By: DeAnna Knippling
Learning changes your brain, and it can, at times, feel exhausting. Don’t give up when things look their worst—because you might be giving up at just the moment when you learned something new.
A writer’s journal is a way that writers (and other creative types) can use the nature of how the brain learns to help make small, incremental changes, generally without too much stress.
Here’s how to do it:
- Get a cheap journal of standard letter size.
- Every morning write three pages longhand in your journal (try to remember to date them).
- Once a week (or when the journal is full), review your journal by rereading the entries.
- Keep the journals.
This is a lot of work; however, it is less work than trying to learn how to write without a journal, for many people.
If you have a different way of connecting your conscious and subconscious minds, use it! But those of us who struggle to stop overthinking may find this useful.
What should you write in your journal?
Whatever crosses your mind.
Your goal, when journaling, is literally to write the first thing that comes to mind. If you find your thoughts outpacing your writing, write what you’re thinking now. Don’t bother to finish your current sentence, but catch up to your current thoughts as soon as possible. Doodle if you need to. Draw arrows, circle, underline, cross things out. Put notes at the top of the page for things that need to be done later.
If you find yourself staring into space, thinking about some tangent, stop writing about your current topic and write about your new one.
Interrupt yourself. Whine. Complain about hangovers, family members, jobs. Write about the noises you hear, the grayness of the day, the latest pop song. Anything.
When you first start writing, you may have to suffer through a lot of statements like, “Journaling is stupid.” I’ve been journaling for years, and I still start about a third of my entries with some sort of complaint about having to journal. Don’t worry about what you sound like; petty complaints are pretty normal.
Reread Your Entries
At the end of the week (or at least when you reach the end of the journal), reread your entries. They’re handwritten, so this will might take longer than you expect. You will notice some patterns.
Anything that you write in your journal on more than three separate days is something that is currently defining you, either something you believe about yourself (fairly or unfairly), an obstacle you currently face, or an opportunity that you’re playing with.
That’s it, really. A lot of us haven’t paid attention to our inner selves for years. When you pay attention to yourself on a regular basis, then you teach your subconscious mind that it’s safe to speak to your conscious mind, to be creative. You also teach your conscious mind that it’s safe to listen to your subconscious mind, that the world won’t end if you listen.
It’s easy to tune out your subconscious mind when it’s constantly saying that something in your life needs to change. Your subconscious is a rebel; it’s always threatening some small part of the status quo.
Journaling, like meditation, won’t force you to make radical, sudden changes. But it will slowly help you investigate alternatives, one after the other, until you find one that works for you.
What journaling can do:
- Open you up to your own inner thoughts and voice—making it easier to write.
- Allow you to set aside your inner editor for a while—making it easier to write clean prose the first time (because you’re not overthinking it).
- Negotiate a peace settlement between your subconscious and conscious selves—making it easier for you to write what you want to write and get away with it.
Writing a journal out by hand seems to be particularly helpful in changing one’s mental state; writing out anything by hand seems to make the information more likely to be stored in your long-term memory. But it’s better to journal, period, than not to journal because you have difficulty writing journals by hand.
Other techniques that might be useful:
- Working on other types of creative work, like music, painting, or crafts.
- Following a wide variety of disciplined spiritual practices.
- Practicing meditation or yoga.
- Talking to yourself (and listening).
- Taking long walks, particularly with dogs.
- Doing any sort of routine tasks that requires both creativity and strict attention (like cooking something from scratch).
I have seen all of the above help integrate people’s conscious and subconscious minds and help make writing fiction smoother and less stressful.
But writing in a journal also teaches you how to put thoughts down on a page; it teaches you that no page is so blank that it can’t be filled up with a mental discussion about your favorite type of pen, or how much you hate going in for checkups, or where your neighbor needs to stick that nose of hers—not in your business, at any rate.
Journaling makes words easy.
In addition, the more you listen to your subconscious, the more available it is to solve problems for you.
Complaining that “I’m tired of being stuck on this story…” on the page has often led me to a solution that has gotten me unstuck. “I don’t know what to write next.” “I don’t know where I want to go with my career.” “Why am I not famous yet?” “Why did so-and-so get that award, and not me?” and so on.
The act of asking our subconscious—if we’re in the habit of listening to the actual answer, and not just talking over our subconscious selves—can help work out all sorts of problems.
You may not get an answer to the big questions right away. But every time you ask, another small piece of the puzzle will fall into place.
On a side note, if you want to be particularly good to yourself, when you read through your previous week’s entries, write a note in the margin saying “good job!” whenever you accomplished or realized something; write “better luck next time!” whenever you had to suffer through something that was less than successful.
Of such small moments of compassion, a sense of self-worth is made.
Editor’s Note: This article was reprinted, with permission, from DeAnna Knippling. It originally appeared in her Writing Craft: Lessons in Fiction for the Working Fiction Writer on Patreon.
DeAnna Knippling has two minor superpowers: speed-reading and babble. She types at over 10,000 words per minute and can make things up even faster than that. Her first job was hunting snipe for her father at twenty-five cents per head, with which she paid her way through college; her latest job involves a non-disclosure agreement, a dozen hitmen, a ballerina, a snowblower, three very small robots, and a disposable dictator in South America. Her cover job is that of freelance writer, editor, and designer living in Littleton, Colorado, with her husband, daughter, cat, more than one cupboard full of various condiments, and many shelves full of the very best books. She has her own indie small press, www.WonderlandPress.com, and her website is www.DeAnnaKnippling.com.