Tag Archives: Reflective kick-off phrases

‘Dear Journal’ – journaling insights #2

I like to practice what I preach.

So having set my workshop group some homework before our next session in a few days’ time, I thought I’d get on with some homework of my own.

One of the exercises which generated the most excitement at last week’s workshop was the ‘Dear Journal’ piece. The idea of it is to address yourself to your journal, explaining what kind of a week you’ve had, and to ask your journal for any advice. In the second part of the exercise you write back to yourself as your journal, and see what advice emerges.

I did a similar version of this exercise a couple of years ago, addressing a letter in my journal ‘Dear Creative Self’. I got some awesome results that time too, and really learned a lot about how far I can rely on my own creativity.

So this weekend, having got some great feedback when I posted the Dear Journal exercise on The Journal Writer’s Handbook Facebook status, I decided to give it another go myself.

There was a lot of rambling to start with. Just going through my week and what’s been happening. (It was a great week by the way.) But then I got into some more juicy stuff about where I was feeling stuck, and how I was wanting to make progress but somehow felt resistant.

All the time I was writing I was aware that my journal was ‘listening’. And in this I found the courage to begin outlining some stuff that has been floating around in my head but which I hadn’t up til this point been able to articulate. The words really started to flow and in the end I found that I’d written a straight 14 sides, and come up with three brand new ideas!

The question I then posed to my journal was “How far am I kidding myself?” And the answer came that none of the stuff I’d written down was new. It was all stuff that I’d shared with my journal in the past, but without as much clarity and concrete purpose. I could see that everything I’d written was absolutely based in the knowledge, expertise and wisdom I already have, but hadn’t yet figured out how to present.

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The particular notebook I’m using right now has an anchor on the front. So in keeping with that my journal reminded me to focus, and to stop drifting from one idea to another. And then she thanked me for talking to her, and reminded me that that’s what she’s here for.

It’s a strange exercise, but its effect is really powerful. I have this sense that I am not alone, that I have an inner reservoir of wisdom that is always accessible to me. This I believe is a truth for every human being, but we frequently forget how to use it. For me, I choose to access it in my journal.

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Journaling insights #1

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.

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Let go with a cup of tea and your journal

As it’s still holiday time and my kids don’t go back to school til Monday I’m relishing the mornings when I can wake up early and bring a cup of tea back to bed with a book or my journal. I love this time of day when there is nothing very pressing to do, and whatever plans I have can wait until later. For the duration of my cup of tea – and sometimes a tad longer – I allow myself to let go of all there is to do and just reflect.

Over the past couple of days I’ve been enjoying reading various blog posts about how people approach their resolutions for the New Year. Yesterday I read Anne Orchard’s post about expecting the unexpected. This morning I read Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s latest post about loving the question, and a section entitled Non-Attachment to Actions in the book Waking from Sleep by Steve Taylor. Together these things reminded me of a journal entry I wrote on 22 September last, which went like this:

“The elephant in the room is the Journaling handbook. It may or may not be finished. It may or may not be self-published. I may or may not choose to be held by the ransome of it. It may be that the book as a project is already complete, and it has already served its purpose. I may or may not choose to let it go.”

Bearing in mind that the Journaling handbook is the one I just published on 14 December last, this seems an odd entry to have written. However, I think this entry reflects exactly what needed to happen in order for me to finish the book project. Up til that point the book was still unfinished, even after two and a half years of writing and editing. But by entertaining the possibility that I had gone as far with it as I was ever going to I somehow let go of it, granting it a life and will of its own. Now it would only see the light of day if it was meant to be, rather than to satisfy my own neediness about becoming an author.

By letting go of the project, and becoming emotionally neutral about the outcome of the book, I got out of the way and allowed things to happen. Less than three months after I acknowledged the unfinished project in my life – the elephant in the room – I was taking the first orders for the finished book. And as I hold the book in my hands it’s not the magic of seeing my words in print which enchants me, but the fact that they appeared in print almost in spite of me, and that the whole process took on an ease and logic of its own once I quit agonising.

What I learned this morning during my cup of tea was that when we allow ourselves to let go our most precious achievements and actions become by-products of who we are, rather than of who we think we ought to be. So maybe today the inquiry to conjure with is “What must I let go of?” or “What am I getting in the way of?” Or try the kick-off phrase “The elephant in the room is…”

More tea anyone?

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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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