The interview has now been taken down so I’ve included it in this post.
Lynda, would you please introduce yourself to our readers and share how you began journaling and teaching about journaling.
I started journal writing when I received a Girl Scout diary for Christmas in the sixth grade from my parents, 48 (yikes!) years ago. I continued to journal through my life – through lots of pain and joy. I wanted to teach this because I knew how helpful the practice has been to me through the years. I decided to really research the discipline so I bought a variety of journaling books. Kay Adams’ Journal to the Self became my instant favorite. In 1998 I proposed the idea of a journal writing class to the continuing ed department at one of our local universities with a class I developed from my own work and the numerous books I read. My first class through the university was at the retirement home near the school. I had a great group of seniors – even one retired psychologist. He came up to me after the first class and asked me if I understood what I had – he said a small group – meaning sort of a therapy group. I told him that I had been a social worker and that seemed to relieve his worries. That year I also became a certified Journal to the Self instructor. After that I taught classes in Chicago, Louisville, California, locally and online. Most of the classes I’ve taught in the past have been ones I’ve developed including Rediscovering You, Building Self Esteem Through Reflective Writing, Journaling to Spiritual Awareness, Writing Your Story and Journaling as a Healing Tool. I’ve taught breast cancer survivors, 6th graders, single moms in a housing development, seniors, teachers and others.
What connections have you made between wellness and writing as you journal?
The reason I wanted to teach journal writing was because of how it has helped heal me through difficult times in my life. Well, when I started in grade school it was just about boys and school, but even looking back on that diary I saw a couple entries where I started to write more deeply. One was about my brother going off to college – “I wonder if Johnny will be the same when he comes home.” I found out early that the journal, or diary at that time, was a place where I could tell my stories and feelings and it would “listen.” I discovered that often when I was upset or angry, once I got the words down on paper, I felt better. I also noticed that when I wrote I often could solve problems or at least calm down to the point that I could see the other side and deal with the problem. There was a five-year time in my life when my dad, my sister and my brother died and then my husband left me. Writing helped me through the pain. I talked to friends but it got to the point that they wanted me to move on. The journal never said “get over it.” It helped me to move on- to heal – at my own pace. The journal also is a great storehouse of our growth. I can look back and see how far I’ve come. It has helped me understand why I made certain decisions. Time tends to color our memories and several times the same road would appear. One in particular was adjunct teaching at a local college. I loved teaching but teaching there was more negative than positive and I told myself I wouldn’t do it again. I wrote about the problems each time I taught there. The last time I taught I wrote in big letters – if you ever decide to teach there again, read you journal! Believe it or not, I came back to the journal to read this. Same thing happened with a relationship. Dated this guy twice – broke up with him both times. When I found out he was married I was sad and asking myself why wasn’t it me? Then I got out the journals and there it was in black and white. It was the right decision after all and I was happy he moved on.
Now I would love to hear how you came to shifting from keeping a writing journal to creating a visual journal.
The shift to the visual journal has been coming for a while. I’ve always been into all kinds of crafts and especially love paper and fabric. I had taught a year-long class online called Monthly Write in 2009 where I had everyone write on the same three topics (two I chose for them and one they got to choose) on the 27th of each month. Every month I’d throw in an additional topic – kindness, nurture, being present etc. I told them they could just write a little, could draw, could take photos whatever they wanted to do. It was neat to hear and see some of their journals. Meanwhile I kept my own Monthly Write journal where I also took four pictures on that day. I really love that journal and thought more and more about adding art and color. Then I started seeing all of the art journals online and read a couple articles. I was interested but couldn’t see what all the hoopla was about. So, as I mentioned on my blog, I took a class using collage in the journal. I still didn’t get it although I really liked my pages. I saw that I could create feeling with fewer words if I didn’t feel like writing. But I still wasn’t convinced. I just had to do a daily type of journal so I decided in October I’d make a page every day. I painted the pages before the day so all I had to do was write or draw – the background was done. Some days it would take me 15 minutes, other days I might go back to the page several times before I was done with it. I had a couple “rules.” I must put how I was feeling each day – just a word (tired, happy, sad, angry etc.) at least. Also, I wanted to know what the weather was like (sunny, cold, hot, gray etc) as I feel my mood definitely can be influenced by the weather. Some pages I just wrote, some collaged and some I even drew! Wow! They aren’t the greatest trees or hosta leaves, but they are mine and just like with writing in a journal, this is not about perfect. For those who have trouble writing, this type of journal can work for them. I’d love to teach a class on this in order to pull in those “non writers.”
