Kickstart Your Journal

Yesterday, my friend Marit said she was “waving from her journal page to mine,” and I thought, “what a great idea!” Need something to focus on? Need a jumpstart on writing?

Dialog can intersect and circle around, like this path in King's County (Washington)

Dialog can intersect and circle around, like this path in King’s County (Washington)

This is more than a journal prompt. It’s not a word to write about, it’s a whole technique. And it’s powerful. Let’s get started:

1. Warm up by focusing on your emotions: Right now, I feel [fill in the blank.] One word may be all you need.

2. The reason I feel [blank] in 20 words: [describe how you reached this emotion.]

3. Almost always, someone else is involved in this story about your emotion. Whether you are happy, anxious, excited, or skeptical, most of our emotions are connected to other people, often for reasons we don’t understand.

4. Use the next page to write a dialog between you and the other person. Writing dialog means you will make things up. That’s fine. You want to figure out a reason for the emotion and what your role is and what the other person’s role is. By putting words in someone else’s mouth (and you know you are doing this), you are resolving old issues, exploring new ways to happiness, or clarifying ideas.

Example: I’m feeling anxious. A friend has asked me to help her in a way that I feel uncomfortable with. I want to help my friend, but I want to hold onto my values.

Q: I’m not sure I can do this, Friend.

F: But it will help John and it will be a big favor to me, too.

You can also draw speech bubbles and fill them in.

You can also draw speech bubbles and fill them in.

Q: I think speaking up at the Writers’ Club and supporting John as another member isn’t a good idea. The club rules say you have to be a published writer, and John isn’t.

F: It’s not about you, Quinn, it’s about getting John into a place where he can find business. And the club is great for that. You’ve gotten business that way. John is a good guy.

Q: I have gotten business from the club. But I was a published writer when I joined. And John isn’t.

F: He writes his own blog, and that’s publishing. You are just afraid he’s a better writer than you.

Q: A blog is not publishing. And I want what’s best for John. But getting him into the club is not in his best interest.

F: What’s wrong with you that you won’t help this friend? Haven’t you needed a hand before?

Q: I’ll be happy to help John in some way that helps John. Being dishonest doesn’t help anyone. Least of all John, if he gets a job he can’t handle.

. . . .the dialog can go on as long as you need it to. In this example, I see my own stubborn character, but also my clarity in not being dishonest. Yes, it’s a small thing, but I can see that if I vouch for John, and he doesn’t do well, the lie I told will be the reason John got in over his head. What I am understanding from this dialog is that my need for approval is pretty big, not not big enough to lie for someone.

Is this the dialog the way it really happened? No, but by making up the other half, I’m giving myself the opportunity to dig into my own emotions in ways that help me see my own motives clearly.

The dialog exercise is a good way to find out more about yourself.

–Quinn McDonald is an explorer in her journal

Day 17: Journal Listening

Read the first post in the series.
Day 17: Listening to your journal is a skill not a lot of people know how to do. We are used to writing, asking to be heard, seen–praying for answers. We often miss the answer when it shows up. And it will show up. That’s why we are journaling this way.

One of my answers that came when I listened to my journal. Ink on acrylic. © Quinn McDonald, 2011

For a while, all the writing is pouring out of you in an endless flow. One day, you will find yourself thinking about what you are writing–the words aren’t pouring out on their own. You are paying attention. And all of a sudden, you write something interesting. Profound. An answer to a question you had. You are now in a deep connection to your own wisdom or a wisdom greater than yourself. You have tunneled deep enough to be away from the distraction, and dug up a truth.

Truth is surprising. We recognize it and blink. Sometimes we wish it were something else. But the flash of recognition is the key. You will know. Maybe it’s not the answer you had hoped for, maybe it’s exactly what you need.

Your pen may race on, while your mind hangs on to the answer. You may not want to listen, but you will. You will be drawn back to those words, that flash of recognition. It can be an answer, a key to an answer, or simply a truth you have not believed.

