When vaccinations became available, that was when we though we’d be able to breathe a collective sigh of relief and resume regular life. No, that didn’t happen.
After the second (North American) winter of a global pandemic, I’m no longer waiting for things in the world at large to improve. For all we know that won’t happen—at least not in a way we can envision now. Powerful currents—the global climate crisis, war, naked hatred, tribalism, cellular-level fear, and mistrust—swirl among us and drive events.
Several new habits are helping me adapt to the changes. Routine phone calls and Zooms with loved ones, colleagues, and friends have become anchors for me. Our conversations combine reassurance and support with practical suggestions—and brief, shared, descents into despair. More walks outdoors, better hydration, escapist reading, and the occasional nap are all helping. And one old habit, journaling, supports me every day.
It’s a great time to consider cultivating a journaling practice if you don’t already have one. If you are more swamped than ever with demands from others who live under the same roof, what follows may be of limited use. If, however, you see the possibility of unassigned time in the week, here are some ideas.
1. Welcome everything. Your journal is uncritical and agnostic. All thoughts are welcome here. Anything. For all the things you’re thinking but not comfortable saying, your journal is a safe receptacle. It also welcomes ideas you didn’t even know about—sometimes you can channel inspiration directly onto the page, bypassing most of your conscious thought processes.
2. Use your journal as a time capsule. Ticket stubs, receipts, Polaroids, drawings, pressed flowers, clippings, memorabilia—these can all live in your journal.
3. Stash your present moment awareness. Capture a moment, a strong sensation, an inspired idea. No time like the present.
4. Plan. For a comprehensive point-by-point list or agenda to one-by-one marginalia, your journal is a great place to track the things you intend to do.
5. Compose your morning pages. Julia Cameron’s time-honored three pages a day have populated millions of journals.
6. Draft, draft, draft. Struggling with the wording for a letter, email, phone call, or other challenging interaction? Want to send a heartfelt greeting to a loved one? Start writing out your thoughts in your journal, knowing that you can cross out, insert, mark up, walk away, come back, rewrite, and polish in private until you have what you need.
7. Sit with a trusted friend. I’ve called my journal my silent companion. Not an exaggeration, that describes the bond I feel with the once-blank notebooks that have accompanied me for decades. I rely on my relationship with my journal and know it has the power to support me.
8. Figure out what’s feeling off. Something’s not right. But what? Start writing about it. Often the pause—to step back and consider in your journal—is what you need to get to the heart of whatever needs to be addressed.
9. Name the emotions. Research suggests that emotions won’t hijack our mental, biochemical, and physiological processes when we are able to recognize our emotions, feel them, and release them. When you sense that you’re in the grip of your emotions, you may need a place to focus on what exactly is going on. Grab your journal and find the words for how you’re feeling.
Once you’ve been journaling for a while, you can then add the following ideas:
10. Revisit old entries for retrospective fodder. In search of lost time? Use past entries to discover what you wrote about back then. The choices you made—your entries as well as your omissions—are as important as the contents. Looking back can offer tremendous insight. Patterns emerge and a new way forward reveals itself.
11. Study in your research library. Need specific information about a specific day or date range? Your previous journal entries will provide some you-were-there immediacy.
Amid all the uncertainty and unrest, center yourself with a journaling practice. Trust your inner wisdom to show up and give it a safe place to be seen and heard.
A M (Anne) Carley is a writer and creativity coach at annecarleycreative.com. Journaling is an important part of her practice. Continuing the themes in her book FLOAT: Becoming Unstuck for Writers, Anne’s forthcoming handbook, FLOAT Journaling, offers practical ways to introduce or develop a journaling practice to support your writing.