What advice would you give to “non-artists” or “word warriors” to encourage them to try visual journaling for themselves?
To make the pages less intimidating, I’d paint them ahead of time with watercolor or acrylic paints or really anything they have around the house. Just like it’s often hard for some writers to start writing on the blank page, it’s hard to start art often with a white page. Or use colored paper as the journal pages. There is something about how colored pages makes it easier to get started.
If this is going to be a daily journal like my October one, decide before hand a couple topics you want to make sure you cover. For example, I put the temperature (cold, hot, windy, gray etc) and how I was feeling (sad, happy, tired). But this could be a goals journal or a travel journal. Any written journal can be made into a visual journal.
Start the first day’s page printing words that pertain to that day. My first day page was all words except for a sun with a smily face. I was experiencing a lot of wrist and knee pain so I printed: no wrist & knee pain (I wish) and added “went to dr today.” And printed “Leg exercises” since that’s what he told me to do for my knee. Some things I wanted to do included “Release anger,” “Let Go Let God” and “Be Here.” But I also wrote two sentences – one about starting the art journal and the other about my “writing your story” class that had just started.
If you feel tired or sad or happy – print it in big letters. Draw circles and hearts and other symbols you feel comfortable with.
Start with a little collage. Tear out some picture or words that describe your feelings on that day and paste it down.
Remember, just like with a journal writing, there are no rules. And it’s not about being perfect, it’s about expressing yourself through art. My trees, pine needles and hosta drawings weren’t perfect, but they are mine.
What did I learn?
First of all, I loved taking the time each day to carve out some time for this visual journal. I loved looking at the colors every day and illustrating my day by drawing, collaging or just words. I loved how it made me stretch. I drew a tree on one page (in fact I ended up drawing a tree on three pages!) and wrote “Never thought about drawing them” even though I absolutely love trees. I feel like in addition to being a writer, I am an artist now. I have the freedom of documenting my life by either writing or art.
Also, as with writing in a journal, this art journal helped me through a tough stretch. When I started this journal I was very angry and sad. It was amazing to see how through the month my attitude changed. I spent time on my pages documenting what I was feeling but also looking at what I was thankful for. I also listed what I accomplished.
Wellness & Writing Connections is a community of professionals and lay persons who are interested in exploring the connection between writing and wellness. Dr. John Evans founded this community and established annual conferences to provide a resource for those like-minded people who write and for those working in the health care and counseling professions who wish to include writing as part of their practice. Check out Satia’s, Writing & Wellness Connections newsletter editor, blog where she posts information on books, events, and other information related to writing and wellness. Wellness & Writing Connections also has a LinkedIn group with lots of resource information and discussions on this topic and a Facebook page.
Being an avid journal writer for 40-plus years I can attest to the benefits of this practice. My journal has been a friend to me through many difficult times, but also has been there for the joyful moments.
I loved being about to share with their readers my move into expressing with not only words, but art through my art journals. That practice has really opened up a whole new creative expression for me.
But as a writer, words will always be favorite way to communicate my feelings and thoughts.
I will be teaching the basic Journal To The Self® class at the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville Indiana starting March 22. In this five-session workshop, in addition to covering why and how to keep a journal and the benefits of this practice, students will learn 10 different fun 5-minute journaling techniques that will help add color, perspective, and dimension to their reflective writing. We also will cover other types of journals including dream journals, monthly writes, art journals, and more. If you live in the area, I’d love to have you in class. Here is the link to more information and class registration at USI.