Tag: journaling

Writing as Self-Reflection: A Personal Writing Process

Josh Christian, Writing Consultant

When most people write, they do so with a goal in mind. Employees and employers write emails to communicate dates and quotas. Josh ChristianFamilies write texts to make dinner plans. Journalists write to meet a deadline. And students write to meet the requirements of their assignments.

Rarely is any form of writing done without some sort of purpose, to achieve or gain something. This is why not all forms of writing are valued equally by all people. If writing as an employer of a company or a journalist of some big-name paper, your writing will be valued over the student, who is only writing for a grade. What about writing that seems to have even less of a purpose, that isn’t done for a grade or paycheck?

Journaling is a perfect example. It is a form of writing that seems to have no purpose at all. It doesn’t exist to be seen or shared with anyone outside of the writer. So why do it? Here, I would argue that while journaling doesn’t seem to be accomplishing anything, it very much is. And the product of journaling is of endless value. If this is true, a personal writing practice adds to one’s life.

So why journal? Most think journaling is for the dreamy school-girl or angst-filled teen. However, these people don’t consider the benefits of journaling. When journaling, a person is choosing to reflect on a moment, maybe traumatic or joyous; they reflect on their day or the possibilities of a decision they have to make. Journaling is then a form of self-reflection, which is defined by google as “meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions, or motives.” Self-reflection can be found in most religious faiths, as they promote meditation as a religious practice.

The value of self-reflection has even been noted by major cooperations and business conglomerates, as they have integrated it into their various training programs to insure the making of responsible and effective leaders capable of learning and growing from their mistakes. At a personal level, self-reflection enables one to think over their past choices, words said and actions taken, becoming aware of how their actions or words affected others. Past decisions that caused broken relationships could go unnoticed if not for self-reflection. Journaling enables this form of self-reflection, as it allows one to write about their day, often in a narrative form, which allows for the assessment that leads to personal growth.

Similarly, journaling about an impending decision one has to make enables this form of self-reflection. When a person needs to make a decision about their future, say attending a specific university or taking a job, journaling enables them to reflect on their own characteristics and assess whether they are or are not a good fit for the university or position. Not only does journaling help one process their thoughts, it also helps one cope with the anxiety of the decision.

Sometimes it can feel like so much is at stake in making a decision, the anxiety is paramount, making it impossible to sleep or think. Journaling helps relieve this tension. As one writes out their thoughts and feelings, they process this anxiety and get space from their feelings, enabling them to think objectively. Thus, even in moments where one has to make a difficult decision, it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the many possibilities and weighty pros and cons. Journaling makes this process a bit easier.

Thus, journaling is not useless. It enables self-reflection that generates tangible results for people in their everyday lives. So if you are one of those people who think writing is just about achieving something, either commercially or academically, think again. Begin to incorporate journaling practices into your everyday life and watch as the benefits of self-reflection manifest. It only makes sense that a regular, personal writing practice that incorporates journaling would multiply these benefits. So, journaling, as a personal writing practice, is for everyone. It isn’t only for the journalist, novelist, student or businessmen. And writing does more than make profit. It adds infinite value to your life.

So, if you are thinking about beginning a personal writing practice, here are a few questions to get you started:

  • What did you say or do for someone to make their day better?
  • Did you say or do anything that could have hurt another person? If so, what?
  • What made you feel good, today? What made you feel bad?
  • Are you more anxious than usual? What is different that could be causing your anxiety?
  • How might you change something you have done or said today to have a more desired impact tomorrow, or in the coming days?

Growing as Writers through Journaling

Jeremy Dunn, Consultantjeremy-d

Now and then writers I work with in the Writing Center ask me if I know of any tips to help them improve their writing. I find that offering cogent suggestions isn’t always easy. Perhaps part of my difficulty in offering “easy” tips to improve writing lies in the glacial rate at which my own writing seems to progress, and it’s difficult to imagine easy fixes for the challenges we face as growing writers. Still, it’s important to acknowledge the desires of writers (myself included) who earnestly want to know what they can do outside of things like going to the Writing Center to help them develop their craft. So, here goes my attempt at mustering a nugget of writing advice: First, if possible, allow yourself to let go of the anxiety to “improve” your writing. Second, keep a journal. In this post, I’ll try to explain my reasoning for these suggestions.

