A journaling resource

Below is a copy of the index page at my little corner of Examiner.com where I am the Burlington Journaling Examiner (which really cracks me up – as if there are “journaling examiners” anywhere else in the world, let alone Vermont!). I share this list as a simple menu for any blog readers whose order is more in the line of “journaling information, side of prompts, hold the literary musings.”

My hope is that you will bookmark this post or the index page itself, and refer to it when you have a particular challenge or question you’d like to journal through. I am adding new articles all the time so please check back often. (The categories with no active link will have attached articles soon, I promise. Just think of them as dessert – worth the wait.)

List of journaling techniques categorized by function

(Posted at Examiner.com)

  1. Getting Started
  2. Journaling Techniques for Organization
  3. Journaling Techniques for Emotional Healing
  4. Journaling Techniques for Goal-setting/Dreams
  5. Journaling Techniques for Memory-Keeping/Memoir
  6. Journaling Techniques for Parents
  7. Journaling Techniques for Kids
  8. Journaling Techniques for Business
  9. Journaling Techniques for Inner Wisdom
  10. Journaling Techniques for Artists and Writers
  11. Journaling Techniques for Physical Health
  12. Vermont Connections to Writing and Well-Being


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Sharing your light

I have a friend who used to volunteer as a reading tutor. Her Christmas letter informing me there is nothing as gratifying as helping another person sent me into a self-indulgent, self-hate-fest. I used to complain to my journal or Hubby that I never did anything to help anyone else. I had no desire to volunteer anywhere and I interpreted this as selfishness.

When I worked in customer service at a bank, I admit I went out of my way to help the poor, clueless soul who thought the ATM had mind-reading skills and that the balance on the slip reflected the amount of the check she just wrote at the grocery store five minutes earlier. When I balanced her checkbook at no cost it made me feel good – even though I was later admonished for taking too much time with a non-lucrative customer.

But when I worked at a non-profit youth orchestra I was amazed by the retirees and parents who would take a few hours out of their day to help me stuff and seal thousands of fundraising letters or tune and price-tag dusty violins so they could be placed under the chin of a budding musician. On my day off, that would be the last thing on earth I’d want to be to doing.

Then I found something I believed in. Something I can do, something I love to do and know I do well. Now I want to tell the whole world and I’d do it for free if I could! And that makes all the difference.

Today I received a email from a friend who is going through a difficult time. I had encouraged her to write when she was ready, which she did. This was the final sentence of her message:

Thanks  for showing me a way to sort out thoughts and take control of my life.  You have helped more than you know and I would put that in any brochure or marketing tool you would like!!!!

This is better than a paycheck any day – and it made me cry.

I now know that my earlier “selfishness” was lack of self-esteem, lack of direction, and lack of passion. I now want nothing more than to help people. And I have the knowledge to be able to and the confidence to know that what I have to offer is something I would be selfish NOT to share!

I now know that my friend was right – there is nothing so gratifying as giving of your gifts, talents and knowledge for the benefit of another. And don’t underestimate what you have to offer. There is a certain joy that comes from giving the gift of yourself.

PROMPT: The ability, gift, or special knowledge I have that I could be sharing with others is…

Finding my rhythm

Children don’t know about rhythms, not the ones we adults recognize, anyway. Their internal beat is like one from another culture – African, Asian, Alien – that is not the 4/4 we Westerners are used to.  Time is of no consequence. Play always, eat whenever, sleep only when legs will no longer run.  Until my children are old enough to tune into the boring beat of responsibility, I must attempt to live with an erratic pulse.

I fantasize about a time when I, the Writer and Business Woman, will have my own rhythm by which to structure my day. Writers are always interested in the working habits of their fellow wordsmiths as they try to unscramble the secret code of being a writer. One thing comes through from these stories: There is no one way to practice your craft.

The two stories I recall (and I have no memory of where I read them or to whom they refer) offered just two possibilities. I’m guessing this first one sounds downright luxurious to most of us. The writer in question would arise at a fairly normal hour, say 7AM, eat breakfast, walk the dog, and then go back to bed! Wow. She would then get back up a few hours later and write into the night. The second author was a mother (ahhh, someone I can relate to). She would get up crazy, crazy early, like 4AM (oh, no longer relating), work until the kids got up, get them off to school and then write for a couple more hours. After that I don’t recall how she spent her day – I would guess zoned out with exhaustion.

For how differently these two women scheduled their life, one thing is consistent: Discipline.

I am learning to structure my days in order to be more efficient and productive, but it is difficult. So many times my mood and energy depends on how many times I was yanked out of REM sleep by a Mama! or how the wake up-breakfast-school departure went off. Some days I can sit in front of my computer all day with not much more to show than some meaningless babble on Facebook. On these days I need to give myself permission to sit on the couch with my journal or a good book (and consider it research). I’ve written before about the benefit of the spaces in between work, but it is hard to remember the creative benefit of stopping once in a while. I also have to remember that doing a load of laundry or meeting a friend for lunch will not kill my career. The Work From Home police are not going to come and check up on me to see if I took a break to have a cuppa.

But efficiency is the name of the game. My goal is to set time limits on myself. Half and hour to journal before the work day begins, another half an hour to email (and OK, Facebook – for business purposes). Two hours to write whatever piece I’m currently working on, and then my blog. Another day it might be writing an Examiner article or preparing for an upcoming workshop. Whatever it is I’m working on, I have to block out the time in advance and be fair to myself. Don’t work at it until I’m ragged but turn to something else to always keep it all fresh and exciting. I must take breaks and most importantly, schedule in some FUN!

