Last night I hosted the first session of a brand new journal writing course here in Swindon, UK. It was a great evening and I’m already thrilled and honoured to be working with a very energetic and engaged group of writers.
As usual insights started popping not very long after we began working on the exercises I’d prepared. With the right intention journal writing never fails to take us places very quickly and directly, and there were a number of a-has, enthusiastic nods and knowing eye-rolls as realisations began to occur. One participant even broke off part way through their writing and beamed “I love this!” There you go – I love it too.
And one of the most intriguing insights for me came during our discussion of left-brain/right-brain approaches.
Check out a famous demo here.
Typically our left-brain is very logical and rules-oriented, enabling us to express ourselves in coherent, intelligible language, and understand strucutured arguments. Yet it can also be a bit of a control freak, ‘bullying’ our more elusive qualities of intuition, imagination and emotion into submission.
Our modern western culture is in itself a product of left-brain dominance, and has moulded us in the main in its own image (for more on this read Iain McGilchrist’s fabulous book The Master and its Emissary), which often means that it can take a bit of an effort to coax our right-brain attributes out to play.
To tackle this right-brain elusiveness, writing tutors often give their students an exercise to distract their logical mind and allow the imagination to flow. This might be a timed exercise with a question to answer, or an acrostic poem, or a phrase to complete. In journal writing these are known as prompts, springboards or kick-off phrases, and they usually work like a dream to get people writing.
Except sometimes they don’t. Perhaps if you are a creative and intuitive person, or a poet, or someone for whom right-brain sensibilities are already to the fore, then maybe the tricks to distract the left-brain back-fire. Instead of distracting the logical mind such tricks might arouse it and cause it to thrash about trying to make itself useful, or drawing attention to itself like a petulant, over-stimulated child.
Perhaps. But this brings me back to a key point about each of us developing our individual reflective writing practice. There are no rules, there is no right way or wrong way. Any type of prompt, inquiry or kick-off phrase might work beautifully, or it might crash and burn. The important thing is to be aware of what doesn’t work for you – and find something that does. Maybe adopting a different perspective, or using metaphor, or writing in the third person, or using a different voice. Or something else entirely.
Journal writing is a good prescription, but it never is prescriptive. Give it a go a see what works for you.