When I taught High School English, I started class the same way each day. We began with a daily journaling routine. Students could write about anything they wanted. There were no wrong answers. The only thing that I asked of them was to keep their pencils moving. I told them that even if they wrote, “I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write.” That was okay because they would eventually find themselves writing something. I would explain to them that writing is like a muscle. We have to work out our writing muscle. We must practice. We must dive in. However, just like in swimming it is helpful to have a wall to push off of… I often times gave them a prompt. Sometimes it was a quote. Sometimes it was something silly like toe jam or peanut butter. The goal was to get their thoughts flowing. They didn’t have to write about the prompt they could let their mind take them anywhere. They only needed to let the words keep coming…almost faster than they could write it down. You see there was no one sitting there critiquing their spelling. No one would comment on their structure or flow of ideas. They had complete control, like an artist and a canvas exploring shape and color. I would say, “Ready, Go!” They students would begin. Some would hesitate. There were always a few who struggled with the open-endedness of journaling. Some would stare out the window. But soon each of them would have to throw out perfection and give in to the rambling nature of their minds. They would have to tune in to the thoughts and emotions they were having that day. My students adjusted to this routine and would come to expect it at the beginning of each class.
I wonder if any of them dreaded this journaling. I wonder if any of them enjoyed it. I wonder if any of them remember this routine we practiced each day. I wonder if they ever find themselves picking up a pencil and paper or sitting to type…free from expectations or judgement and just write what they think. Have you ever tried this? I am in fact participating right now in this type of journaling exercise. You see a few moments ago I was stuck. I wanted to write something. I hadn’t written in a while. Well, I have been writing but to tell the truth, most of my writing has been in email form. There is certainly a place for crafting an email and communicating your thoughts clearly. But journaling is so much more fun! I can write whatever I want. I can drift into the joys of eating peanut butter on a spoon or mention the grossness of toe jam and no I do not have to worry about what you think about my run on sentences or my thought processes. You can simply enjoy (or not enjoy) the journey that this amazing thing called my brain just took us on.
Maybe you should do some free writing. Who knows where it will take you? Maybe you can throw out the pressure to be perfect or polished and simply enjoy the messy process that is living in the present. Maybe that is the true beauty of journaling like this. It is embracing the now of exactly what you are thinking this absolute second. Even if your thoughts take you from memory to memory you are experiencing those memories right now. Journaling can be a tool to help not only your writing muscle strengthen, but also to keep our minds in the present. It makes me wonder how much of my thinking is stuck in the past or anxious about the future. I want more now. I want more journaling. I want more clarity in this moment. I will take present over perfect. I will look for meaning here and now. Or, I will simply enjoy the ride.
Writing is a gift. It is not just for writers. It is for anyone. Let your pencil and paper or the fingers on the keyboard help you embrace now. And I am convinced that God wants us to learn the beauty of now. He gives us now. Grace for now. Peace for now. His presence is in the now. We don’t know the number of our days. We only know right now.
So how are we using our right now’s. I know I’ve wasted so much. I know I want that to change. I know that I don’t want all the distractions. I don’t know how to get rid of it all. But I do know the things that keep me sharp. I want more of those things. More reading. More music. More sleep. More exercise. More deep breaths. More laughing. More creating. More writing.
Just start writing. Set a timer if you have to…just keep the words flowing. See where it takes you. Embrace the now.
Singing His Grace,