Confession; I am a diary dealer. If you’re in my inner circle – a friend, a relative, a colleague – at some point in our relationship I give you a journal as a present, probably sooner rather than later.
Often my gift is met with the same polite response, ‘Umm thank you, it’s lovely… but I’m not a writer.’ At which point I always say, ‘But everyone is a writer.’ And it’s true. If you can string words together verbally, you can put them down onto paper, and you can reap the benefits of journaling, for your emotional and physical wellbeing.
I know it’s easy for me to say, and you might be thinking ‘But she’s a journalist. It’s her profession!’ But I get writers block with the best of them. Over the course of my career, I’ve just discovered ways to release the creative flood-gates. And it’s worth it – the health benefits of journaling have been proven. Using the writing prompts and exercises can process your worries, focus on your goals and generally feel a whole heap happier.
The hardest part is getting started – picking up the pen and writing the first word on the paper. That’s why, I thought I’d share 5 tricks I’ve learned along the way.
1. Buy a journal that sings to you
I am very particular about the diaries I write in. This seems odd, but something about a peppermint coloured journal makes me want to write in it. I can’t explain why, and I don’t need to, but I’m drawn to it. Choose a journal that in no way reminds you of work or school – so don’t be tempted to ‘just’ use a spiral bound notebook because you happen to have one in your office stationary cupboard. I run yoga and therapeutic writing retreats with yoga teacher Vicki Smart and her journal has a dinosaur on the front saying ‘Roar.’ She also writes in bright pink pen. It might seem like a small thing, but chose stationary that makes you smile.
2. Promise yourself no one will ever read your journal
As humans we are born performers and seek praise and reassurance. It’s very easy when we’ve written something we deem as ‘good’ to be tempted to call up our mum, our friends and read it to them. But you have to promise your subconscious that no matter what you write – good or bad, happy or sad – you won’t share it. You need to build up self-trust, otherwise you’ll always hold back in your writing. The point of journaling is to give yourself permission to express the thoughts you dare not say aloud.
3. Find creative comfort
Some people seek isolation and silence when they’re writing, but others need the energy of noise and other people. My favourite place to journal is actually in a busy café (see point number five) full of strangers, with a pot of milky chai tea and honey (sorry, but my creative brain needs a little sweetness). Even though I’m in public I always take my shoes off and sit crossed legged. Sometimes, if I’m writing about a topic that’s extra emotional, I put a cushion or balled up jumper over my belly. For some reason it brings me comfort. Work out the rituals that make you feel safe, and then give yourself permission to take time to set up an atmosphere conducive to you.
4. Remember, you’re not at school
Forget proper grammar, spelling mistakes and coherent sentences. Your journal is a space for non-judgment or criticism. On our yoga and writing retreats, we’ve had lawyers, politicians and teachers, who are professional perfectionists and squirm when I encourage them not to correct their own writing – to allow smudges, and crosses and words with missing letters. When you relax into your writing, and get into the ‘zone’, your attention to details might waver, but that’s just a sign you’re delving emotionally deeper. Remember, you’re not writing to impress anyone else.
5. Find an inspiring space
Since moving to Sydney from London four years ago to become the editor at Grazia magazine, I’ve been on a mission to find the best writing spots in the city, so I thought I’d share them. Whether you’re local, or visiting Sydney for the Vitality Show, maybe my favourite spots below will inspire you as much as they do me.
– Gertrude and Alice bookshop in Bondi Beach
Dark wood, shared tables, floor to ceiling bookshelves and their signature ‘L.S.D’ (latte soy dandelion) is a recipe for creativity. They also have special events, with talks from published authors, and it’s always full of wannabe novelists writing away.
– Bianco Nero in Gymea
The best thing about this café – apart from the fact they serve the best chai tea in The Shire – is they open at 6am. I apply the same rule to journaling as I do to exercise – the earlier the better – so I appreciate any café that caters to early birds.
– Workshop Espresso, CBD
For a long time I couldn’t find a café I loved in the city, then I discovered Workshop Espresso. Disclaimer; there isn’t a whole lot of seating but I personally like to be elbow-to-elbow with people as I write (and you never know who you might start a conversation with). If you need a writing retreat in the city, this is it. Fight you for a bar stool!
How do you benefit from writing? Tell us in the box below.