Tag Archives: Journal writing exercises

How to be more playful in your life

When life feels tough and heavy our journal can be nothing short of a life-saver, but journaling is not only for times when our circumstances are difficult. Writing in our journal can also coax out our joyful, playful nature, and this is as valuable in the long run as ‘brain-dumping’ stressful thoughts and emotions.

Play is intrinsic to who we are as human beings. It is a sign of our intelligence; is socially cohesive; provides a contained environment for our competitiveness; offers an opportunity to be other than we usually are; and is an arena for learning about ourselves and others.

So naturally I want to introduce play into the pages of my journal. If I were a photographer or good at drawing or craft my journal might contain visual and tactile play – images, sketches, doodles, swatches of fabric, a whole narrative built around colour, texture and artefact. Creative journaling and scrap-booking help to make our lives look and feel more beautiful – another important function of play.

But I deal in pen-and-ink words. I have no patience for fiddley sticking and drawing. How can I get playful in my journal?

One journaling technique which never fails to get me playing is list-making. I love the extreme challenge of “100 things in 10 minutes”, and I can choose a topic such as “things that make me laugh”, or “favourite games”. The structure and constraints of the list operate like the rules of a game; the topic of the list lends it its fun element; and because it’s a private journaling exercise, with no right and wrong, I can be as candid or rebellious as I like.

Another idea which requires the ultimate act of play – that of assuming a radically different perspective from that we would normally adopt – is writing metaphorically. Metaphor sounds complicated. It can be complicated to explain – but it is surprisingly easy to use. In fact it’s as if our brains are wired for metaphor. Try this exercise: cast yourself as a household object, a favourite literary character, a colour, an odour, or a piece of music, and write about your day from that perspective. Once I reflected on what my life would be like lived at the pace of a power-saw – the prevalent sound I could hear from my journal-writing spot. It contained a salutary lesson, and spawned a greater appreciation for the incredible wisdom we are capable of when we allow ourselves to play.

By journaling about the playful things that bring us joy we become more familiar with them, and we prepare ourselves to accept and embrace them into our lives. This is how playfulness on the page translates into playfulness in our real lives.

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December 12, 2012 · 5:22 pm

What has surprised you today?

So here’s the first post in my new blog! The Journal Writer’s Handbook is my upcoming book about the fantastic past time that is journal writing. After months of dithering and making very little progress on my manuscript for The Journal Writer’s Handbook, suddenly today I find myself contemplating its publication date, and thinking about using social media, even a blog, to let the world know about it.  And this is what has surprised me – hence my question.

I’ve also been surprised (pleasantly) by being offered editorial space in a local magazine to promote not only the book but a series of journal-writing workshops. Having failed to pull my finger out for rather a long time things are starting to happen that frankly demand that I finish the book and release it into the world. And I’m surprised by what a relief it is.

Anyway, what is the Journal Writer’s Handbook? It’s a book that has resulted from my conviction that reflective writing is one of the most remarkable tools for personal growth and development. It’s cheap, easily accessible (especially once you’ve read the Handbook), doesn’t require any special appointments to be made, and above all is private. Keeping a journal doesn’t involve having to humiliate yourself in front of anyone else, or reveal your deepest and darkest side to relative strangers you’ve paid to listen. No money changes hands – it’s just you, your pen, your journal and however honest you’re prepared to be. (But, as one workshop participant declared: “there’s nowhere to hide when you’re writing to yourself.”)

The Handbook came about when someone told me they’d like me to move into their house and constantly give them journaling exercises to encourage them to write. Otherwise, they admitted, they’d probably find another cake to bake instead. There’s nothing wrong with cake, but I can see how this might become a tiresome procrastination strategy. And seeing that becoming a resident spouter of journaling prompts really wasn’t going to work for my lifestyle I decided it would be much better all round to put together a little book that would take up a lot less room in people’s houses than big ol’ me.

So I wrote it. It turns out to be over 35000 words long – and that was a surprise – with a comprehensive guide to getting started and keeping the momentum going; a quick reference index of exercises to suit various circumstances of life; and a Mood Index, suggesting journaling approaches for different feelings and emotions.

It’s currently in its first galley edition, but it’s well and truly on its way. But if you can’t wait to have a go and see for yourself how illuminating journal writing can be, spend a couple of minutes free-writing in response to these reflective kick-off prompts:

“What’s surprised me most today has been…”

“My usual reaction to surprises is…”

There are no right and wrong answers – just allow your pen to move across the page and see what appears at the end of it. It could be your biggest surprise yet.

Happy journaling!

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