We seem to live in a goal-oriented age full of sensationalized bullet lists for self-improvement. For example:

  • Seven steps to lose 30 pounds in 30 days
  • 10 habits of highly successful people
  • Three ways to live a longer, healthier life
  • 17.6632173333333 quick tips to becoming a smarter, stronger, better looking, wealthier, more well-liked human being

Jeez.

I resist trying to make writing advice fit this mold. While I think we can take measures to improve our writing, I’m afraid the goal of simply “being better” at writing sometimes eclipses the importance of writing itself.

But in the university, where students often equate writing with assessment, a goal-oriented approach to writing seems nearly unavoidable, perhaps even natural. I often hear things like “I want/need an ‘A’ on this paper” from writers I work with. To be honest, I think the same thing while writing my own papers, even as I tell myself grades aren’t the point of writing. As writers in the university, we are writing in what we perceive as high-stakes environments where, for better or worse, assessments and credential-getting come into play. We value GPAs as means to keep scholarships, advance professionally, and measure our performance. However, I would like to suggest that by writing in situations where we can suspend quantifiable goals, we might give ourselves a better opportunity to grow as writers at a more organic pace.

Give up goals of becoming better to become better? How does this work? While my suggestion is admittedly based on personal experience rather than extensive research, I will venture to defend my suggestion by showing what writing in a journal—a venue divorced from assessment—has done to help me progress as a writer.

I’ve kept a journal, writing with varying degrees of regularity, for years. Outside of required writing for school or the odd freelance job, journaling represents my most consistent writing and has generally been the writing I’ve enjoyed the most. Over the years, keeping a journal has given me the chance to write about whatever I’ve felt like writing about, free from the pressure of formality or worrying about an audience. My entries tend to be pretty mundane, often just recordings of a day’s events, but I think writing routine journal entries has helped me become a better writer over time. To explain my thinking here, I’ll try to draw an analogy between writing in my journal and playing soccer. There’s a connection eventually, I promise.

Growing up, I loved to play soccer. I spent hours each week in the backyard kicking the soccer ball around. These hours were unstructured time spent doing something I liked to do. I had no clear goal and generally was not consciously striving to get better, but as successive soccer seasons rolled by, I began to see that my time spent playing soccer in the backyard was helping me become a fundamentally better player in organized games.

When I think about the journaling I’ve done over the years, it occurs to me that in many ways my journaling parallels my time playing soccer in the backyard. I started writing in my journal simply because I sometimes felt like writing something down. Beyond that, I had no real goal. For instance, I might take an evening walk, and there would be something special about the walk—something in the cool air, the way the sun sank behind a nearby ridge, some memory that came to me as I experienced everything—that would make me want to write about the moment, that would inspire me to try to find the best words I could to describe the experience. I might return home and write a short journal entry about the walk, not as a conscious exercise in writing, but as an attempt to pen down an experience I wanted to remember. Writing would, I hoped, help me find the words to do some glimmer of justice to the experience. Trying to write about various events in my life in short journal entries turned out to be a fair amount of writing practice and helped me become more comfortable with writing in general.

Journaling hasn’t turned me into Shakespeare, but the practice has helped me grow little by little as a writer over time. My journal is a place where I’ve tried on different hats as a writer, a place where I’ve recorded funny episodes, random thoughts, or events from perfectly unremarkable days spent working and running errands. I’ve written through times of happiness, melancholy, frustration, and transition. I’ve written simply to write. Free from the fear of assessment or judgment, I’ve experimented and played with writing for years outside of any formal writing assignments.

As we continue to negotiate new genres, assignments, and challenges in academic settings, perhaps something as simple as journaling at night before bed could go a long way toward making us more practiced writers. Journaling offers us the chance to get to know our own voices a little better and, just maybe, can make us a little savvier in our writing when we meet the next writing project coming down the road.