Keeping a daily journal seems to be the common wisdom from the multitude of books and podcasts devoted to entrepreneurship, and for good reason—it’s a great clarifier. I’ve never been that good at writing a journal as a record of what I’ve done. I start with good intentions but very quickly I forget, it doesn’t seem that important, or there seems to be more pressing things to do. So I don’t do a journal to document my life—who would read it anyway, right? What I have started to do, first thing in the morning, is to use journaling as a way to clear my mind of the thoughts and ideas that are inevitably going round in my head, and this is how entrepreneurs like Tim Ferriss and many others use journaling as well. It’s not something I’m doing for anyone else to read, nor is it anything I’m likely to go back and read myself, but rather it’s a disciplined practice to clear my mind so I can focus on the task at hand—which is usually writing in the mornings.
On The Tim Ferriss Show Brian Koppelman (screenwriter, novelist, director, podcaster, and producer) talks about his practice of journaling called Morning Pages from a book and system by Julia Cameron called The Artist’s Way. Cameron is a prolific writer and her books on this subject have been around for a few decades now. Essentially Morning Pages is automatic “stream of consciousness” writing. Here’s what Kopelman had to say to Ferriss about Morning Pages:
“It’s three longhand pages where you just keep the pen moving for three pages, no matter what. No censoring, no rereading. It’s the closest thing to magic I’ve come across. If you really do it every day in a real disciplined practice, something happens to your subconscious that allows you to get to your most creative place. I’d say—and I know you’ve had this experience with other things you’ve give people—I’ve given that book to 100 people and said, “I’m telling you, you need to do this…” Of the 100 people I’ve given it to, maybe ten of them have actually opened the book and done the exercises. Of those ten, seven have had books, movies, TV shows, and made out successful, It’s incredible. That book changed my life, even though it’s very spiritual and I’m an atheist.” (Ferriss, 2016, pp. 614-617)
You can find out more about Morning Pages and The Artis’s Way at http://juliacameronlive.com, where you will also find an online video course.
One of the barriers that I’ve had to overcome—and this might sound a little weird—is bringing myself to journal like this in those beautiful leather bound books people give you for Christmas or your birthday. I’ve had these things sitting in my draw, ageing nicely, but have never wanted to write “just anything” in them. Because they look so nice I wanted to write something special, something enduring, profound, that would be worthy of the beautiful leather cover. Well, the special, enduring, profound writings never came—not at 5am or 9pm when I had time to journal. So the books just stayed in storage. I don’t want to use my laptop because I don’t want to start the day with a screen and I want to capture the difference handwriting makes over typing, so it’s to the cheap notebooks. Well now I’m realising that it’s OK to use these journals to process my thoughts (probably because I’m getting older and accumulating more of them) and so I do, and it’s liberating. Using these leather-bound books gives the process—and it’s all about the process, not the content—an importance that it doesn’t have if I was writing in cheap $1 notebook.
Understanding that it’s the process of getting your thoughts out onto paper that is more important than the content will liberate you to start writing—it’s not going to be a well constructed publishable work of art. Sometimes the act of writing is just about getting ideas out of your head, or worries and other life concerns that are bouncing around in your brain. At other times the journaling can become a way of figuring things out. When we take vague ideas, concepts, emotions (those “gut feelings”), from the right hemisphere of our brain and translate them into language in the left prefrontal part of our brain, and then use parts of our motor cortex to write down the words, and feedback those words by reading them as we are writing, there is a wonderful integrative process of clarity that happens (sometimes).
I use this technique with clients in therapy and there is a whole school of practice called Narrative Therapy that leans heavily on constructing and deconstructing your own story—and writing is a big part of that process. It never fails to amaze me what people discover about themselves when they start writing about their feelings, experiences, and ideas. It may not be a linear story, it may look more like a mind map; a bunch of interconnected ideas, feelings, relationships, with arrows and squiggles to highlight different things. What they are doing when writing their story, or simply defining their emotions, is taking content and externalising it. Turning emotions into words and writing those words out on paper and have it before you is a way of “grasping” (a left-hemisphere concept) things and becoming more objective than if they remain floating around in your head.
I encourage you to try journaling in the morning. It may only be 10 minutes of your day, but can have a huge impact. If you want a process to follow then check out what Julia Cameron has to say or simply Google “journaling” and you will find lots of resources.
Ferriss, T. (2016). Tools of titans: The tactics, routines and habits of billionaires, icons and world-class performers. London: Vermilion.