A two-step journaling process (for when you’re feeling stuck or scared)

“My writer self is braver than the rest of me.” — Natalie Goldberg

On one of our recent group calls, a fellow participant in Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle asked me how I use journaling when I’m feeling stuck on my fiction writing. I thought I’d share my process, in case others might benefit from it.

My journal is one of the safest spaces I know.

And I’m someone who’s struggled a lot with safety. (I remember when I was an undergraduate, a teacher had us do an exercise that started with the sentence “Imagine you’re in a safe space.” At that time, I literally could not think of a safe space, so I couldn’t go on with the exercise.)

Safety is important. We’re often told to “take creative risks” and “really put ourselves out there,” but we’re doing ourselves a disservice if we pretend that isn’t scary, if we pretend that we feel safe, when in fact we do not. Nothing creates a feeling of stuckness like pretending we feel differently than we actually do.

So, a lot of the time, when I’m feeling stuck or scared as I’m trying to write, it’s because I’m not feeling safe.

Safe to what?

Safe to explore. Safe to write the worst crap imaginable. Safe to share only what I’m ready to share. Safe to be with the discomfort of whatever’s coming up for me. Safe to write that thing that brings up the pain of the past.

So getting away from my document on the computer (which can feel so oddly “formal”) and going to my journaling notebook is STEP ONE of creating safety. I think of the journal as a room, a room where there’s only me (and anyone else with whom I feel completely safe).

From this point on (STEP TWO), I ask myself questions on the page.

Any of the following questions are good jumping-off points.

* What do I really want to say that I’m not allowing myself to say?

* What’s the worst thing that can happen if I write the thing I’m afraid to write?

* Why don’t I want to write this thing?

* What’s the worst thing that can happen if I make a wrong turn?

* Do I actually need to step away from the story right now? (If the answer is yes, follow this one up with “How can I make that feel okay?”)

* Where is the tension (fear, stress, sadness) located in my body right now? If that tension had a voice, what would it say?

* What does this particular feeling of stuckness remind me of?

* If I had a guarantee that no one but me would ever read this writing, what would I write now? (This one can really point us to where we are censoring ourselves.)

* Am I truly ready to write this story? Why or why not?

* If I honestly don’t know where to go with the story right now, how might I open myself up to all the possibilities?

Take one of these questions, and run with it. Don’t deliberate too much over which question to choose — they’re all designed to create movement, which is what we need when we’re feeling stuck. Go with one of the questions and keep writing until you feel ready to stop. Often, new questions arise for me while I’m writing, and I ponder those, too, on the page.

A page from my journal: answering the questions, + doodling

A page from my journal: answering the questions, + doodling

This process does not have to take a lot of time — I often do it in ten minutes or so. The idea here is not to find the perfect answer to the question (there isn’t one). The idea is to dig beneath your surface “stuckness” and generate a new perspective. “Feeling stuck” is nothing more than believing something about your writing or yourself that is not helpful.

You can probably come up with other, better questions. Make a master list of them and have it on hand for times when you’re sitting in front of the computer and the sweat on your forehead feels like blood. We don’t have to make the act of writing so dramatic (put that drama on the page!).

(By the way, you can transfer this process to any art form, or anything at all that you’re feeling stuck on.)

What do you do when you’re feeling stuck on your writing, artwork, or any other creative project? Please share in the comments!

On that note, Aug. 15 is the last day I’ll be offering my Free Mini Unsticky Sessions! (I’ll be offering them for a low cost, in a slightly different format, after Aug. 15.) Want to grab one? Check them out, here.

And: This Thursday, Aug. 8, is the last day to register for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle. I’ve been a member of this group for going on two years now (I’m also one of the coaches) and it’s been an amazing source of support for me. Interested? Read more, here.

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9 thoughts on “A two-step journaling process (for when you’re feeling stuck or scared)

  1. Jill,
    Wow. You’ve really hit on such a vitally important dimension: Safety. Our journals can be one of the safest places to go to for solace, unloading what scares us, and it can help us shrink our fears down to size. I love the idea of the movement the questions you provide can create so we don’t feel stuck in the mire of fear. The questions can really help us get to the root of what is bothering us, which can truly give us a fresh perspective and even confidence in what we’re capable of.

    I have chosen your post, A Two-Step Journaling Process (for when you’re feeling stuck or scared), for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 8/6/13 for all things journaling on Twitter; a link will be posted on the social networks, on my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in my weekly Refresh Journal: http://tinyurl.com/kjs6kvc.

    #JournalChat Live is every Thursday, 5 EST/2 PST, for all things journaling on Twitter; our topic this week is Your Journaling: Find Your Niche!

    I just love this whole process you shared, Jill. It can truly help activate a more empowered mindset when we need it most.

    Thank you.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    Your Refreshment Specialist
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter

    Like

    • Thank you so much, Dawn! Safety truly is vital and I think it’s not mentioned enough when we talk about creativity. I so appreciate being your Pick of the Day! Always great to hear from you. 🙂

      Like

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