Journal writing is one of the most productive ways to encourage your creativity. A journal can morph into something much more than just a daily recital of events and bring more creativity to you then you could ever expect.
I started keeping a journal when I was 18 in college as an acting student. My acting teachers had just come back from a trip to New York where they took the Ira Progoff Journal Workshop. This workshop had the participants divide their favorite notebook into several sections.
The first section was the Daily Log. This is where you write all the things that happened that day of note or even the ordinary activities of the day. You could also write your plans for the next day, so it served as a sort of a calendar and reminder. By divesting yourself of what is ordinary you opened the way for the other parts of the journal to spark your creativity.
The next section of the journal was devoted to Twilight images. This consisted of an exercise where you would get quiet and relaxed, close your eyes and see things floating through your mind as you do when you are just about to go to sleep. You might write down things that you see that have no logic to them. For example, when I closed my eyes just now and relaxed, I had the following images float across my mind; a mirror, a bottle of beer, people laughing. These images make no sense to me now, but they clear the mind to let in other images and thoughts that manifest as you progress through the journal.
Another section of the journal is called Felt Sense. This is where again, you get quiet, deep breathe, relax as much as possible, and start surveying your body for any place where you are feeling something slightly uncomfortable. For example, doing this just now, I noticed a tension in my neck and shoulders. You would then ask your body to tell you what that sensation might mean. What came up for me right now, was that the tension in my neck and shoulders was telling me that I was afraid that I am not up to the task of properly explaining this journal. It also was telling me that I was nervous and stressed out about the Hurricane that was predicted for the area in which I am living. Those thoughts you would write down in the Felt Sense part of your journal. All of things you write in your journal must be written with no judgement. You are just observing and writing. Practicing non-judgmental writing and acceptance of where you are at the moment, helps you be more confident of your feelings and thoughts as they exist, without censoring yourself or criticizing yourself for what you feel.
The Dream section of your journal is where you catalog the dreams you can remember at night. You keep a pad of paper and pen or your smartphone next to your bed and when you wake up try to grab onto a piece of the dream that you remember, and slowly bring it into more and more focus. Again, you write down your dream without judgement.
I kept this journal every day for years (20 to be exact) and I kept adding more sections that came to me. As you keep the journal your creativity becomes more pronounced and you too will find yourself adding more sections to the journal. For me it was Poetry where I would write down snippets of poetry that began to come to me during the day. Of course, you can’t carry a notebook around with you but when I started it was in the late 1970’s so I kept a small notepad with me and jotted down the poetry to be transcribed into my journal later.
Another section that I created was Conversations. These were conversations that I overheard in New York that stood out to me in some way. Some were just a funny line I heard someone say, others were conversations that made me shudder, like the commuters I overheard talking about how they were cheating on their wives. This can become great grist for the mill if you ever decide to write a short story or perhaps you express yourself more visually and want to create a section called Sketching where you sketch your images and ideas to incorporate later in a watercolor, painting or sculpture.
You may be wondering at this juncture but what is practical about keeping the journal? I can say for myself that I would never had started writing songs if it hadn’t been for keeping the journal. Many years after I started, I found myself starting to sing some of the poetry that I had turned into lyrics. Since I had a music background this seemed like a natural progression looking back. But it was a surprise to me when I first started.
Opportunities began to present themselves for me to write with some musicians and I did, but none of the songs really came to fruition until I met a monster guitar playing musician named Hui Cox, who had played with some other great musicians such as Cab Calloway, Buddy Miles, Stanley Turrentine, Dave Matthews, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra among others.
And who finally was also chosen as the guitarist for the Richie Haven’s Band. For those who are younger, Richie Havens came to national fame as the opening act to sing at Woodstock. He sang for three hours while other bands delayed to the festival, began to come in to perform. At the end of his performance having run out of songs to sing, he improvised a song based on the old spiritual “Motherless Child” that became “Freedom”.
Hui had written the melody of a song that sounded to me as wide and expansive as an African plain. He asked me if I would like to try and write lyrics to it. Knowing the political leanings of Richie, (he had long been a political activist and many of his songs took up the causes he was involved in). I decided to write lyrics to Hui’s song that talked about the apartheid in South Africa and the unjust jailing of Nelson Mandela at Robbin Island. At the time I was writing the song Mandela was still jailed, but by the time I finished the song just a few months later, Mandela had been released and apartheid was beginning to die a slow death. I decided to call the song Unkulunkulu which means God in Zulu. Since this article is not about the origins and process of writing the song, I note it here, because had I not kept a journal, I never would have written the song with Hui. It was recorded by Richie Havens. and played at Yankee Stadium during the concert for Nelson Mandela.
This was such a high point in my life, that I felt, and still feel such gratitude for having in some small way contributed to that historical event. This is what can come out of the simple act of beginning and continuing with writing a journal. My experience was not atypical. Painters, musicians, novelists and poets, historians and people in politics have all kept journals which have helped them carve out a career in the arts and elsewhere. I highly recommend you add it to your life for rapid self-development and unleashing your creativity.
There are other sections of the journal that the Progoff Journal Workshop book explains in great detail and I recommend you buy the book if you are serious about doing journal work. You can find out more by going to the site https://www.intensivejournal.org. To learn more about Deb Higgins go to www.debkhiggins.com
Deb has worked in mental health as a social worker helping her clients transform their lives.
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