A photograph of an open journal with the words, "Writing saved my life, I truly believe that. Writing has allowed me to right my life! And writing set me free."

My Journaling Life (Part 2) … How It All Began

Hey there! It’s good to see you here. My name is Lizzie, and I am the redhead who is always wondering! Wondering about life, about this beautiful world, about words and light and colour and form. And mostly about how I can be the best me that I can possibly be. 

I am a creator of hand bound books and of art, in the form of cyanotypes and photographs. I am also an avid journal-keeper and I’d like to share some of my journal wonderings with you today …. 

Why Did I Start Journaling?

My journaling journey all started over twenty years ago with the gift of a book … The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I was in a pretty dark place … a toxic relationship, inferiority complex, self-esteem beaten out of me … and a woman I knew (one of the most self-assured women I have ever met) gave me the book, and simply said, “I think you need this!”.

If you don’t know the Artist’s Way, it’s a creative recovery self-help book; lots of tasks and reading around becoming the creative person you want to be, that you’re meant to be.

The main tool is Morning Pages. You show up at your journal every morning, and you write …. Three pages, stream of consciousness freewriting … I know! Scary, right?! Here’s what Julia Cameron says about them:

“Morning pages are non-negotiable … Morning pages will teach you that your mood doesn’t really matter … Morning pages will teach you to stop judging and just let yourself write … Anyone who faithfully writes morning pages will be led to a connection with a source of wisdom within.”

Julia Cameron

The First Time Round

The first time I went through the Artist’s Way 12 week program (because I’ve actually done it three times over the last 22 years … but more about that another day, methinks!), I did not know what to expect. At All.

I mean, all my friend said was, “I think you need this”.

Need what??

But I opened it and started to read. And I immediately felt a resonance with what Julia Cameron said …

“Many of us wish we were more creative. Many of us sense we ARE more creative, but unable to effectively tap that creativity. Our dreams elude us. Our lives feel somehow flat. We hunger for what might be called creative living.”

Julia Cameron

That was me. Right there. I knew I wanted to be creative. I knew I had it in me to be creative. But I didn’t believe in myself enough to voice that, even to myself.

So, that main tool in what Ms Cameron calls her “spiritual path to higher creativity”, what she calls Morning Pages … three pages of stream of consciousness writing every morning … basically – it’s keeping a journal.

And it changed my life. Keeping a journal CAN do that.

I’ve Always Been One for The Gold Stars

Not that I ever put any pressure on myself or anything (that’s a joke, by the way!), but if I’m going to do something, I HAVE to do it RIGHT. My husband calls this my need for The Gold Stars, and he’s not wrong!

So, I decided that I would do the Artist’s Way “properly”, I would follow each step, do all the tasks each week, and NOT read ahead to what was coming up the next week. I was very disciplined about that. I so wanted it to work, that I knew I would give it my very best shot.

Following the Program

On the last evening of each week, as I did the final tasks, the summing up of how the week had been for me, I would write about all the feelings that had come up for me during the last 7 days; all the ideas/words/thoughts that had come pouring out onto the page. All the emotions that doing the tasks had brought up … fears, anger, pain, self-doubt … self-realisation.

And then I would turn the page to the next week’s chapter …

And here’s the thing …. The next week would invariably be looking at one or all of the feelings I’d just been writing about!! This blew me away! I had been so disciplined, I didn’t “cheat” by sneaking a peak at what was coming up, hell, I didn’t even look at the Index at the start of the book!

I remember so vividly writing about all the anger that had bubbled up in my morning pages that week, about how angry I was at how I was being treated, how angry I was that I was not allowed to be myself or have my own opinions.

And then turning the page to read about how we can turn anger into fuel.

“Anger is fuel. We feel it and we want to do something. Hit someone, break something, throw a fit, smash a fist into the wall, tell those bastards. But we are nice people, and what we do with our anger is stuff it, deny it, bury it, block it, hide it, lie about it, medicate it, muffle it, ignore it. We do everything but listen to it.”

It took my breath away. Literally.

I gasped.                              

Then I cried.

Then I read.

Then the next morning I got up and I wrote five pages about my anger.

An open journal with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us.”
What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us.”

That was week 3 and by that point, I was completely hooked by the Artist’s Way, by the process, and by Julia Cameron’s skills.

