The fear is strangely palpable. It begins as a light buzz, a feeling of “getting away with” something. But then it turns into a heavy boulder pressing on me from every side (kind of like that trash compactor scene in the original Star Wars). Rationally, I know this fear doesn’t make any sense, but that doesn’t stop it.
What am I talking about here? It’s this feeling I get when I go too long without writing. The fear that the streak of a day or two might somehow turn into a week or a month, and then I might get to a stage where I simply don’t write at all.
Now as a professional writer, I realize how silly this sounds. But it feels very real to me.
And this is one of the (many) reasons why I decided to start keeping a journal again. The idea that I’d spend at least a few moments every day putting pen to paper (literally—my journal is an actual paper book with pages and a cover and everything) calmed me and helped ease some of the fear.
But it wasn’t just to keep the fear at bay—I had other reasons to start a journal:
- Keeping a journal was one of my first ways of experiencing the pure pleasure of writing for myself, and I wanted to remember how that felt.
- The times in my life when I regularly kept a journal—mostly in junior high, high school, and college when I was studying abroad—were also times when I felt highly inspired and intrigued by the world around me. I wondered if keeping a journal might help me relive some of that wide-eyed appreciation for the world around me.
- I do tend to spend the majority of my day writing, but most of this writing is for other people and therefore needs to meet their requirements. I liked the idea of giving myself permission to write ANYTHING I wanted.
- At the time, I was working for a company that offered programs for developing healthy habits, and I had the opportunity to choose a habit I wanted to practice. After doing some initial reading on the habits to choose from, I chose keeping a journal because it’s supposed to help with mental resilience, which seemed like a good character trait to build.
The program I went through with my previous employer was extremely helpful, because it involved meeting with a coach every week to discuss my progress and setbacks. It was through these discussions that I was able to understand why I chose journaling, what I hoped to get out of it, and how I could set myself up for success.
One of my biggest revelations during these discussions was the fact that I have no trouble keeping a journal when I travel. This is a practice I started a few years ago after being inspired by my dad, who keeps detailed notes of all of his trips. And because I already had some trips lined up, I could basically do my usual journaling while traveling and then just try to keep up the momentum in my daily life. I was worried that this would be “cheating,” but my coach assured me that giving yourself whatever advantage you can while starting a new habit is not cheating.
My other big revelation during my coaching sessions was that I was pretty good about keeping up with my habit—the accountability of knowing I’d need to report back to my coach was very motivational for me—but I wasn’t really enjoying it. I often thought of my journal time as a chore, something that had to be done. But as I spoke with my coach, I realized that my problem was that I wasn’t giving myself enough room for creativity.
When I keep a journal while traveling, I like to record the events of the day and maybe add a few details here and there. It’s fun because it helps me keep track of where I went and what I did. But in normal life, where there’s much more of a routine, this gets old quickly. “Ugh,” I’d think to myself, “Another day of going to the office and coming home afterwards. Where’s the fun and inspiration in that?”
But if I stopped thinking of journaling as a way of chronicling my everyday experiences and started treating it as a creative endeavor (which was my intention from the very beginning anyway), it suddenly became a lot more fun.
As I prepared to travel to London, I spent time reminiscing about some of my high school moments (I spent the last two years of high school living in the UK). When an old friend was getting ready to move to the Bay Area, I’d remember some of the great moments from our friendship. I practiced some of the storytelling techniques I’d learned in a workshop at World Domination Summit. In other words, I lifted all restrictions on what I could/should write about. And found that joy and inspiration slowly found their way back in.
If you’re thinking of starting a writing habit (or any habit, really), here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Realize that it takes 66 days to build a new habit, so it’s not necessarily going to come to you automatically. Give yourself time to build up the practice. If you’d like to learn more about the psychology of how habits work, be sure to check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
- It’s essential to think about how your habit is going to fit into your lifestyle. Will you do it first thing when you wake up? Right before lunch? As the very last thing before you go to bed? It’s helpful to “anchor” your habit to other routines, so that you always know when to do it.
- Is there a way for you to start off on the right foot and gain some momentum? I knew it was easy for me to keep a journal when I traveled, so I kicked off my habit while I was away and continued doing it when I returned home. Maybe there’s some external factor in your life that will prompt you to begin your habit.
- You might find it helpful to have an accountability buddy. In my case, knowing that I was going to have to report to my coach about my past week was a good motivation for continuing with my habit on those days when I didn’t really feel like doing it. Even if you don’t have an official coach, maybe just a friend or coworker you check in with can do the trick.
It’s more than six months in and I’ve more or less managed to keep up with my journaling. I’ve had the occasional day when I simply forgot, couldn’t be bothered, or didn’t find the time, but for the most part, I make at least a few minutes to sit down and write. And then wake up the next morning and do it all over again.
I get to sharpen my sense of creativity, rekindle my love of writing, and keep the fear at bay for another day. I’d say it’s a worthy exchange for a few minutes of my time!