The WHY and The HOW of Journaling: Part 2
Editor's Note: This is the second post in a series on journaling for the Christian Imagination. If you haven't read the first post, read it now: "The Why and How of Journaling."
At the 2017 Stage & Story Conference, Wayne Scott, Founder of LifeHouse Theater, gave a talk titled, “Tips on Creativity from the Author.” He was speaking about spiritual growth when he touched on the discipline of journaling.
“Above all,” he explained, “if I could encourage you...keep a journal. How else are you going to measure your own growth if you don’t look back and see what you were thinking and where you were in a certain time?” I agree!
This encouragement reminds me of my last entry, in which I outlined four reasons why I journal: to pray, process, ponder, and preserve.
Today, I’d like to shift to how I journal, and how you can get started. As you’ll find out, there’s no secret patent-pending process to it. I found a way that works for me, and now it’s a habit. Everyday. So, here are some tips to getting started and not stopping.
One way to fail at journaling is to not start at all. One way to succeed is to just write, write a lot. Your writing doesn’t have to be composed of published plays or polished essays, just words or pictures on paper, in a Google Doc, on a voice memo, or in your Notes app on your phone (though you’ll find what I think about the latter three later)!
Many things have kept me from writing. I’ve wasted many hours agonizing over whether or not I was a writer. Do I have the necessary talent? Will I make an impact? Is God calling me to write? Now I see those hours could have been spent on...you got it...writing! The best way to answer those questions, in my opinion, is to just begin writing.
Over thirty years of creative endeavors, Wayne Scott understands the many obstacles to producing creative work. Here is one way he helped us.
“I want to challenge those of you,” he said, “who may be waiting for some airy, wispy future. Do it. Sit down and stop making excuses. I’ve heard the most amazing excuses. Talent without discipline is worthless.”
I’m motivated! Hopefully this motivates you as well. Here are some simple ways to make the starting process easier.
First, you’ll want to find the time when you think the clearest (for me it’s the morning). I can write in the afternoon or evening, but for it to be quality, I need a miracle of Mosaic proportions...otherwise I just end up re-writing it in the morning.
Second, you’ll want to find a place that inspires you (for me it’s my office or the rock overlook nearby or the busy coffee shop) and plan to start. The right location matters less to me than the right time, but if I’m constantly interrupted, I find writing difficult.
Now that you’ve walked through step one and two, let’s talk about your first day.
On day one, give yourself a gift and set yourself up for success: don’t plan to write the next award-winning essay or New York Times bestseller. Set your expectations a little lower. Plan to write about a recent event or write a few observations about a Scriptural passage or intriguing quote.
I’ve psyched myself out with thinking my piece must be “great” or “mind-blowing” or the piece will make me the next Tolkien or Lewis or Amy Sherman-Palladino. Don’t even write a lengthy passage, unless you’re dying to: start with one paragraph or a few bullet-pointed statements or even some drawings.
Then, make a plan to write tomorrow’s entry. And tomorrow, commit to writing another.
STICK with the same tools
Now, onto your tools. Every craftsman has his favorite tools.
While you shouldn’t put writing on hold until you find the right pen and right journal, you should look for tools that work best for you. Finding the right pen and journal has helped me reinforce journaling as a daily habit. I don’t have to spend any time thinking about what pen or paper I’ll use today, because I only stock a certain kind of pen and journal.
Warning: the following will sound both a little snobby and nerdy. I don’t intend the former and am just fine with the latter (I do own and wear many sweater vests).
On a daily basis I write with a Pilot G-2 07 Black gel pen. I throw all other pens in the trash or off a cliff. (Not really, but they don’t touch my journal!) I also buy my G-2 Pilots in bulk...or put them on my Christmas list so others will.
And I only write in a Scripa Notes Large Ruled: 192 Ruled and Blank Pages Journal. Over the years, I’ve selected this particular journal because it is high quality, has a hard cover, and has a ruled page on one side and a blank page on the other. I use the ruled side for my entries and the blank side to illustrate ideas and capture quotes. (Unfortunately, this particular Scripta Journal is becoming harder and harder to find online.)
At seminary, there were many sweater-vest wearing, ink-pen carrying, M.Div pursuing, Apple Watch wearing journalers who really liked the Moleskin Journal. I only have one word for them: that’s fine, I’m pretty ecumenical.
For those who journal digitally, using a IPersonalComputer or ITablet or IDevice, I only have one word for you: you are out of bounds. Turn from your ways.
STASH it with you
There’s nothing worse than having a great idea and nowhere to write it down. I find that ideas for plays or blogs or future projects will come upon me during the oddest times: driving, running, showering, watching a movie, listening to a sermon, fixing my car’s transmission, lumbering trees (yes! I could do those latter two if I wanted).
Sometimes inspiration comes, dances a moment, and then whisps away. If you’re not ready, you’ll miss the idea or image or story...along with the Emmy!
So, my solution to this is simple: always keep your journal and pen with you. When I’m home, I keep the journal on my shelf, and when I’m on the road, in my manly man bag.
If the dove of inspiration comes while I’m driving, I pull over; if I’m showering, I dry off; if I’m building...things, I set down my wrench and chainsaw; if I’m running, I keep running, but toward my journal.
My recommendation is keep your journal and pen in the same place during the week. You’ll be amazed at how this little choice will help turn your journaling into a habit.
STORE it in a safe place
I don’t like horror stories, but when you live through one, you must share it.
One time I left my journal at church, a church we were visiting. It was agony (no, not the church, but forgetting my journal). For a couple days I missed countless opportunities to reflect and plan (the world could have been such a better place).
I also envisioned the pastor or a deacon or a youth discovering it, peering into the state of my heart and mind, reading my prayers, mocking my doodles….I have a pretty vivid imagination. It was like they had my right arm or my spleen. Something was definitely missing. It eventually became too much, so I drove back to the church and took it back. “Thank you,” I said, “I need that to function.”
My last point is simple: if you’re going to invest your spiritual, emotional, and intellectual growth into a journal, which you should, don’t lose it. Do whatever it takes to not lose it.
So, those are some simple tips to enjoy journaling, developing the Christian Imagination. Happy writing!
Dane Bundy is president of Stage & Story and principal of the secondary school at Providence Academy, a classical Christian school in Johnson City, TN.