Use your journal to help your writing flow – some top tips
Focused journal writing strategies can help you stay in your “genius zone” as a writer. As a writer, you know how important it is to sustain momentum and a positive, flowing engagement with your work.
Many writers past and present have kept a journal to accompany themselves while they are writing, and some have ended up being published in their own right. John Cheever’s journals, for example, show his rich and complex inner world more abundantly than his books. He intended them to be published posthumously, because he felt, perhaps, that his readers would then recognise that they were not alone in inner worlds of thoughts that are almost impossible to share with another person. “Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath” 1938 – 1941 by John Steinbeck show the raw elements of the writer at work. Virginia Woolf found that reading over her journal entries helped her gain a new perspective. Many published works first emerged as random thoughts or moments of insight in a private journal where they could incubate in safety.
A journal is a protected space where you can attempt to articulate your most wild, chaotic, unformed thoughts. You have permission to tune in and listen to the world, and write what you hear – the fragment of a song coming out of a dream, scraps of overheard conversations, a scene that is altered by an unexpected flight of birds or a downpour of hail. One of my favourite writing prompts is to open a book of poems at random, and write a personal response. This immediately lifts me into an expanded perspective. You can also make the attempt to write about the subjects that are so difficult to render well in a book or article, but that preoccupy us all – love, sex, death, ageing, money, inequality, our current dangerous times – and you will gain valuable experience in making the attempt to be both authentic and relatable by simply staying true to yourself..
Curate your writing process in a dedicated journal
You can use a journal to keep on track with your writing goals, stay on schedule with submissions and blog posts, and note down lists, chapter headings and new ideas as soon as they occur to you. Journalling can help you focus on what you really want to happen in your writing and to be the kind of writer you yearn to be. Modern journalling for success is so much more than diarising your day, dwelling on problems or writing on set topics. Use it to capture those moments where you are being your best writing self. Identify and release self doubts and limitations, and set yourself bigger writing goals.
Your writer’s journal can also be your best friend.
It is your first audience, where you can trial ideas and initial drafts, share your thoughts about your writing day, conduct imaginary dialogues with your editor, address your ideal reader, and simply be present and attentive with what is happening in your writing process. This will make your actual writing, when you come to it, more fluid and on point, as when you have a place to work through feelings and issues or lack of clarity, and you identify your strengths, this frees up your writing. Everyone’s writing can be improved by having a safe, accepting, and fluid witnessing space. Witness your courage in making the attempt to write. Read a piece of your own work, and respond to it. Relate to your writing. Allow yourself to feel its impact on you. Allow yourself to be aligned with your true, inner motivations for writing. Allow yourself to walk forwards in the dark, step by step, not knowing what will happen next, but trusting in your ability to find your way somehow. Writing that comes from this mindful engagement is what your readers are seeking for, as ultimately they want you to help them find aspects of themselves.
An important benefit of journalling is that it can ease you into the writing zone with little resistance or procrastination as it is “just” your journal and no one is going to judge it. Writing in your journal counts as your quality writing practice and honing your craft. When we are writing, we want to welcome and expand those precious moments when we are writing without resistance, and we are in flow. Flow can be identified as the freedom of self expression when our writing skills, our passion and our fascination with the topic all come together, with an absence of self criticism or judgement. We are present, focused, still and in love with what we are writing in the moment.
The more you engage with your journal writing, the more frequently you will enjoy being in flow, and the more previously unthought ideas for your book, and all your creative ventures, will drop into your consciousness while you are relaxed, present and focused. There’s no need for writer’s blocks to persist if you are a dedicated journaller, as you will always find a way through or around them. You recognise that anything difficult that emerges in your writing process or appears to upset you or stop you in your tracks is rich material for journalling and you can come at it from a multitude of different directions.
The Journal Writer’s Companion includes guidance on many different forms of journalling, and there is a complete chapter for writers. You can use it to kick-start your journalling on any topic and in any situation without limit.