Writing a journal for physical health reasons or for anxiety, depression or other mental health reasons can be a powerful healing tool, with huge therapeutic value. However, the way in which you write when keeping such a journal is very different to how you would write in a 'what I did today' type journal.
Simple Rules for Journaling and Expressive Writing Here are a few simple rules to help you to get the most from your expressive writing or journal writing. Don't feel that you need to be able to put a check mark next to each of these in order for your writing to be worthwhile. That is definitely not true. These are simply there to
1. Right environment
Try to find a relaxed place to write so you can focus on the writing and not be constantly distracted by phones, children, colleagues, etc. Interruptions can make it impossible to maintain the right frame of mind for exploring your inner thoughts and getting them down on paper into your laptop.
We live in an always-on culture these days, where people struggle with the idea of not being reachable for even five minutes. If you want to have a successful journaling session it is essential to switch your phone into sleep mode or better still, put it in sleep mode and leave it in a different room so there's absolutely no chance of it distracting you.
3. Clear objectives
Before starting a writing session it is almost always (but not always) best to be clear on what you are writing about. This might include the topic you are writing about, the length of time you are aiming to write for, and what you are hoping to see as an end result. This will keep you focused and maximize the chance of you having a productive writing session.
There is however an exception and that is when you are doing a free-writing session. This is where you don't have a clue what you are going to write about and just let things flow out of you. This can be an amazingly powerful technique that can often be cathartic and even enlightening. But even this falls under the 'clear objectives' rule guideline as you are intentionally setting out to not be constrained by any particular topic or even any length of writing time.
4. Be Clear about any Instructions
If you are doing a particular writing exercise be clear about the instructions before you start. This will save you writing for twenty minutes, but missing out on the benefit of the exercise. This is also true of most writing prompts. Be clear about what the writing prompt is asking before you start writing.
5. Write freely
Once you get writing, even if you have chosen to write about a particular topic (childhood problem, relationship issue, etc) do your best to write freely and let the words just flow out of you naturally. Yes, you may need to stick to a particular topic, or maybe not, but the aim is almost always to let the thoughts flow out of you in an unhindered way.
6. Don't Overthink
This can be a tough one as our whole education system encourages us to write neatly and in a structured, well-planned fashion. Journaling and expressive writing is different. For this type of writing you need to give your thoughts freedom.. The aim is to allow them to come out in whatever fashion they want to come out. Once you perfect this technique you'll find yourself going 'into the zone' more and more, and that is when you will often get the most productive results.
7. Avoid Self-Editing
This can be a toughie for many of us, and particularly so if you are a habitual perfectionist. Even thought it might be tough do your very best to forget spelling and grammar and just let it flow out of you.
8. Keep moving forward
Don’t move back in your writing to correct errors. It really doesn’t matter. Nobody will see it, so leave those mistakes and typos and just keep pushing on. The problem with constantly going back to immediately edit errors is that it interrupts your train of thought, and after you've made the correction it can be difficult to remember exactly what you were thinking.
9 Write as Quickly as you can
For most exercises it is good to write as quickly as you can and have as few pauses as possible. This can really help you get into a zone where the writing just flows. Again, this is something that we were never encouraged to do at school. Writing quickly, and remembering to keep moving forward and avoiding self-editing will make a huge difference to your chain of thought, and ensure it is as uninterrupted as possible.
10. Don’t worry about using the correct words.
Don't obsess over which word to use. This isn't a prose contest. Just use whatever springs to mind even if you know it might not be the best word to say what you want to say. Just keep pushing on and, if necessary, clarify what you mean in the next sentence.
11. Feel free to use bad language and curse words
Even if you wouldn’t use curse words in your normal day-to-day interactions, feel free to be as potty-mouthed as you like. This is a great chance to get things off your chest and if it helps to use some words, you wouldn’t normally dream of using that is just fine.
12. Consider using a timer
Use the timer on your phone, a stop watch or the built-in timer available in most of the Writing Therapy tools, to put you under a little time pressure. This can work wonders and really help to spur you on. Writing to a deadline kicks the brain into gear and will often result in a far deeper dive that would have happened had you been under no time pressure.
13. Don’t forget to breathe
This might sound crazy, but it is easy to get so caught up in journaling or an expressive writing exercise that you end up holding your breath for too long, and this can create a feeling of anxiety. It can also be a great idea just to close your eyes and take two or three long deep breaths before you start to write. This can just help calm your mind down a little and put you in a more appropriate state for writing.
There we have it. Thirteen points to take on board each time you get going on a journaling or expressive writing exercise. Don’t worry if you don’t remember to do all thirteen each time you write, but refer back to the list every now and again so you can slowly integrate all of the rules into your writing habits so as to get maximum therapeutic value from your writing time.