“I don’t want to live in a hand-me-down world of others’ experiences. I want to write about me, my discoveries, my fears, my feelings, about me.”
Pouring your innermost thoughts, worries, and wants into the safe container of a journal can be therapeutic during troubled times. In less stressful times, journaling can serve as a bridge to bigger things: like brainstorming, life and business planning or, for the most ambitious journalers, it can lay the foundation of a future book.
The psychological connection between writing in a journal and writing your memoir is undeniable. In both writing mediums, there is honesty, vulnerability, emotion, vivid descriptions of your inner and outer life, and often powerful revelations and lessons. Many future authors eventually use their journal entries as source material or even as actual pieces of their future memoirs.
What if the process were flipped, and while journaling you could increase both the therapeutic value AND strength of your stories and lessons?
Here are four ideas to play with during your journaling (and later, your memoir writing):
1. When judging your life, be an honest jury but a fair and compassionate judge.
Take ownership of your triumphs and stumbles, but without declaring yourself guilty of everything else too. In your confessions, you’ll find the clarity to move forward — no self-beatings required. This lesson translates to memoir writing because readers will learn from your life experiences, while also following your lead of self-forgiveness and moving on.
2. Look for opportunities to heal, not hurt.
Use your words to explore your hurts — whether inflicted by yourself or by others; describe your feelings, thoughts and experiences in detail. Then, use the power of the written word to heal those wounds by finding the lesson, the reason or even — in some cases — the utter senselessness of what happened. Never underestimate the power of writing to help you see and understand things in life that you’d previously buried away as frustrating and beyond logic and reason. Translated from journaling to memoir writing, this is where you have the opportunity as an author to lead others out of that same confusing darkness.
3. Find the storyline in the situation.
In writing, every good story has a beginning, middle, and end. In life, however, those lines of demarcation are often blurred and it’s easy to believe that there’s no end in sight, especially to a trying time.
Through your journaling, though, you have the opportunity to make yourself a character, step out of the situation, and gain an objective point of view. We do this with our memoir authors quite a bit, teaching them about the classic Hero’s Journey and applying it to their life story.
To enhance the healing power of your journaling, you can do the same: read up on the subject of the writer’s Hero’s Journey, and see how whatever life situation you’ve been journaling about fits into the structure. Let the realization that every story has a resolution serve as a light at the end of the tunnel. Pretend you’re writing about a character outside of yourself — how would you write the resolution to their situation? Then, live it!
4. Pretend someone is reading your words in the future.
Imagine your journal somehow ends up buried in a time capsule, or in a bottle cast out to sea, and someone from the future is reading your words (oh the horror!). What do you ultimately want them to know about you, your journey through this life, and what you’ve learned from each situation along the way?
Applied to journaling, you’re revealing the pieces of yourself you’re most proud of. Applied to memoir writing, you’re offering an opportunity for others to ask themselves the same questions. As goes the famous quote attributed to Socrates — “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Whether journaling or writing or writing your memoir, you have the opportunity as the writer and narrator of your life, to explore your view of life and the things that are happening to you while you’re living it. Release that which no longer serves you and build upon that which does. Above all – write on!