Transformative journal writing is a conversation that takes place on the frontiers between inner life and the outer world. In this sense, journaling is way to integrate introspection and interaction. There is a creative space between the words you write and the ways in which we engage with the world around you. The purpose of transformative writing is to merge written ideas expressed in a journal with lived experience. Congruency between what you write and what you do is fundamental to your creative practice.
When I compose a journal, I try to sit in the space between my thoughts and my actions. The words that I write create intention, rather than description. I cultivate ideas that I can experiment with in personal experience. The results of these experiments offer feedback I can bring back into my journal for further development.
For example, over the course of the next month, I am focusing on my mental training program in my journal writing and experimenting with those ideas in mental training sessions. These fifteen-minute sessions have three components – breath work, relaxation, and visualization. The visualizations focus on an ability or skill I want to develop. Each session provides feedback for the next journal entry, and the conversation continues. My intention is to develop greater insight into the nature and benefit of this kind of mental training through experimentation.
This is an example of how journaling can become a deliberate practice that has a clear focus and process. However, next month I might choose a different approach; that is, the purpose of journaling can vary. As a creative practice, the key is to sit in between the writing and the experience and work to stimulate interaction between the ideas and actions. In other words, you create a feedback loop by putting your intention out into the world, observe what happens, and use the results to improve the idea expressed in your journal. In a conceptual sense, this is a simple and practical idea.
The idea of putting your intention out into the world, paying attention to what happens, and learning from the experience is not new or original. However, it is, at least for me, a skill set that I was not taught in my education even though it is an essential life skill. Although we gain significant amount of knowledge through schooling, the skills we acquire are limited; that is, we are not taught the skills such as discernment, observation, engagement, experimentation, attention, and reflection in ways that help us navigate the full force of life.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” I cannot find evidence to support the claim that Victor Frankl wrote these words, even though they are often attributed to him. Nevertheless, the idea of a space in which we have the power to choose our response is a powerful enabling concept. It is a space that is uniquely our own. No one can take it from you. It is always there, regardless of your circumstances. And it provides a pathway to growth and freedom.
Regrettably, there have been many times in my life when I reacted before thinking about the best way to react. The result was usually something less than helpful and often made the situation worse than it needed to be. Creative people often have their work hijacked by others who find a way to take credit for it. This has happened several times in my career. In the early days, my reaction to creative theft was excessive and personalized. Today, I consider creative theft a compliment. One reason for this is my age. At 60-years-old, my ego is far less of a problem than it was in the insecurities of my youth. Another reason is that I am gradually getting better at staying in the space between, sometimes not reacting to a perceived offence at all.
There are practical ways you can open a creative space in your journal writing. Bullet journaling provided me with some helpful ideas and techniques. For example, one technique in bullet journaling is threading. This is a way of cross-referencing and tracking lines of thought across a disparate group of pages; if I make a note about deep creativity on pages 3, 7, 24, and 58 of journal, I simply make a note of the page cluster in each entry so I can follow them. Cross-referencing is not a new idea, but it is a simple and effective way to map out patterns of thought you would not have noticed.
Another idea I adapted from bullet journaling is migration. In a bullet journal, tasks are migrated in time to ensure they do not get lost in the shuffle. Incomplete tasks are either moved in the schedule or marked as complete. In this way, no task is left untouched. The basic purpose of a bullet journal is about improving productivity and simplifying time management using traditional media (a notebook and pen). My interest is in facilitating creative work, not productivity. I am not interested in turning my personal journals into systems of productivity, but I am interested in learning to use what I write in productive ways. Transformative journal writing is about working with subjective experience, not tasks. In this sense, migration is about promoting important ideas in the journal to the status of an intention.
Threading and migration are simple but powerful techniques. They helped me to explore and understand my journal writing in new ways. Producing a series of loosely connected entries in chronological succession no longer made sense. The ideas behind bullet journaling inspired me to look at my personal journals from a non-linear perspective by threading and migrating ideas that were important to me. I saw patterns and constellations of thought waiting to be explored. Moreover, I started discovering value where I thought there was none. In other words, my journals morphed from graveyards of lost potential into valuable sources of creative potential.
Transformative journal writing made the design of my journals more pliable, adaptable, and responsive. Reflective pauses help me to step outside of myself and explore the writing from different perspectives. I try to figure out why I wrote what I wrote and what the underlying meaning is. However, this is more about creative play than it is formal analysis; that is, my journals are like a sand box to create worlds in. Subsequent articles will explore various tools and techniques I use to encourage the transformation of words into lived experience.
- This article is the third in a series about Transformative Journal Writing. You can view the series in the articles section.
- A good discussion of congruency is, Practising Congruence and the Art of ‘Being Real’.
- Quote Investigator concludes that there is no evidence to support the claim that Victor Frankl is responsible for the insight about the space between stimulus and response. Even though many credible writers give Frankl credit, I have yet to find a reference to accompany the quote.
- Bullet Journal is the creation of Ryder Carroll: “Diagnosed with learning disabilities early in life, he was forced to figure out alternate ways to be focused and productive. Through years of trial and error, he developed a methodology that went far beyond simple organization.” He promotes the bullet journal as a tool for intentional living as well as a “mindfulness practice in the guise of a productivity system.” His work is deeply creative and compelling. There have been many adaptations of his work. My interest is in adapting aspects of it to support a creative practice.