Exactly What To Journal About This Fall To Nurture Your Creative Spirit

Photo: Kate Daigneault

New seasons represent transformation. The fall represents a season of new beginnings, a time of harvesting, and the turning over of new leaves. This natural shift can lead to creative instincts and a new way of being and thinking. One way to facilitate and document this shift is by journal writing. The journal can be thought of as a container for thoughts, feelings, and observations.

Some writers use the journal as a place to turn to during difficult times in their lives. Sometimes their jottings might lead to or end up as a story, poem, or even a book. Diarist Anaïs Nin began journaling at the age of 11 when there was a shift in her family and her father left. For her that resulted in a major transformation that she documented in her journals. Eventually, her journals were edited and published. My own personal shift also began in the fall on Labor Day weekend in response to my grandmother’s suicide.

Journaling is a cathartic and safe way to express your feelings. It is important to note that, in journaling, you’re not necessarily chronicling the events of your day. Rather, you’re documenting and getting in touch with your feelings and thoughts as you write. These thoughts may be nuggets of creativity to be used in future projects.

The art of journal writing dates back to the days when our ancestors wrote on cave walls. A journal, diary, or notebook—whatever you choose to call it—can play many roles. It can serve as a vehicle for self-expression, a tool for clarity, a repository for observations, a container for thoughts, and a way to nurture your creativity.

Journals and journal writing have often been described as one’s best friend or confidant. Journal writing can be as calming and grounding as meditation. It can orient you and stabilize your emotions. While I recommend that emerging writers write in a journal every day, most seasoned journal keepers and/or writers tend to write when inspired.

In addition to being a powerful tool for healing, journaling is an excellent tool to nurture creativity because it’s a place to solidify thoughts in both our personal and literary lives. The journal is a veritable treasure chest of creative musings and personal anecdotes. It’s not only a place to collect ideas but can also be a powerful tool to overcome writer’s block.

According to fiction writer John DuFresne, "You ought to keep a notebook for several reasons. (And ought to carry it with you.) A notebook is a reminder that you’re a writer and that what you’re currently doing while you’re out of the house, away from the desk, is taking notes toward your next novel. You know that you think differently when you have a pen in your hand. You think differently and you observe differently. You see what’s really there, not what’s supposed to be there. You keep a notebook to teach yourself to pay attention." A notebook can offer you encouragement and remind you and the world that you are a writer.

Here's exactly what you need to get started on your own journaling journey.

Find a notebook you love.

It’s good to get in the habit of always carrying a notebook or journal with you, because you never know when the creative muse will visit. You can jot down thoughts in the moment and then go back later and expand on these concepts when you have more time.

Choose a notebook or journal that feels good to you. It should be something you feel comfortable with and want to pick up and hold, and it should also reflect your personality. And make sure your journal can lie flat while you write. There’s nothing more frustrating than having to wrestle with a book binding in order to write with ease.

You might prefer a spiral-bound book or one with a colorful cover. Some people prefer lined pages, while others prefer unlined ones so that they can both draw and write.

Find a great writing instrument, too.

Your pen should be comfortable in your hand and flow easily. I personally prefer gel pens, and I like using purple ink—but that’s just me. You might very well have your own preference, or you may wish to experiment with a variety of colored pens or pencils. Lately, I’ve enjoyed using clickable fountain pens to write in my journals. I only recently discovered that these pens even existed!

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Pick your journaling location.

Establish a good spot to journal. Twentieth-century author Virginia Woolf coined the idea of "a room of one’s own" and wrote a book with that title. I love this idea. Woolf was referring to a figurative room, which is a deeper concept than a literal, physical space. Essentially, she was referring to a place where you can feel safe and comfortable—one that offers a blanket of support. This should be a place where you feel like you can write uninterrupted for 15 to 20 minutes.

What to write.

The list of writing topics is endless. One tip is to write about the first thing that pops into your head. For example, what are you thinking about right now? What’s on your mind? What feels most vivid to you at this moment? Keep writing, and don’t worry if one sentence does not logically lead into the next. Try doing free-writing, which is sometimes known as stream-of-consciousness writing—writing for 15 minutes without lifting your pen off the page.

Go with the flow of your thoughts. If you find yourself on a path that you’d rather not head down, instead of crossing out what you’ve written, just begin a new paragraph. This is a good way to metaphorically "clear your throat."

Here are some fall writing prompts I'm specifically passionate about:

1. Describe the colors, smells, and sensations of autumn. Describe how these affect your mood, sentiments, and outlook on life.

2. What is your favorite fall memory? Describe what happened during that memory, your emotions about that memory, and how it has affected your life.

3. Write about the transformation of nature during the fall season and how it affects your personal transformation.

While journaling can be cathartic and healing, sometimes journal entries can prove valuable at a later date, whether to offer you a perspective on how you once felt or to serve as a seed for a larger piece of work. One thing I always remind my students is that, in general, only 5 percent of what we write in our journals may prove to be useful for future projects. But that’s OK; there are always gems in the haystack worth keeping, and sometimes the smallest thought may be the most valuable.

Based on excerpts from Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transforming Your Life by Diana Raab, with the permission of Rodale, Copyright © 2017.

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