Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Journal Writing

Writing about oneself is the easiest thing to do. One overlooks the narcissism.  But despite being a self-indulgent conceit, the act does provide psychological relief. Some books even say this type of writing relieves stress and tension. In my case it was along this purpose that I started to journalize. It was a way to make sense of the world and bring order to my thoughts. There is a calming and soothing feeling to be able to dump one’s brain into paper. It’s one way of emptying the mind - a form of meditation where one sees his or her thoughts in front of them; the causes of the ‘churning’ mind, the constant thinking caught and laid down like a specimen on the operating table. Hence, the objective of the endeavor is not to be a writer but to calm one’s mind.

Eventually, one gets bored of this self-conceited churning that one starts getting literary aspirations. Experience, thoughts and books read are expressed and synthesized. One becomes like a literary critic or pretentious essayist but still resulting in a form of writing exercise. Still it’s an activity of expression; where one would like to ‘exhaust’ his surplus mental energy in order to settle down. It’s like giving a kid a chance to play so he can use up his excess energy. I guess it’s a way of calming an excited or agitated mind. In brain scans done by the Amen clinic, a mind filled with anxiety is seen when portions of the brain would light up with activity. But it’s an act of self-awareness to be cognizant of this overactive mind and to try to control it. Vitamins like Omega 3 fish tablets are rumored to be helpful, too.

So journal writing becomes an experiment in cognitive therapy - to be able to correct the wrong thinking modes and errors in attribution. The churning cycle continues as the fevered mind seeks expression. The passages serve as a way to examine objectively the mind’s thoughts and as a form meditation that one realizes that one is not one’s mind. So thinking, like writing, is seen as divorced from one’s personality. It’s a skill that one must develop and master. Writing combines thinking and self-expression that it becomes a complete mental exercise. One loses the emotion and subjective ness that one would normally associate with his thoughts and writing. It becomes less personal. This is where one matures as a writer; where one is not emotional invested in his work and one could ruthlessly edit, delete, cut and paste his work without being defensive.

Journal writing can also contribute to more churning and confused thoughts. So it must be combined with cognitive therapy, visual thinking and perhaps actual experience like Toastmasters to remove one’s self-centeredness or ego. Improved thinking does not only come from journalizing but also from using structured thinking tools, visual methods, meditation and exercise. It means having a healthy mind with good diet and sleep. It’s taking care of the brain like one would take care of his body. When one understands the way to improve thinking (and therefore reduce stress and anxiety), then one can now move forward to creative writing. The problem is moving away from the self-centeredness towards a craft based skill like carpentry but with creativity thrown in. Creative writing is a whole different skill than journal writing or even journalism and reporting.

The first step to creative writing is reading books to understand what is out there and to develop one’s imagination. Creative writing means developing a literary sensibility, point of view or voice and a fertile imagination. One must be detached with a form of professionalism like programming computer code. It’s devoid of emotion in the writing act but one can still express effusive emotion in paper. This is the distinction from being a dilettante to a cold, detached writing professional. It’s like the character in Roman Polanski’s movie ‘The Ghost Writer.’ Someone who views writing like any other job - where one comes in do the work and leave again like some mercenary.  This is the craft of writing and combined with creativity and imagination one achieves great works like the books of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Orhan Pamuk.

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