Sunday, August 25, 2013

Sunday Salon: Books on Journaling

I wish I could say I have always journaled.  Re-reading old notebooks filled with daily activities and harbored secrets would provide great insight into who I am today.  Fond memories could be relived over and over again, and documentation of answered prayers and dreams-come-true would bring hope in times of difficulty.  I think I have always wanted to be a journaler, but once I start writing it becomes difficult to stop, and the time commitment seemed too great.

About four years ago I began the practice of Morning Pages as outlined in Julia Cameron's popular book, The Artist's Way.  I use an online website that tallies my daily entry of 750 words.  Much of what I write is a retelling of the events the day before.  There is little soul-searching in these early morning snippets, but it does clear away the cobwebs and helps me to practice the writing process.

Last year I began a devotional journal, which I added to this morning writing routine.  I use the popular website, YouVersion, to access a daily devotional message and the scripture which inspired it.  This method of journaling helps me to connect with my spiritual self.  In this journal I tend to reflect on my past in order to gain insight into my present, and then discern where God would like to direct my path in the future.  Where the morning pages are more factual in nature, the devotional pages are more insightful and thought-provoking.

This past spring I was introduced to the concept of Expressive Writing, a style of journaling that focuses on emotions and feelings rather than the events that caused them.  First developed by James Pennebaker, Chair of Psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, this kind of writing has proved to have tremendous mental as well as physical health benefits.  Since April I have read many books on the generic topic of journaling as well as the specific idea of journaling to promote healing.  I thought it might be of value to some of you if I provided a quick summary of those I considered most noteworthy.

Writing as a Way of Healing (by Louise DaSalvo)  The author references Pennebaker throughout the book, but her writing style is very easy to understand (whereas I found the works by Pennebaker to be too laden with scientific jargon).  One of the quotes that I highlighted from the book is found on page 31:
I didn't know that if you want to write, you must follow your desire to write.  And that your writing will help you unravel the knots in your heart.  I didn't know that you could write simply to take care of yourself, even if you have no desire to publish your work.  I didn't know that if you want to become a writer, eventually you'll learn through your writing - and only through writing - all you need to know about your craft.  And that while you're learning, you're engaging in soul-satisfying, deeply nurturing labor.  I didn't know that if you want to write and don't because you don't feel worthy enough or able enough, not writing will eventually begin to erase who you are.

A  Voice of Her Own (by Marlene Schiwy)  I found this gem at the popular used bookstore in Nashville, McKay's Books.  A four dollar investment yielded a treasure of insightful information.  Here is a quote found on page 99:
Your diary is your one place in life where all of the inner voices that clamor for attention can speak and be heard.  Most of them have been suppressed for so long that they won't speak out at all if they anticipate harsh criticism.  Be gentle with them.  

There are two internal figures that exist in all of us:  the muse and the editor.  But if the editor kicks in prematurely, the muse gets edited right out of existence.

Journal to the Self (by Kathleen Adams)  To be honest I don't remember where I first heard of this book.  It could have been recommended reading from one of the classes I took this summer, or it could have been a suggestion on a popular book site of people who purchased this book also purchased... In any case, there were some useful nuggets within, like this found on page 42 (my formatting):
What it means to write naturally:
*  You trust your inner wisdom to guide you to the places you need to go.
*  You let yourself be you
*  There is only one person who can write the story of you --- YOU.
*  You pick up your journal when the mood hits, and put it down when the mood shifts.

The Story of Your Life (by Mandy Aftel)  Absolutely fabulous book!  I just finished it this week and it will definitely become a permanent fixture on my personal bookshelves.  In essence the book states that we are the authors of our own lives.  We may not be able to change the past, but we can change our perspective of past events.  We may not have complete control over our future, but we do have the ability to adjust our plots if we do not like the story we are living.  I think I learned as much about literary analysis by reading this book as I did about private journaling.  One of the many quotes that I chose to write down is found on page 26:
Plot in fiction is constructed by the author and laid out for the reader.  Plot in life is more like a mystery we try to solve by telling and retelling stories.  In life our stories are always open-ended, evolving and changing to reflect our own growth.  Key points to remember about plotting:

  • All plots are character driven.  We use plotting to understand character - our own and everyone else.
  • Plots are thoughts, feelings, actions and events that we shape into narratives through language.   Words help us to develop and crystallize our sense of who we are.  We create, define, and revise our identities by choosing what to include in our plots and how to express it.
  • Successful plotting depends on our willingness to scrutinize our stories and look for patterns that reveal deeper story.  Unsuccessful plotting takes no thought at all.

Writing Down Your Soul (by Janet Connor)  This book was on the recommended reading list of the Spiritual Journaling class I took this summer.  I found this book quite practical as it gives a detailed list of questions (about 20-25 pages worth...) to answer in an effort to reconnect with your deeper self.  I have not answered all the questions yet (as a matter of fact, I have just barely started), but I intend to refer to these prompts over the next several months.  The author details some of the major differences between soul journaling and other forms of journaling on page 246:
Soul Journaling....
*  Begins with a personal writing ritual
*  Happens in a sacred place
*  Includes deep breathing
*  Directly addresses "the voice" (for me, the voice would be God)
*  Involves writing at the same time for 30 days
*  Writing fast 
*  Engaging all five senses
*  Does not judge, evaluate or edit what appears on the page
*  Activates "the voice" with questions
*  Provides a process to recognize and partner with the inner critic
*  Elicits guidance to improve life

Journaling as a Spiritual Practice (by Helen Cepero)  Another book recommended during the Spiritual Writing course and the one that I found most helpful to me.  The author is more explicit in her view of God as the inner voice, which for me was a point of common interest.  For others, this may not be your particular point of view.  The following quote, found on page 32, would be indicative of the tone, message and purpose of this entire book:
One of the best gifts of a journal is that it gives you a place to show up.  As you write you may discover where you actually are.  When you know where you are, you may also see what is true, hear from your own voice, gain an understanding of something that has troubled or puzzled you, or savor again a joy that might have slid by unnoticed.  Most of all, you gain a clearer view of God's presence with you, in you, and around you.

While I may not be a life-long journaler, I know that I will continue journaling for the rest of my life.  And I will always be on the lookout for books that will help me to reap the greater benefit from this practice.  If you have a favorite book on this subject, I would welcome the recommendation.


  1. These books all sound wonderful. As I was reading about them, I remembered a book that I found valuable. It's called Writing the Mind Alive: the Proprioceptive Method of Findinf Your Authentic Voice. Writing fiction also helps a writer to understand herself, as the characters are always some aspect of the writer's personality, that she is trying to integrate, and plot flows naturally out oa the characters' thoughts and feelings. Emotions cause action, for good or ill.

  2. I've been journaling for years but it's not something I do very often nowadays. A favorite book of mine on the subject is Leaving a Trace by Alexandra Johnson. Have a good week.

  3. I kept a journal years and years ago, but somehow fell out of the habit. I think the only type of journal I have been faithful about keeping is my reading journal--it seems to suit me best at this point in my life.

    I really haven't read any books about journaling. I can definitely see the value in journaling--especially on a spiritual level. It's something I wish I was better at.

  4. I have been trying to get into the habit of morning pages. Thank you for this list. I am going to save it and get the books listed here.