. One huge gust, a splintering crack, and a tree comes smashing through the roof. I watch it fall and scream at the impact. I am at my breaking point. The racket – for six solid hours – is more than I can take. My little girl puts her hand on my leg and says, “It’s OK, mama.”

Then it all but stops. The eye. Although the relative silence is a relief, my nerves are still firing missiles in anticipation of the other side of the storm.

But it never comes.

Two hours later, intermittent gusts and complete devastation are all that remain of Katrina.

(Read Part One of this story: http://wisdomwithinink.com/2008/09/01/remembering-katrina-part-1/)

Look closely – corner of our neighbors’ house is sheared right off.

Under all that is our back yard – we lost 15 trees in all