I started to think that if she could be so spot on about my feelings, about my lack of self-belief, about my fears, then maybe she could also be right about all the good stuff too!

Maybe she could be right when she said that there really was a creative life possible for me. That the dreams I’d had as a child of being a writer might be actually come true.

Who Knew Writing Could Be So Invigorating?

I threw myself into the process. And I felt so alive, so invigorated, by all the things that I was writing. I had so many epiphanies in my pages in those first twelve weeks of writing; so many moments when I actually sat back, flabbergasted, and thought, “Wow, so THAT is where that feeling comes from!”

I also had some moments where I literally thought, ”Holy Shit!! I did NOT know that was how I really felt!”

But it wasn’t easy. The more I wrote, the deeper I delved into myself, the more open the dialogue with my inner self became, then the harder my external life became. The time I spent writing and reading was resented. The feelings I was voicing were denigrated. I was belittled for thinking I could be creative. (I told you I was in a pretty dark place at that time).

An open journal with a quote by May Sarton:
“It always comes back to the same necessity: go deep enough and this is a bedrock of truth, however hard.”
“… go deep enough and this is a bedrock of truth …”

The Dam Broke

But I didn’t let that stop me, I couldn’t have stopped even if I’d wanted to.

A dam had broken, a dam that was high and deep and had been years in the making.

And the words flowed out of me and onto the page at such a rate, that when I think back on it, I get an image of smoke coming off the paper, cartoon-frantic-writing style!!

By about week five, I had finally admitted to myself that I had ALWAYS wanted to be a writer. Since I was a child, books have been such an important part of my life. I cut my reading teeth on sci-fi and fantasy … a brother seven years older than me meant that I was exposed to Asimov, Dick, Tolkien, et al from a very early age … I’d read Lord of Rings (for the first time!) by the time I was 8 or 9 years old (I’ve read it about half a dozen times since!). And I knew that I wanted to write.

Finally in my morning pages, I was able to own that dream. I was writing! And it didn’t matter to me that no one would read it, the very act of writing was so liberating for me that it was all I needed to do. Someone else reading my words would be a brilliant bonus, but I was writing for ME!

“Why should we all use our creative power …? Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money.”

Brenda Ueland

My First Poem

By week seven, I’d written my first poem. That came as a total surprise to me!

My earliest memory of being truly happy was when we were camping in Glen Etive. I must have been about seven years old, and we were walking up the glen, following the course of the river. These rivers that tumble from the Scottish hills are amazing, so clean, so cold, rushing over glacial rocks towards the lochs or the sea.

I remember lying flat on my belly on a smooth rock, with the river roaring around me, and the trees and the hills enclosing me in this secret world, and being so incredibly happy that I wanted to stay there forever. (My ambition at that time was to become a hermit, and Glen Etive felt like the perfect place to build my hermitage!).

My first poem since English classes at school literally fell out of my head and onto the page in week 7, and it was about that day in Glen Etive, the rushing river-roar, the smooth rock beneath my belly, the total happiness I felt.

There was more crying at this point, but it was such happy crying, actual tears of joy. I had to phone the friend who’d given me the book … “I’ve just written a poem,” I gasped. “Yes!” was all she said!

Righting My Life

By week ten or eleven, I had enrolled in a local creative writing group! Holy Moly … there I was, reading my writing out to total strangers!

By the end of the 12-week Artist’s Way program, the habit of writing each day was firmly in place. And I didn’t stop.

And here I am, 23 years later, still writing.

I wrote this blog in the pages of my journal.

I do all my thinking on the page, sorting out my emotional “stuff”, figuring out what it is that I want, dreaming my dreams.

Journaling also allows me to delve deep into my own psyche, to finally face my darkest thoughts, to accept my feelings and myself. (But that’s a whole other story, for another day!!).

A photograph of an open journal, with quote by  Anne-Wilson Schaef
"You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours”
“You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours”

Writing saved my life, I truly believe that.

Writing has allowed me to right my life!

And writing set me free.

And I will never stop.

If you would like to try the Artist’s Way for yourself, you can find it here …

https://amzn.to/3CopVrB

I should tell you that I am an Amazon Affiliate, so if you do decide to purchase after following my link they give me a little commission … thanks in advance, if you do!!

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