Journaling: Your Greatest Investment

Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 12.22.16 AMOne of the questions I am asked most frequently about the process of writing is which is most important: the writing or the publishing? It’s a good question, but like everything else associated with the practice of writing, it’s not an easy one to answer.

When we look at the process of writing, we can first break it into five simple, yet recursive, steps: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.

In recent years, some writing initiatives, such as the 6+1 Traits concept, bring greater depth and meaning behind each step of the writing process. Those who apply this strategy toward writing are mindful of ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions. The “+1” represents publishing in some format. When you lay the traits over the process, you begin to get a pretty exhaustive approach to writing with intent, and often with success in connecting with your intended audience.

So when I’m asked whether writing or publishing is more important, it’s not an easy answer; both are so interconnected with each other. Even if we rephrase the question and ask, “Which is more important: Process or Product?” we are left with two very generic categories that cannot be separated.

My answer, invariably, ends up turning some heads.

“Neither,” I offer. What I think is most important is what happens before we start writing for an audience, and certainly before we consider publishing for an audience beyond ourselves.”

When they ask me to explain, all I need to do is reach into my ripped and well-traveled book bag and pull out two, three, maybe even four books of various sizes, colors, and even textures. Within each book, the pages might differ as well: lined or unlined, heavy or light stock, glossy or coarse.

These are my Daybooks, my journals, my greatest investment in my writing, and my greatest investment in defining with authenticity who I am as an individual.

IMG_2481I have been journaling since I was in 7th grade, when I started playing around with various essay formats on defining, of all things, love. When I would open my cheap spiralbound books bought at Woolworth’s for a few dimes, I felt an immediate rush of trust in this process of journaling for an audience of one — myself. I would jot down notes about my daily observations, my feelings about my experiences, and my philosophic ponderings about life and our existence. Even at the young age of 12, I allowed myself to tell the “Watcher at the Gates” guarding my thoughts to be gone. When it came to writing in my Daybook, there were no inhibitions, no rules, no exceptions. Just me and the page; that’s all that mattered.

Today, nearly 40 years later, I am still journaling as furiously as I did in my younger days. I now have many different journals dedicated to specific writing projects and purposes: some are for in-process novels, others are for Christian or spiritual reflections, and even more are are for my “Morning Pages” (a huge shout out to Julie Cameron for her inspiration in The Artist’s Way and other creativity books).

Most recently, I have started using specific Daybooks for art journals, which has been therapeutic in an entirely different way.

In every case, though, journaling/Daybooking has enabled me to invest in myself, in my writing, and in my understanding of the human condition. It is both spiritual and practical, theoretical and theological. When I am spending time in my Daybook, I am spending time growing, understanding, and experiencing humility, grace, patience, and service.

The many volumes of completed Daybooks that I have accrued are, at times, fun to look at and reflect on where I was at each stage in my life. But when I do take a peek at the past, I realize, over and over again, that these Daybooks are filled with words of what I needed to write, to say, at that time in my life. For the most part, 95% of those words never saw the light of day in published form; on the other hand, 95% of those words contributed significantly to who I am today.

And that is why I believe Journaling has been my greatest investment.

A few shout outs: First, to Dawn Herring at www.dawnherring.net. She’s a leading expert in the field of journaling, and she’s doing some great things for others with her #JournalChat sessions on Twitter. She inspired me to write about journaling, and I am grateful for the invitation.

Also, I use journaling and Daybooking with all of my fellow writers that I work with on a daily basis to help them find the courage they need to write their memoir. It’s never easy, and I’ve found that journaling is the best remedy to crack the ice and get to the heart of the stories still untold.

If you are interested in learning more about The LifeStory Lighthouse, check out this story about our plan to share the world’s stories, one word, one idea, at a time: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-lifestory-lighthouse/x/13401651#/.

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On Being Creative: Living A Mindful and Inspired Life

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I have been in this cafe for a little over an hour, writing in my Daybook to the ambient sounds of chatter, the clanging of dishes, all blended with the meditative, hollow sounds of Deuter playing his bamboo flute. On these pages, I have written about singular moments I experienced decades ago along the marshy lands lining the Patuxent River, the beautiful flow of my life in this present here in Baltimore, and the possibilities that await elsewhere in this world with an open heart.

It was not hard to get here. In fact, I’m not really in a cafe at all. Try a dining room table in my suburban home next to my kids who are experimenting with crayons, sketch pencils, and a lot of funny faces.

But I feel like I am in a cafe, thanks to the assistance of coffitivity.com with the background noise. Because of their creative and innovative thinking, I am able (as are you) to find a fertile environment for creativity anywhere and at anytime.

