Tired of journaling? Try this (Part 2: Go for Depth)

Does your journaling practice need a reset? Is it no longer helping you reach your goals? Maybe you’ve started with a short technique like One Line A Day, but now you are hoping to experience the proven psychological benefits of a more in depth journaling technique. The journaling methods in this post will help you to clarify your thinking, work through your emotions and enhance your creativity. They take 10 minutes or more a day. If you are looking for a shorter method, try my previous post on journaling methods that take less than 10 minutes a day.

Note: I included links to products that can help you get started with these journaling methods. I am not affiliated with any of these companies and I get no benefit if you click or buy.

Method #1: Lyric Journal

In your lyric journal, write down your favorite song lyrics Songs evoke emotions and, like poetry, we often identify with the emotion of the song, even more than the actual words. The artist may be able to express something that you cannot put into words for yourself. Be sure to include why the lyrics are meaningful to you. Your future self will be interested in your notes. Your current self may feel some clarity of thought and lightening of heart as you work through just why a particular song has affected you.

When I was a kid, writing down song lyrics was a painful process. A person had to get a recording of the song (maybe tape it from the radio), and then painstakingly write down the lyrics, stopping and rewinding the tape while scribbling the words as fast as possible. Today, it’s easy to look up the lyrics from a site like genius.com or from the official lyric videos on YouTube. I advocate for writing the lyrics rather than cut/paste. You’re more likely to remember them and you will analyze them as you write. You can buy a dedicated journal just for transcribed lyrics, but any kind of journal will do.

  • Time Required: 20 minutes
  • Best for: music listeners

Method #2: Bullet Journaling

Bullet Journaling has been around for years. Their website calls it, “The mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system.” In its simplest form, you maintain a notebook with four basic pages: 1) a “future log” which contains the goals you want to accomplish long term, 2) a monthly log with all the tasks you want to accomplish medium term, 3) a daily log which records your daily to-do list and 4) an index that helps you find each page in your journal. This process organizes everything you have to do, and clearly shows the amount of time you have left to do it. By migrating your uncompleted tasks from day to day, and month to month, it forces you to evaluate if each task is still worthy of your time. If you decide a task is no longer important, you strike it from your list. You can use any notebook you have on hand, or you can buy a pre-made special purpose bullet journal. Some people enjoy decorating their journals and being creative with their layouts. Search for bullet journal on YouTube for some great ideas.

  • Time Required: 10-20 minutes
  • Best for: Planners; Folks who want to focus on goals and eliminate distractions

Method #3: Letters (Sent and Unsent)

Writing letters can be a powerful way to process emotions, regardless of if you actually send the letter! Although snail mail seems so last century, try journaling by sending a letter to a friend. Tell your friend about a problem you are wrestling with. Ask for advice or just vent. Your recipient will enjoy finding something in the mailbox that is not a bill. It will also foster a close relationship by staying in touch and sharing your inner thoughts. Establishing regular correspondence with a friend will give you incentive to complete the task as your friend will be waiting for the letter. It will also give you positive reinforcement as your friend writes back. Use email if you like, but isn’t it fun to buy stamps with great art and stick them on?

Alternatively, you could also write letters that you never send. Perhaps you wish you could speak to someone who has passed away. Write them a letter stating what you wish you had said or done. Perhaps there are people who have made you angry or resentful, but you never want to interact with them again. Write them a letter to get the feelings out of your head, and then compost it instead of sending it. Write letters to your past self, forgiving yourself for your mistakes. Write a letter to your future self asking for advice. Even though the letters are not sent, healing will occur from the process of thinking about what you want to say and writing it down.

  • Time Required: 30 minutes per letter
  • Best for: Folks who want to bring another person into their journaling.

Method #4: Visual Journal / sketchbook

Danny Gregory’s “Art Before Breakfast” [not an affiliate link], inspired me to start a visual journal years ago. Danny advocates taking 15-30 minutes before breakfast to draw a picture. As one of the first exercises, he suggests you actually draw what you are going to eat. When I started my visual journal, I never considered myself an artist. I found I enjoyed slowing down and looking at the details to make a quick drawing of everyday objects. A sketch of my dog soaking up the summer rays with the Texas weather report is the lead image of this post. I took Danny’s advice and brought my journal everywhere so that I could draw whenever there was some down time, like in the doctor’s office waiting room, on a bus, or waiting for a movie to start. Drawing was more relaxing than checking email or facebook. I especially like to draw when traveling and take an Urban Sketchers approach to documenting my vacations. What I like best about Art Before Breakfast is Danny’s message that everyone can be an artist. Your mind will fill itself with monkey brain thoughts like, “This drawing is so awful, everyone will laugh. You may as well stop so you don’t keep embarrassing yourself.” However, just keep on drawing anyway and you will eventually learn to quiet the monkey.

