Getting Started With Journaling
Editor's Note: This article was originally written by April Stearns and was originally shared on our sister site AdvancedBreastCancer.net
To learn a bit more about journaling and how to get started we sat down with April S, one of our ABC advocates, and got the scoop from her. This will be the first article in our journaling series. There can be so many great benefits to journaling and we wanted to share April's expertise and writing tips with the community to help get you started.
- Find something to write on - it can be a journal, paper, or a computer
- Set a goal for yourself - (10 min, 1 page, 1 story) and then see where it goes
- Make it a habit - try to write daily
- Find a safe space to keep your journal - not everyone wants to publish or share their story and that's ok. It can be freeing to write for yourself and know that you can be honest with your thoughts and feelings
- Give yourself permission to write whatever is coming out - the process is to release and explore those really deep feelings. There isn't a set structure or format
If you are interested in using prompts you can buy a journal that has daily prompts already in the journal or you can write your own prompts. Here are a few suggested prompt journals, Burn After Writing by Sharon Jones and Becoming: A Guided Journal for Discovering Your Voice by Michelle Obama.
Here are a few prompts I like to use:
I know the real truth about
You can write this at the top of the page and use it over and over again. Some examples I've used are, I know the real truth about being diagnosed with stage three cancer. I know the real truth about having a 3-year-old when I was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. I know the real truth about having intimacy issues. This type of prompt can help you really dig down into your own personal truth.
I'm ready to feel...
I'm ready to feel happiness... I'm ready to feel grief... I'm ready to feel forgiven... I'm ready to feel whatever it is for you that day.
A lot of people use the same prompt every single day so you can just write this at the top of your page and then revisit it each day and see what's different about that particular day. Explore what you are feeling that day and how it can be something completely different. It can be interesting to see how you're thinking evolves.
Lists are another way to journal or write about how you are feeling. One example of a list is you can write 10 things that you want to come into your life. When journaling< in this format I draw a line down the side of the page and on one side I write "What I have" and on the other side, I write "What I want." Personally, this format has helped me identify and set goals and realize areas where I want to spend more time, energy, or focus. I have written "increased time with children or with people I love." With lists, you want to try and be very specific because generating a list can help you clarify what you are feeling or wanting/needing in your life.
One additional benefit of creating a list is that any of these items can become a writing prompt. Suddenly from your list, you have created 20 writing prompts that you can then use and write paragraphs on each of those.
Writing a letter
Another format you can use is writing a letter. "Dear..." One thing to know about writing a letter is it can be helpful entering into writing that you acknowledge or write from the standpoint that no one is ever going to see it or read it. It is a slightly easier way to get to the truth and be honest without feeling like you need to write the letter really well or worry about protecting anyone. It can lead to sharing more honest feelings.
Some letter ideas can be writing a letter to your spouse thanking them for their caregiving, or your healthcare provider about why you really wanted the treatment or surgery that you got.
Some people write letters to their children. You can write a letter to your child now based on their current age or you can also write a letter to your child as a future adult. This gives you an extra layer of permission - here is the real truth or the real story which may allow you to explain at a higher level what is going on but what you weren't able to tell then at the time. This is a big topic of interest so look for another article in this series that will focus on writing a story or stories for your children.
Other suggestions as you start journaling
- Writing or journaling does not have to be original content and you don't need to say or write something fabulous every day. Start small and give yourself permission to write what you feel.
- Give yourself permission to keep writing over and over again. Even if you forget or stop for a few months it doesn't mean you can never journal again. You can just pick back up and start again when you are ready.
- Write about what you are feeling - it's ok to jump around. This is for you!
- Best practice – log how many days you have been writing! Feel proud of what you have accomplished!
- I am personally a big fan of the journaling for time format. I always set a timer. Remember you don't want it to feel too big especially if you are just getting started.
Editor's note: Want to read more about journaling? Check out April's articles: Exploring Blogging as a Newly Diagnosed Patient and The Power of the Unsent Letter.
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