I’m still struggling to get the hang of this working from home thing. Time away from the computer still feels like I’m slacking. But I dream of the day when my day will run like clockwork from bed-rise to beddie-byes. I will churn out words like John Grisham, I will email and do paperwork as if I was my own legal secretary, and I will make beds and pick up toys with the spit-spot of Mary Poppins. And then at 3:30 precisely, I will shut down the computer and put on my Mommy hat.

Rhythm. Sometimes it is hard to keep in time with a new and unfamiliar one. But if you keep at it, eventually the beats, the rests, and the cadences will click with your own and you’ll be able to dance.

Prompt: What does your ideal day look like? Does it have a rhythm?

Quoting Natalie: Shake loose your mind

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

Writing for creativity

While Natalie talks about “writing practice” in her book Thunder and Lightning (as she did in Writing Down the Bones) to clear the mind and stimulate creativity for the serious writer, the exercises are no different than what we do in our journals. We write without fear, without self-judgment to brush away the cobwebs of the mind and to stimulate the (re)creation or ourselves. Through free-writing — taking out the garbage, as Julia Cameron calls it — we make room for the good stuff. We are able to get past our everyday thoughts and right into the heart of the matter.

When you shake something you have control over it. It, whatever that “it” is, no longer functions under its own power. Shaking your mind through unrestricted writing allows the creative side of your brain to supersede the analytical, critical side. The gems have the opportunity to form and fall onto the page.

Writing through pain

This is important for professional writers, of course, in order for them to hone their craft – or any creative soul, for that matter – but it is also vital to us in everyday life. We can use the shaking up to remember, to uncover deep beliefs, and hidden dreams, and to heal.

Writing about our personal traumas has been proven to aid in the healing process. Seeing the images and feelings associated with our painful experiences actually changes the way the brain processes and understands the memory. This allows us to get past it. By writing about whatever slips from the tip of your pen you will eventually uncover the “nuggets” of your pain.

Look around you right now. What do you see? A book on the table. A toy on the floor. A banana. Coffee cup. Whatever it is, write about it. You may start with the snow-covered car outside the window and end up in your aunt’s living room or in the library at college. Wherever you go, go with it. Go there. Enjoy the ride. Shake it all loose and discover those nuggets.

Connecting hand with mind and heart

Writing… digested our sorrow, dissolved and integrated our inner rigidity, and let us move on. I don’t even remember what we wrote about. It didn’t matter. The effort of forming words, physically connecting hand with mind and heart, and then having the freedom to read aloud transformed us.— Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

I read this quote last night just before falling asleep. Dreams began almost immediately – so immediately I wondered if I was hallucinating instead of sleeping. I can only describe the vision as an elliptic flash of lights, racing back and forth between my head and my hand. Its meaning was obvious: There is electricity when one engages the hand in tune with the head and heart, just as Natalie said.

There is also healing.

Prompt:

My mind is saying…

My heart wants to say…

You can set yourself a time limit (say 10 minutes) or write for as long as you need to.

Volumes of wisdom

Visit my bookstore for some of the books I love.

Every night I sleep next to Barbara Kingsolver, Natalie Goldberg, Julia Cameron, Christina Baldwin, Sarah Ban Breathnach, Anne LaMott, and Tristine Rainer. They don’t get much action but I love them all and like having them close by.

Books on journaling, books on writing, and couple more on parenting. A few novels, two Brain, Child editions and an extra journal for those nights when I awake with an idea or a dream that is in danger of dissipating before dawn. Atop it all is my planner, my faithful sidekick which not-so-subtly informs me I do not have any extra minutes with which to read these volumes of verbiage.

I wish I had the ability to absorb all the knowledge and wisdom these books hold lovingly between their covers. The spirituality of the some of these writers astounds and inspires me. I want to take in every thought they have committed to paper, not just for myself and this journey I am on, but for those of you who read this blog and those I will be teaching in the future.

I also want to read to become a better writer myself. These writers have honed their craft until words cease to be just words. They become art on a canvas or a tug at the heart. Reading becomes the peace of the woods, the refrain of a chorus, the fingernail of a newborn baby.

I fantasize about sitting alone next to a roaring fire reading, writing, reading and writing some more. Lots of hot coffee, smooth chocolate, and sweet wine.

And quiet.

But my reality is far from that: Noise, school morning and bath time craziness, blogs to read and write, TV-addiction (yes, I admit it, but only a few particular shows), and a house that doesn’t respect me enough to keep clean.

Unlike a lover who would not tolerate being so often spurned, the precious ladies on my nightstand are willing to wait, are even amendable enough to allow the newest gem to be placed on top. Little by little I will glean what I can, when I can. Meanwhile I am hoping that their very presence next to my pillow is enough to make me a wiser, deeper, and more thoughtful woman, mother, and teacher.

What’s on your nightstand? What does it say about you?

Jour du Journal: Six word fiction

I’m going to cheat a little today. This isn’t exactly a journal prompt. It is a well-known writing exercise, but anything that gets you writing is a good thing. However, you could add a journaling twist to it by using it as a prompt and expanding on the idea through flow-writing.

Here’s my six word story:

4AM, suddenly alert. Forgetful Tooth Fairy.

Now your turn…