A taste of my art before breakfast
  • Time Required: 15-30 minutes
  • Best for: Folks looking for a visual way to clearing your mind and quiet the monkey brain that says your work is not good enough

Method #5: Morning Pages or Reflection Journal

Julia Cameron introduced the “Morning Pages” journaling method in her bestselling book about the creative process, The Artist’s Way. The concept is simple. Every morning hand-write three pages about anything that comes to mind. Hand-writing, as opposed to typing, is critical to this method because it requires that you slow down and think while your hand is forming the letters. The freeform writing trains you to ignore your internal editor (monkey mind) and keep going. Morning Pages are about thoughts and feelings, not perfect prose.

I have just started trying this method. After 7 days, I’m averaging about 35 minutes to fill three pages of 11 x 8.5 inch college-ruled paper. I’m using just a leftover notebook I found in the kids’ unused school supplies pile. I thought three pages would be a lot, but I have yet to run out of thoughts. For me the difficulty with this method is working 35 minutes into my morning routine. I was concerned that writing Morning Pages would cut into my blogging time. However, I think writing the pages are making me more productive. Several of my pages have been filled with ideas for blog posts or long term ideas for the Lyrical Thinking website. Julia Cameron says it is important to write the pages in the morning when your brain is fresh and unguarded. I believe she is correct. I have a lot of ideas in the morning and my brain is ready to lay them all out. The handwriting causes me to slow down, think, and prioritize what is coming out. Its a nice balance between the rush of ideas and the slowness of recording them. Once I reach the end of the three pages, I feel like I have accomplished something. My brain feels a bit lighter, like I no longer have to carry around all those thoughts now that I have written them down. I can always pick up an idea from the Morning Pages if I want to work it more thoroughly.

This technique would also work at the end of the day as a reflection journal. Personally, I’m too tired to write at the end of the day, but if you’re a night owl, or an insomniac, try this technique. It can help you unload all your worries and your to-do list before going to sleep.

  • Time Required: 35 minutes
  • Best for: Folks looking to calms their minds, create insights, resolve dilemmas

Method # 6: Poetry Journal or Songwriting Journal

I wrote about the benefits of writing songs, even if you are not a musician, in a previous post. As powerful as stream of consciousness journaling is, sometimes prose is not enough to express what is in your heart and soul. Dive deep by thinking of how to express feelings in metaphor, imagery and rhyme. Write the lyrics in your journal, and boom! you’ve created a poetry journal. Hum the melody into an audio notes app and voila! you’ve created a basic song journal. Its inevitable that even after you’ve written several songs, your monkey mind will shake you by the shoulders yelling that you have no idea what you are doing. Keep going anyway. Perfection is not a goal in journaling. Getting the thoughts and feelings out of your mind and onto the paper is the only goal.

The lead singer of Imagine Dragons, Dan Reynolds, says that he writes a song nearly every single day, and has been since he was 12. At that rate, he’s written thousands of songs, only a few of which the band has chosen to record for their albums. I suspect the volume of songs is what contributes to the variety of musical styles, emotions, and themes in Imagine Dragons’ music. Dan does not worry about writing a hit song every day, he says he just writes his truth. Few people can be as prolific as Dan Reynolds, I hold this up an example of what is possible. I read another blog in which the writer said that he challenges himself to write a complete rap song in 2 hours. He makes it a practice to write a new rap several times a week. I am currently not that fast at writing lyrics and music. It may take me 8 hours over the course of several days to write the lyrics and music to a song, maybe more. But for me, and for those writing songwriting journals, speed is not the goal. The process is what does the work.

  • Time Required: 2 hours
  • Best for: Folks who love rhymes, poetry and music

Dear Reader

Of all the journaling ideas on this list, I’m sure Songwriting is the one that seems most unfamiliar and least attainable. Does it intrigue you? Challenge yourself to write a complete song, even if you think you have no musical talent. I am building out resources in this blog to help you get started. Here’s an easy way to write your first song.

Which of these journaling methods have you tried? Which would you like to try?

2 responses to “Tired of journaling? Try this (Part 2: Go for Depth)”

  1. Oh wow, I do all the techniques listed except poetry and lyrics. Drawing with a ballpoint pen is awesome, isn’t it? I used to be a gel pen or fineliner guy, but it’s so fun to vary the line weight in ballpoint. But of course, my drawing is only scribbles compared to your beautiful work. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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