Ranjana TN

How to use journaling

Recently, the creative writing club that I’m a part of worked through the exercises given in the first chapter of Susan Tiberghien’s One Year to a Writing Life. It was about journal writing and proved to be an interesting and informative exercise. In this post, I’m going to talk about the benefits of journaling, how I use it, and the new stuff I learnt recently on the topic of journal writing.

What is journaling?

To me, journaling is thinking on paper. It’s bringing to surface what lies in the depths of my mind. It’s an act of giving voice to the many voices that are vying for my attention in the hope of understanding them better. When I capture all that’s on my mind on paper, I feel lighter. It’s a tool to get answers to the questions that relentlessly pursue me. It’s a way of immortalizing in words the things that are bound to fade away from memory.

How to use journaling

As a decision making and problem-solving tool

I’ve found journaling to be an excellent tool for decision making and problem-solving. When I’m grappling with questions or issues, I like to think on paper. I let my thoughts flow and answer my own questions. I look at the problem from a variety of angles. The exercise takes at least an hour and can go up to several hours. At the end of it, I understand what I’m dealing with much better and am in a better place to make an informed decision. Many times, solutions emerge which wouldn’t have presented themselves had I just mulled them over in my head and not dug deep.

For eg., when I first realised that I needed to move on from the startup I’d helped found, I wasn’t sure if it was the best (or the right) thing to do. I had to consider many angles and answer some hard questions. I journaled for days and days about this. After about a couple of months of this, I knew it in my heart and head that the right decision was to move on. Then came the bigger issue of doing this in a way that caused the least disruption to my beloved startup. Journaling came to my rescue yet again and helped me navigate the ‘separation’, so to speak, in the best way I potentially could have, given the circumstances.

To organize your mind

An extension of the point above, journaling helps organize my mind. When I dump all my thoughts on paper, I’m able to get a better sense of all the parts and piece them together in the right way. For eg., let’s say that I’m thinking about how I’d like to build my website. I journal the answers to questions such as:

Why do I want to build my own website? Why not just use a forum such as Medium or Reddit? Where do I see this 10 years from now? What exactly do I want to do with a website – build a following? use it as a place to record my thoughts and experiments? use it as a platform to market my books?

Usually, every question I answer gives rise to several more. I attempt to answer as many as possible and ensure that all the big ones are tackled. At the end of it, I have a complete and logical picture of a particular project or topic.

To tap into your intuition

I believe that each of us is gifted with the thing called intuition. There are many ways we can listen to its whisper. One of the ways is to journal, stream of consciousness-style. I pick a time when my mind is calm such as right after a run or meditation. In that state, I just let my thoughts flow on paper or Evernote. Initially, it seems a little forced or rusty. But as I keep going, the words come out more smoothly and just start to feel different. I feel like I’ve connected to something wiser and beyond my own mind. I keep going until I feel like all that I need to hear has been expressed. When I read back, I usually find some good insights. Sometimes, I get confirmation that a particular decision I took or thing I did was correct. Sometimes it’s more of a ‘yeah…that wasn’t a great idea. Instead, try this next time’.

One caveat here: when trying to tap into your intuition, it is important that you’re in a calm state of mind as far as possible. That’s when you are able to actually go beyond your thinking mind and connect with your intuition.

To record memories

When I was on the Everest base camp trek, every day was so exquisite and the Himalayas so magical that I wanted to capture them for the years to come. I didn’t want to lose any of the experiences and wanted to be able to re-live them anytime. So I journaled every day. I wrote about the trail, the lodges, the food, the landscape, the sherpas, the hard trek up the Kala Pathar, the majesty of the snow-clad mountains.

My memories are precious. I journal about them as soon as I can to give them a life beyond the unreliable lanes of memory. You should too!

To understand yourself

Journaling helps me understand myself. Being so close to me, it’s often hard to know what I’m like and what thoughts go on in my mind. Journaling shows me the mirror. The fascinating part is that it not only shows what’s on the surface but also in the very depths. The deeper I go with journaling, the more profound the insights. I’m able to access the parts of me I didn’t know existed. Not everything is pretty, though. I’m able to see the deeper shades of everything – the good, bad, and the ugly. It’s one of the best tools for self-awareness that I know of.

In terms of the process, I like to start asking myself questions. For eg., what do I think about X? What are my opinions about Y? What are my desires? What are my fears? It’s a rabbit hole for sure and there’s no knowing how deep it goes.

The new stuff I’m trying with journaling

After reading what Susan Tiberghien has to say about the topic in One Year to a Writing Life, I’m trying to incorporate more imagery in journal writing. I’m also trying to journal about the more mundane stuff such as a beautiful walk in the evening. Interestingly, trying to incorporate imagery has made me more observant. I notice things more; for eg., a stray flower, the way a dog lies curled up on a windy night, the emptiness of the streets, the quiet serenity of the moonlight. It’s as if my surroundings have come alive with details. Incorporating imagery lends more realness to writing. Being observant is an important skill to develop as a writer.

I urge you to try journaling! Start small. Even if it’s just a few sentences once in a while. It’s an amazing tool for a multitude of things. You’ll open the doors to an exquisite land of self-awareness, discovery, and growth with it.