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Journaling for Creativity

There’s an imp on my shoulder. When it’s awake it criticises me all day long, saying things like “this idea will never work” or “so you think that’s a good colour choice?” Some days it may start lambasting me before any work has even begun. “Don’t bother making something so ridiculous,” it jabbers. The imp sits glued to my shoulder — I try to pull it off, but it’s very strong.

Whatever your creative discipline you’ll be familiar with a critical imp of some sort. Equally, you’ll be aware that the days it stays away are the most productive.

My background is in art direction, graphic design and illustration. Since childhood, image-based arts have always appealed to me the most. And yet I’ve always been compelled to write, be it my first attempt at novel, letters to overseas cousins or one-off Dear Diary entries. It wasn’t until I was 14 years old that writing became a bigger thing, starting with a series of poems. Although they were quite cryptic they enabled me to express myself and I found the outlet very nourishing. This was the start of what would later become my journalling habit.

Over the years I became devoted to the clarity that would come from writing my thoughts down. At times it was — and is — a Q&A dialogue between myself and I. Whenever I wrote I noticed that the imp would visit less often. It no longer had much to say because writing had pre-empted and untangled my thoughts. Self-doubts had already been explored and there were fewer weak spots for the critical imp to exploit.

When I write my journal it’s not skilful or written with the intention that anyone (bar me) will read it. For me, writing is the road towards better thinking. And because nobody will read it, I’m free to be rough, gnarly, unedited and brutally honest. It can also be overambitious, borderline impractical and aspirational. In this way my journal provides for the mind; carrying out spring cleaning, restoration, actualisation of goals and self-reflection.

It might be worth mentioning that I don’t always write a full account of the day, although I do date each entry. Instead, I write a stream of consciousness. Whatever my inner voice mutters, I try to capture it on to the page. It could be events from the day, but is often a soup of many topics — past and present.

Some entries are lists of words or phrases that help when my mind is racing and I need to get everything down. There aren’t rules as to how you should keep a journal, just that it works best for you and that you do it regularly.

I’m now in my 30s, which means I’ve been keeping a journal for about 20 years. So based on nothing other than my own experience, after all these years I’ve found that journalling as a tool has been the most effective way for me to become unstuck. Whether my goal is to work through creative decisions or to cleanse other thoughts that influence my state of mind, writing helps.

I would consider it a form of meditation, if meditation can be defined as seeking a deeper understanding of yourself and your place in the world. This understanding comes from the writing, but also from reading past entries. When feeling lost, a journal can steer you back on track and recognising your own repeated themes can teach you a lot about yourself.

Of course, I’m just one person who’s been writing and thinks it’s helpful. There are others who acknowledge the power in this ancient practice, too. Playwright and author Julia Cameron says, “All that angry, whiny, petty stuff that you write down… stands between you and your creativity.”

While psychotherapist Maud Purcell claims that, “Writing accesses the left hemisphere of the brain, which is analytical and rational. This leaves the right brain free to be creative, instinctive and emotive.” Creative thinkers Leonardo da Vinci, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Frida Kahlo, to name just a few, were all dedicated journal keepers too. As a visually led creative I still keep a sketchbook and a notebook (of facts and lists) alongside my writing journal. Each of them function in a different way, but I’m certain that without the regular practice of writing, my work wouldn’t be the same.

No matter what the imp says, I always know that a writing session will clear things up. My journal is the sunshine that pushes the rain clouds away, so that the rainbow emerges and I can move forward with decisiveness and clarity once again. …

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