If You Want to Start Journaling Write Like You Don’t Mean It.
The secret to journaling or any type of writing is to first write like you don’t mean it.
What the bejesus do I mean by that?
This writing advice goes against everything that you have been taught about writing.
I owe you an explanation.
When it comes to writing, there is nothing more frightening than a blank page. I know the frustration because it has happened to me too. Here is how it goes: your fingers are glued to the keyboard but your hands don’t move. Your eyes are fixed on the computer screen but you see nothing more than a blank page. Your thoughts swim freely, but you can’t get a hold on them.
Does that sound familiar?
Too many times I wanted to write in my journal, but I didn’t have the words to express my thoughts and feelings. I thought about what I wanted to write, but when it came to putting it on the page, I just couldn’t begin, and that kept me from writing.
Why is that?
Even before we begin to write, we worry about using the right words, the right structure, and the right ideas we wish to express. But in trying to be perfectionists in our writing, we kill the baby before it is born.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Use scaffolding to let your writing flow.
I recently took an insightful writing class on learning to write well from the Poynter Institute for journalism. The instructor proposed using scaffolding to help new writers become better writers. And I think that his advice is one of the best I’ve seen.
I know it is for me.
Scaffolding in writing is the use of simple words and sentences to fill in for other words and phrases. It can help you spark your imagination and ideas like wild fire.
But first, what is journal writing?
Journal writing, or journaling is about stream of consciousness writing. It’s about writing about our thoughts and feelings of specific events, places and people. For instance, we write about waking up, about taking a shower, about having coffee, about brushing our teeth, about eating breakfast, about arguing with a loved one, about driving to work, about the morning traffic, about the sun on our skin, about our day at work, about coming home, and our reactions and emotions about these experiences.
Let’s try a simple exercise. Take five minutes and write about a subject that defined your day.
Go ahead. I can wait.
How did it go?
If you wrote non-stop, congratulations. If you had to stop to gather your thoughts, you need scaffolding.
Let me show you an example of scaffolding from my journal entry for Thursday, April 12.
This is my entry journal about the day that I used FaceTime to talk to my dad and my family. I had the surprise of my life. Why was I surprised? I haven’t seen my dad in more than 15 years or been to my hometown since I was young. and talking to him made my entire past come back to me. Just talking to him reminded me of home. I could taste the salty air from the beach and the smell of the trees. I felt like I was home. The people looked different I didn’t recognize a lot of them. They were strangers. I am a stranger even to myself. So much had changed. But talking to my dad after 15 years made me feel like a little girl again like when I used to help him with his shoes. I felt happy and vulnerable for a second and I felt like crying. Me, the strongest woman on earth.
As you can see, the bold text is the scaffolding. “This is my entry journal about…” and “Why was I surprised?” To help me keep writing non stop, i write whatever it’s on my mind.
Most of that entry is just gibberish, but do you notice how it offers insights about my feelings and emotions about being separated from my father?
“I felt like I was home.” and “The people looked different I didn’t recognize a lot of them. They were strangers. I am a stranger- even to myself.” And, “I felt happy and vulnerable for a second and I felt like crying. Me, the strongest woman on earth.”
Once you are done with your journal entry you can put it aside for a day or two and come back to it another time to explore the larger meaning of your thoughts.
There are many writing opportunities for journaling throughout the day.
The secret lies in choosing a subject to write about, and then write about your “feelings and emotions” in relation to that subject.
Let’s say that you are writing about the morning commute. Clearly, many thoughts fill your mind about this topic otherwise you wouldn’t have picked this subject to write about. What are your opinions, thoughts, and feelings about it and why? Capture your raw emotions as they come to you.
Very much like a personal essay, journaling captures your reaction to an event, a place, or a person. It’s about capturing a mental picture of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions-as they come without judgment and critique.
Journaling is much more than just writing about your daily experiences, reactions, and habits, it’s a tool that can help you become a better writer because it forces you to write and capture your thoughts on a daily basis. And scaffolding can help you respond to this creativity with no effort on your part, other than being in the moment. Use it every day in your journaling to spark your creativity and become a more prolific writer.