Rebecca is a writer and editor based in Vancouver. Her husband, Larry Gifford, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2017. Together, they host the “When Life Gives You Parkinson’s” podcast.
Rebecca collaborates with clients and employers from across North America to craft strategy, messaging and brand-appropriate content for campaigns of all shapes and sizes. Rebecca also hosts the Express Yourself: A Writing Workshop to Help You Cope and Thrive, Vancouver workshop.
Writing & Journaling: A Fun Way to Rediscover Your Inherent Creativity
Writing down what’s going on in our minds and hearts can help us process our experiences, clarify our thoughts and feelings, and express ourselves in a healthy, safe, and private way. Plus, it’s fun!
Studies show journaling and other creative activities improve our physical and mental health. They can reduce stress, boost our immune systems, and increase our general wellness, even amidst great challenge and change. Especially when we’re experiencing stress or feeling limited in any way, it’s human to seek a way to express ourselves. We all have an inherent creativity that, if we’re willing to explore it, can be a source of joy, peace, and wellbeing. Writing can be a fun way to get that creativity flowing.
But, I don’t know how to journal.
Many of us used to enjoy creative writing but haven’t done it for years. As a child or young adult, you may have used journaling, writing poetry, or composing short stories as a way to exercise your imagination and make sense of your early life. We often abandon these healthy forms of expression when careers, family, and other priorities take control of our time and energy.
Or maybe you’ve never been drawn to writing, never considered yourself a “good” writer (or “good enough”), and aren’t sure how to get started now.
Keeping a journal is a great way to get back into writing and begin exercising that creative muscle again. However, for many the thought of journaling may be confusing or intimidating.
You may be saying to yourself… I don’t know how to do it.
I’m sure what I write won’t be very good, so what’s the point?
I don’t want to journal every day, but aren’t I supposed to?
Nothing I do is worth talking about.
Nothing I have to say is worth writing down.
First, let’s abandon the idea that writing or journaling “should” be anything. You’re not in school or at work. No one will be correcting your grammar and punctuation. No one will judge you for what or how you write it.
Journaling is not the same as keeping a diary. You don’t need to recount your day or explain what’s going on in your life unless you want to. Journals are for writing down ideas, crazy thoughts, funny jokes, advice you don’t want to forget, bad poetry, angry rants, the start of a short story, or whatever is in your imagination, mind, and heart.
Thank goodness, no rules!
When you journal, you are writing for yourself. There are no rules. There is no “right” or “wrong.” You can write or journal every day if you want to, or you can write when you feel like it. That could mean every few days or every few months. You can use a beautiful leather-bound journal, your laptop, or a spiral notebook from the dollar store. It doesn’t matter.
It’s all for you. Do it your way, when you want, and when it’s helpful to you.
Some tips to get you started
Get what you need. Buy a journal, create a folder on your computer, or find a way to make and store audio journals (you can use your iPhone or Android phone to record audio journals). If you prefer typing, create your own journal file, name it something meaningful, and make sure it’s private. If you prefer spoken word, download a dictation app or create a folder to store audio recordings on your phone or computer.
Find a good spot. Make sure you’re journaling somewhere you are physically comfortable and where you enjoy spending quiet time.
Do you need some structure? You don’t have to follow any guidelines about how to journal or how writing “should“ work. But some people respond to structure and, understandably, sometimes it helps when you’re starting something new. With that in mind, it may be helpful to set an intention of doing it regularly. You can set an appointment or reminder to make sure you set aside writing time, perhaps for 5 - 30 minutes per day. Often, people are more creatively open and less distracted first thing in the morning. Also, research shows that once you’ve done something regularly for anywhere from three weeks to a couple of months, it is more likely to become a more natural part of your daily life.
There are many resources offering additional ideas for how to go about journaling if some more specific guidelines are helpful to you. Links to a few are included below.
Most importantly, have fun. Do something good for yourself. Give yourself the opportunity to explore your ideas, expressions, and imagination and see where it takes you. Happy writing!
Need ideas for what to write about?
If you draw a blank while considering what to write, here are some simple ideas you can return to any time to spark your creativity:
- Write about your immediate surroundings. What do you see, hear, and feel?
- What did you dream about last night?
- What or how is your body feeling in this moment?
- Listen to a piece of music. How would you describe it to someone who can’t hear it?
- Make a list of everything you are grateful for today.
- Look at a picture and make up a story about what it’s depicting.
- Write about feeling stuck about what to write about.
Feeling up to a challenge?
Below are a few randomly selected writing provocations from 642 Things to Write About (San Francisco Writer’s Grotto):
- Re-create your earliest childhood memory.
- Re-tell a recent joke you’ve heard as a short story/piece of fiction.
- Write ten sayings for fortune cookies.
- Write a love scene from the point of view of your hands.
- Write an anonymous letter to a stranger detailing the things you’ve learned about life.
- Write about the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten (and/or cooked).
- Describe the most eccentric person you’ve ever met. Why do you remember them so well? What effect did they have on you?
Additional journaling books and online resources:
The Foundation for Art & Healing
Medical News Today
The Journal of Positive Psychology
American Journal of Public Health