By Lucy Van Smit
Lucy van Smit and her book, A Writer’s Journal Workbook, help you to find your own superpower: PRACTICE. SURVIVE. THRIVE.
Socrates said that no one knows who they are. Science backs his words. Seventy-five per cent of what makes us tick is unconscious, based on outdated beliefs from our family, conditioning, and culture. Unconscious biases and habits have a habit of leaking out on the page, when you least expect it, unless you do some self-examination. “Know Yourself” is a gift for writers.
A writer’s journal is one of the best-kept secrets. It gives you agency over your writing. It shows you how to see yourself and the world with a new lens. It can outwit writer’s block, infuse your practice with wonder, provoke a childlike curiosity to empower and re-wild your creative writing.
This simple, powerful tool takes minutes to practice, saves years of muddle, and brings clarity to your mind and on the page. A writing journal transformed my life during the pandemic. I found the questions in a journal trigger what are called intentional synchronicities, and can give you the answers to almost anything. A writing journal will help you to write and finish that project.
I had to learn the hard way. Before 2020, like many writers, I dodged journaling with the same zeal I avoid daily exercise and meditation. Keeping any kind of diary always got put aside after a few days, in favour of reading what the latest expert had to say about being a writer.
It’s much easier to study the words of others than to study yourself. We tend to avoid self-reflection; it’s hard work. The trick is to start small, make it fun, and understand it’s a lifelong daily practice, like cleaning your teeth. I find journaling on your writing has a five-part process:
INTENTION. REFLECT. ASK. LISTEN. ACT.
Top tip: Set a clear intention before you write. It will focus your writing. Intentions are more soul led; less ego-driven than goals. A writing journal is all about intention, and asking questions.
The better the question, the better your answers. Ask yourself questions like: What do I want to say here? What is my next step? Why do I want to write this? When you know why you are writing something, you can get back to that book or screenplay with more eagerness.
A great journal question gives structure to your morning pages. Instead of moaning, you can focus on negative emotions and ask: What’s the one thing I can do about this? How can I move forward with this scene or outline? How can I make a better choice here?
This is super-important, because you don’t learn from experience; you only learn by reflecting on those experiences. A writing journal helps you to observe your behaviour and actions, listens to your feelings, and notices outdated beliefs and your response to setbacks and writing obstacles.
A writing journal steers you back into balance. Mistakes become lessons, reflected upon, so new action can be taken. The good news? Your mess-ups become new content for writing.
Journaling is gentle, kind, and a more self-aware approach than intellectual analysis. You learn to value your opinions, rather than seek approval. You feel your way. Seek to understand, not judge. You forgive a bad writing day. You learn to comfort your fears, not scold them. A less judgmental lens on yourself is powerful. You rest more and notice you are writing more. Harvard says journaling makes students 23 per cent more engaged, and more productive in their work.
This is the tricky bit to get your head around. But if you want guidance, inspiration, or more creativity in your writing, you need to ask for it first. Guidance is invitation only. This sounds woohoo, and it took me ages to understand how this spiritual law works. Only after the magic happened could I see the connection between asking questions and flashes of insights. It works the same way in your story. Your characters speak to you when you ask them a good question.
Notice your resistance to this idea of asking and inviting guidance. We are conditioned to trust logic over our intuition. Luckily, like gravity, you don’t need to believe in it for it to work. A journal question acts as an invitation for guidance from the universe, your inner knowing. Your questions invite Intentional Synchronicities or “Aha!” moments. Basically, stuff happens.
The crucial step is to pay attention to your answers. Mystical answers will come as signs, often in metaphor, or in your dreams, which is why in a rational world, we often fail to spot them.
John O’Donohue says you need three things to hear your guidance; Stillness. Solitude. Silence.
For example, when overwhelmed by a deadline, I take my question for a walk and ask: “How can I do it?” Then I let go and relax. I would see or hear someone else speak the answer. A frail woman with a limp might wave her stick and say: “I tell myself I just have to keep going.”
That would be my answer for the day. When you pay attention, you know it’s a message for you. You get a tingle, a ‘knowing’. Then you can act on the information.
A writer acts by writing. Take the time to master your craft. Practice. A Writer’s Journal Workbook is useful here. It lays out exercises so you can side-step your perfectionist and write.
When you have a longing, the calling to be a writer; I believe you must write. It’s who you are.
If you don’t write, anxiety, depression and chaos will come after you. It’s the price you pay for disconnection from your true self, your soul.
Writer’s Block has a cruel Catch 22.
You can’t write because you are anxious.
And not writing makes you more anxious.
When a writer doesn’t write, their voice gets stuck in their Throat Chakra. This stuck energy gets pushed down into your chest and feels like anxiety. Resisted, it will grow.
