On Journal Writing: "Writing Down Your Soul" by Janet Conner
Here we are! In case you missed it, a while ago I had a recent spurt of inspiration, having to do with having more hands in the shop, spring and cool breezes and green leaves, and re-discovering writing. And I guess a bit of fairy dust in the air. In this flurry of inspiration, I was both shocked and re-invigorated by my enormous backlog of snail mail, and also by the fact that I used to think journaling was important and interesting enough to write about regularly on the blog. Over the last few weeks, I've been attempting to remedied both of these by reading and writing more and more and things that were just for me - reading letters and books and writing secret things in my notebooks and my Hobonichi and finally writing long overdue letters back to pen pals who have probably forgotten I existed. I've been trying to write back from oldest to newest, but the gift of having a disorganized abyss of a desk and storage area is that I'm always finding new treasures. And I also just found one letter under the couch. I also picked up a bunch of books on writing and journaling! They started trickling in slowly, and I was beyond excited to receive my first books, but as they're accumulating on my desk, I have to admit I'm a biter of more than I can chew (I got a used copy of Ira Progoff's "At a Journal Workshop" which is bringing me back to my college days of reading textbooks, and I'm thinking maybe I should just attend his workshop instead). While I've been reading several of them at once, but this first one I finished is called "Writing Down Your Soul" by Janet Conner.
The very first caveat I need to put out here about this book is that the author differentiates between what one might normally refer to as journal writing (and what I normally refer to as journal writing), and what she is describing in her book as deep soul writing. However, I think my own journal writing experience has deepened as a result of incorporating some of these ideas into my own journaling practice, and I think it's a worthwhile read. The second caveat I might add is that, like maybe all books on writing and creativity, is that you have to approach it with an open mind. The book talks a lot about spirituality, and the idea of a Voice or a Divine, and whether or not you're religious, as the author herself is, the idea is about accessing some greater wisdom that beyond yourself. The basic idea of the book is that is that while some people may journal to record or log and remember what happened in their day, out of habit, to process events, or to dream, or to have ideas, you can also write more deeply to connect with your inner soul and inner wisdom and something greater - the goal is to live life more richly and deeply and peacefully because you are connected to yourself and maybe the world around you.
Janet Conner, the author of the book, experienced some traumatic and difficult events in her life, and almost accidentally discovered the power of writing deeply and honestly and regularly. She shares some of her life experiences, and has since authored this book to share her process. While you sort of have to read the book to go through her process and understand what exactly she means to listen to your inner wisdom, here are a few things that really stuck with me. You have to do it regularly and consistently, maybe picking a time and place that are un-interruptible. This is of course something that we "know" but sometimes it's not something we know know, if that makes sense. Janet Connor suggests that you need to do it for at least 30 days in a row, and explains that it has to do with how writing changes your brain (I think there are lots of studies out there that you may have seen already that discuss how writing by hand stimulates different neural pathways in your brain), and how you need to do it consistently in order for those neural pathways to form. If you have to do a lot of work to get yourself to settle down and finally decide to write, it becomes easier and easier to skip days and weeks and end up distracting yourself surfing the net. But if you really create that habit, there's no longer the distraction and decisions that need to be made - everything (your desk or your space, your time set aside, your brain and your soul) is ready for writing. The longer you do it, the easier it becomes. And hopefully, the longer you do it, and the easier it becomes, the deeper you go. I also really liked how the book discusses the importance of having a ritual before or as you write. The book suggests reading for a few minutes before you start writing, and while this sounds a bit counter-intuitive, that you're taking in more information and possibly getting distracted, I can personally attest to the fact that it really does work to calm you down and focus you a bit.
But your ritual could be anything - like lighting a candle, drinking a glass of water, or clearing off your desk. I now journal right after I put Caleb to bed, and I try to do most of the clearing off while Caleb's running around after his bath, but clearing off the last of my day's work right before I get down to it is part of settling in for me. I think rituals like these are important in so many aspects of our life, and help us to create places for traditions and deeper meaning. I had read one of the criticisms of the book that it sometimes seems like unless you yourself have experienced a deeply traumatic or life-changing event, you won't find as much use out of it. However, I think that this is not the case, or at least it wasn't for me. Even over these last few weeks, of writing based on some of her ideas and suggestions, I found a lot of old memories and things from my past, even from my childhood, coming up that I hadn't thought about in years. Janet Connor wrote at one point about how our memories and life experiences are in the cells of our bodies, in the water of our bodies, and that some there are somet things in everyone that need to be cleansed out. While this may sound a bit hokey, I think the idea of that really resonates with me.
This book also offers a lot of questions and ideas along this line. While the beginning of the book does share some very practical pointers on why and how to set up your writing space and Janet Conner's own story, the idea of reaching deeper is probably the most important idea of the book. Throughout the book, there are writing prompts related to the ideas of the chapter at hand, but there's also a section of really crazy and intense questions that I think could be really powerful if you gave yourself the opportunity to really think about them and write about them. What will I see if I open my eyes and really look completely and honestly at my situation? At what point did I take a turn in the road? What was that turn? Why did I take it? What do I tell myself about myself? In what ways are the things that happen to me related? It's a bit scary, to contemplate answering a few of these (and the book has pages and pages of them that she recommends you tackle slowly, possibly one at a time, or maybe even one over a period of days or weeks), but I guess that's sort of the point of journaling, and maybe of life. To tackle the big ones.