Yesterday, a friend came over to my apartment, agitated and confused. Between bites of coffee chocolate ice cream, she said something I’ve felt a million times. “I don’t know how to explain what I feel,” she said, “and it’s frustrating.”
Immediately I asked her if she kept a journal. Although she had one, she hadn’t been writing lately. After hearing about her confusion, I wasn’t surprised. Journaling has been an important part of my self care for almost 18 years. It’s that important of a practice to me, for both emotional and creative purposes.
A self-care fundamental
There are a lot of negative ideas around journaling. It’s selfish. It’s inconsequential material, navel gazing. We have more images of Harriet the Spy and Sweet Valley High and OMG FEELINGS.
But here’s the thing: it’s the one practice I recommend to everyone, whether or not you like to write. In fact, I recommend it to people who aren’t even interested in creativity.
Why? A journal is both the perfect pressure valve and testing ground. The blank page is perfect if you need to vent, whine, or write a to do list. It’s a place you can leave all the random and distracting thoughts from inside your head.
Allowing yourself space to unravel those thoughts can help you clarify your thoughts, feelings, wants, and needs. It’s not a silver bullet, but it gives you the space to think and know yourself. It can help you show up more fully for yourself, friends, family and for the other people in your life.
The best part? It’s a safe space that’s available 24/7 (as long as you have a pen). No one will judge you if you write in all caps lock, cry, or write a list of obscenities. Journals allow you space to be brutally honest that other forms of processing (like talking to friends) might not.
Journaling is more than great self-care, it’s a critical practice for creatives of all stripes. For writers, the value seems obvious. It’s a form of training, like long runs for soccer. My journal is not dominated by the fiction or poetry I write but it keeps me in shape. Sometimes, pieces do begin in my morning free write, especially these blog posts.
Ok, but what about other types of creatives? Photographers, musicians, or even hackers? I still tell them to journal. Why? Because when you are honest with yourself, you have more energy for the work of being creative.
How does it work? You bring your emotions, your issues with you for better or for worse. If you aren’t dealing with our shit, eventually your energy becomes all focused around denying your issues. There’s no room for creativity, only the tug of war about the problem inside that you don’t want to look at.
Now, some say that they still can show up. For a little while, that will probably be true. But it gets harder each time requiring more and more energy you don’t have. Worse, that stagnation will show up in your work. There’s no energy to try something new. Suddenly, you’re taking 20 versions of the same photograph, or singing the hundredth version of “he broke my heart fuck him fuck him fuck him”.
There are times when you may feel repetitive. You may spend a few years on a theme or idea. A creative person working through it, however, will show different iterations, different aspects of the theme. There will be evolution, not repetition.