The solution is to write. Start small. Be silly. Write a shopping list, copy down another author’s writing, or do anything to get moving again. Break the neuro-associations you made between discomfort and writing, and rewire them with a new approach. You fix writer’s block when you practice self-care. It’s so simple to do. It’s embarrassing to admit the pickle I got into. I’m not alone. Monica Ali had it so bad in 2012, she vowed to never write again.
WHY A WRITING JOURNAL CAN HELP YOU
It’s normal, often for long, long periods of time, not to know what you want to write about.
As children, we’re not taught to trust our inner knowing. . The majority of our thoughts and beliefs are not our own but imposed externally from our culture, family, and education. This shows up as tired stories and feeling unsatisfied with your writing. You know something is wrong.
If you have ignored your guidance for years, you might find yourself lured into the unknown, abandoned down a path you no longer recognise. Lost. Scared. Unable to move in dark woods, you can doubt that you will ever find your way home. A journal helps you to spot this pattern.
Not getting back home is exactly what is meant to happen.
There is no going back to the old you.
This happened to me in 2019, after the publication of my debut novel. The Hurting won the inaugural Bath Children’s Novel Award and publication is a moment when you hope to fly. Not have your love of writing crash and burn out. Shame is a silent howl. It’s hard to ask for help. I’d made author documentaries, I was an artist; yet still I battled my demons for a year.
RESISTANCE GETS STRONGER WHEN YOU FIGHT IT
It was only when I surrendered, that the nonsense in my head stopped. It was laughably simple. I sat down, exhausted, and invited the monster to do its worse. My fear had grown to a tsunami by then, but when I relaxed and stopped fighting it, the fear passed through me like a damp mist.
It was the biggest letdown ever, like the moment in The Wizard Of Oz when Dorothy pulls back the curtain, revealing the all-powerful ‘wizard’ to be a small human playing tricks with levers.
OUTWIT WRITER’S BLOCK
Fear is not the monster it’s cracked up to be, but resistance makes even a mouse-sized fear into a Thing. And small things throw giant shadows in the dark across your path.
It’s useful to know this pattern: Chaos always precedes transformation and growth. Historically, we always had plagues before a Renaissance.
It helps to see fear, chaos and synchronicity as messengers.
Learn to listen before your guidance gets the big guns out to grab your attention.
The trick to outwitting resistance is to allow yourself to feel everything: grief, love, shame, laughter, your cynicism, your silliness, and the suffering in your life. Take it slow. A journal is your lens on your messy world. When you make the decision to see yourself with a kind eye, you can see your writing with compassion and this gentleness evokes more words on the page.
When you set an intention and have a ritual to listen to your guidance, everything changes for the better with your writing. Breathe. Move your body. Journal. Write. So many things in a writing life can be cured with the right approach.
It’s no different from landing a plane. You need awareness, and a gentle touch. Stay on auto-pilot, and you will end up in the dark woods again and be forced to wake up.
HOW DO YOU FOLLOW YOUR BLISS?
It’s not easy to know what we want when we’re conditioned to be disconnected from ourselves. Persevere here, a writing journal is a great tool to uncover what you love. Keep on asking the same question, day after day, until you find you can hear answers and your purpose.
Love is about paying attention. You are in a relationship with your writing. Treat it well. Ask your characters questions, as you would a best friend. How are you doing? What do you need from me? Who do I need to become to finish this book? You change. Your writing changes. Joseph Campbell said: “Follow your bliss, and doors you couldn’t see before will open.”
A Writer’s Journal Workbook is like your personal creative writing workshop. It’s somewhere between a creativity coach and accountability partner who checks in with how you are feeling, nods sympathetically, offers wise counsel, then demands to see words on the page.
The workbook will always prompt you to take immediate action by writing. Start small. Write one sentence. One page. A scene. What is one thing you can write today? Have a go!
Former TV producer and artist, Lucy van Smit’s latest book is A Writer’s Journal Workbook (Bloomsbury). Lucy won the Bath Children’s Novel Award with her debut novel, The Hurting (Chicken House), pitched as ‘Nordic Noir Wuthering Heights’. Lucy’s current project is working on The Hurting film script. She has a BA Hons in Fine Art and a Distinction in her MA in Creative Writing. She offers one-to-one coaching and runs workshops. A second book on creativity and spirituality, A Soul Writing Journey, is her WIP. Follow Lucy on Twitter and Instagram:@Lucyvansmit and visit her website: lucyvansmit.com.
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A writer’s journal is one of the best-kept secrets. It gives you agency over your writing. It shows you how to see yourself and the world with a new lens.