And there it is, on the page in front of you. Underline it. Save it. You may have to finish your thought, your paragraph, your page, but the answer is right there.

You have created the start of a habit. A habit of writing and listening. And when you listen, you’ll find answers. You might have to write a long time to learn to trust yourself, but once you start to listen, you will hear your answers.

Quinn McDonald is a journaler who is on an exploration of creativity with a group of explorers on this blog. You can join us by clicking on the link in the top line, then starting a writing practice.

Day 10: Dream Time Writing

Sleeping Gypsy, Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1897

Day 10: Writing at night isn’t working for me. I liked the idea of letting go of my worries, but I learned something interesting–I’m busier than I thought at night. There is always one more thing to do, one more question to ask, one more email to send. When I do go into the studio, it’s a precious time devoted to exploring the topic for the next book.

The worries, which always got written on index cards and left in the studio, really do fill up all the time I want to spend writing at night.

So it’s back to writing in the morning. I’m glad I discovered this. I can spend the time early in the morning when I am waiting for the cats to finish patrolling the yard. Since I’ve started writing, I’m having more colorful dreams. And I’m back to remembering them more. Writing down dreams helps me remember them, remember parts I’ve dreamed before, and helps me figure out what they mean.

Writing them down in the morning helps keep the details clear. A few days ago, I dreamed I walked across a winter landscape and into a wikiup. The walls and roof were being held up by the people in this group–tall and curved, like people trees. From my vantage point, you  all were holding up the world. I woke up then. I love the image, and as I wonder about the meaning, I’m fascinated at the idea.

The first peoples of Australia say that our dreams are our real lives and our waking time is not the experience of life. This should make morning journaling interesting.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who is working on re-establishing the habit of morning walking meditation and regular journaling–using words as a spiritual practice.

Day 8: What if You Skip a Day of Practice?

What what a blossom bud in March. . .

Day 8: A group of us are on a 30-day trek of meditation and journaling. Yes, we are doing it at the busiest time of year, and just for that reason–it’s a good time to build in some quiet and personal peace.

If you want to catch up, start here. It’s not too late, just start.

Wisdom from the Comments:

Arelene Holtz had an Aha! Moment: “Then I decided to do a short sitting meditation to quiet my mind. That’s when the proverbial lightening bolt hit me. I have struggled with my own worthiness most of my life, so that part certainly struck a chord in me. However, what really stood out was that I have just had surgery for hip replacement 6 weeks ago and have been recovering from this since then, so now I am really ready to MOVE FORWARD in the new year! ”

Wanda discovered: “I am going to have to work on my focus when walking as my mind kept wandering to things I need to do, instead of relaxing and seeing what was there. I walked for 30 minutes and it was only during the last 7 or 8 that my mind felt clear and open.”

*     *     *     *
The weekend is over and it’s possible that by now you skipped a day of practice. Maybe meditation didn’t go smoothly or you put off journaling and then it got late. What now?

For an artist, the biggest danger is not turning out bad art, it is leaving the studio

. . . bears sweet and juicy fruit in December.

without a reason to return. There is no guarantee that the artist will discover a reason to make the effort to go back.

And there is no guarantee that you will discover a reason to go back to journaling and meditation if you quit. The idea behind doing it every day is to reap all the benefits without struggling with the difficulty of starting up.

The inclination is to examine why you skipped, or even yell at yourself. In my experience as a creativity coach, I’d suggest that doesn’t work. The best tactic is to ask yourself when the best time is to write, and do that. I do believe that we fall into a habit of writing, and choosing the same time each day makes it much easier to remember when it’s time to journal.

Changing your practice time is worthwhile, because finding the best time will lead to a consistent practice. But keeping up the practice is most beneficial of all.

Arelent and Wanda have already discovered something important to bring with them. Don’t risk losing your moments of awareness. If you skip a day, keep looking where you want to go and pick up your journal. It’s always there for you.

Let us know of any positive changes you are experiencing or discoveries you have made.

–Quinn McDonald is a journaler and creativity coach who is strengthening her daily practice with a group of like-minded souls.