(I have to admit, I discovered Coffitivity in Anahad O’Connor’s article in the New York Times (published 6/21/13), How The Hum of a Coffee Shop Can Boost Creativity. O’Connor cites a fantastic study published in the Journal of Consumer Research on the correlation between ambient noise and enhanced creativity. The findings by Mehta, Zhu, and Cheema — the authors of the study,  through a series of five experiments, showed how and why moderate ambient background noise can enhance creativity, primarily by opening up the mind to think more abstractly.)

Being creative: it doesn’t take planning, or great orchestration, or even cooperation from others.

All it really takes is a decision, on your behalf, to embrace the powers of creativity within you and live a mindful and inspired life.

Too busy? Too old? Not your style?

Nope. Sorry — Not buying it. Everybody’s busy doing the work that everybody else expects, we all think we are older than we really are, and too many of us are trying to discard the things we have been told are foolish, childish, and a downright waste of our time.

I’m not buying any of it, and you shouldn’t either.

We have been fed, far too long, the belief that “being creative” is something extreme artists do. They are poor, they are messy, and they are crazy, wild madmen and madwomen set out to do outrageous things.

Those creative types, always cutting off their ears and stuff. Really! Get over it already and find a real job like everybody else!

Yes. Creativity has gotten a pretty bad rap over the last century or so. It’s not your fault, though, and it’s not even your parents’ fault; it goes a little deeper than that. But we don’t need to be concerned about the past so much. We need to be concerned about what is happening to creativity right now to you, me, and even our children in our heavily funded school systems. (if you haven’t stumbled over this TedTalk gem by Sir Ken Robinson, go grab a fresh cup of coffee and push play; you won’t be disappointed.)

The Suppression of Creativity

Julia Cameron, author of the best-selling book and program, The Artist’s Way, has spent her entire career fighting for the right of all individuals, young and old, to reclaim their creative souls and live a more mindful, inspired life. In her follow-up to Artist’s Way, Vein of Gold, she argues that the first step is to awaken from the ho-hum expectations passed down to us. “Most of us are not raised to actively encounter our destiny. We may not know we have one. As children, we are seldom told we have a place in life that is uniquely ours alone. Instead, we are encouraged to believe that our life should somehow fulfill the expectations of others, that we will (or should) find our satisfactions as they have found theirs.”

How sad! But it makes sense, doesn’t it? Somewhere in our childhood, right around the age of 8 or 9, our lives changed. The time had arrived to put away the colored pencils and get “serious” about life.

Cameron continues: “Rather than being taught to ask ourselves who we are, we are schooled to ask others. We are, in effect, trained to listen to others’ versions of ourselves. We are brought up in our life as told to us by someone else! When we survey our lives, seeking to fulfill our creativity, we often see we had a dream that went glimmering because we believed, and those around us believed, that the dream was beyond our reach. Many of us would have been, or at least might have been, done, tried something, if…If we had known who we really were. But how were we to know?”

Ugh. It makes me sick every time I think about how we suppress the very key to innovative thinking and inspired living. Our greatest accomplishments in the history of our world have come about from being creative! And yet, we treat creativity like some banished, bad kid who has spent a little too much time being naughty, wasting everyone’s time with silly games and stupid thoughts.

And, now that we are older, we seem to think that it is just too late to do anything about it.

But I have a family, a job, other responsibilities now…

Yes. Most of us do. But the truth is this (and here’s where we can boldly begin to discard the excuses and the worries): We can use these constraints to our advantage, once we accept creativity back into our lives.

Turning Constraints into Creative Opportunities

Daniel Levitin, speaking on “Creativity in Music: Constraints and Innovation” at Stanford University’s Behavioral Science Summit earlier this month, argued that much of our creative explorations that have led to masterpieces are a result of evolution, rather than just revolution.

Levitin defines creativity in the following way: “Works of art that we judge to be the most creative involve the artists working under constraints to produce something novel, or something that pushes the edges of these assumed constraints.”

In other words, because of these constraints, our creativity can manifest into great things, for ourselves, for our communities, or for the world.

Well, it’s not too late. I am here to tell you: You are a creative individual, and you have the right and the duty to live a mindful and inspired life right now. Maybe it’s time to take an online creative writing course, or at the very least, head to your local bookstore and pick up a new journal and begin creating. What matters most, right now, is that you realize there’s a creative YOU waiting to be rediscovered, right now, and you don’t have to do anything extreme to bring creativity back into your life.

Why wait any longer? A creative, mindful, and inspired life is waiting within you, ready to be ignited.

Coming up later in the week: I want to talk more about establishing the Daybook essentials and how this single creativity journal serves as the key to fostering a creative routine in your life.