"You mean you read what you write out loud to others?" The woman spoke incredulously. I was describing my weekly journaling group.
Group journaling transforms an enriching experience of solitude into a powerful experience of community. After the birth of my third child in 1998, I was losing "me" fast. I'd journaled since age 7, and with my busy new lifestyle, I missed the way journaling had helped me stay in touch with my heart. I needed to get back to consistent journaling, but I also craved time with "grown-ups." How could I have both?
Seeking both personal exploration and connection with others, I launched my first journaling group. Five years later, I'm still grateful for this experience that consistently meets these two important needs.
If you seek the motivation to begin journaling again or are looking to deepen your writing experience, consider journaling with others. Journaling groups will help you:
1. Establish a Consistent Writing Time
I'm an avid journaler, but not always a frequent one. The flurry of young children at home increased my need to write, but took its toll on how often it happened. In our journal group, 30 minutes of each session is dedicated to writing. We begin with prompts to jump-start our pens, but there's always permission to divert.
That half-hour time period has turned into a weekly lifeline that keeps my heart from completely submerging during a busy season of life. When I'm unable to run full speed toward my goals, writing helps me remember what they are and points me in the right direction. Scheduling uninterrupted time during the week to write can be a great gift.
2. Tickle Creativity
Groups offer opportunities for regular journalers to try new prompts and add creative sparks to their writing, which can help them venture off the beaten path and explore new areas of life.
Many books, periodicals and online resources offer journaling prompts you can use. Or, you can assign a different person each week to bring in several prompts. Having a variety of exercises at each meeting provides the group with ideas to try and offers direction for those who get paralyzed facing a blank page.
3. Reread and Reflect
"We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection," wrote Anaïs Nin. Toward the end of our writing time, I encourage everyone to take a moment to reread what they've written, adding closing thoughts, feelings or summaries. You may detect themes, patterns or a tone of voice that went unnoticed as you wrote. Capture these observations or insights in a summary or feedback statement to yourself.
Rereading helps us learn from our experiences and confront the future with new information. During one workshop, a woman commented that though she'd previously journaled, she'd never paused to reread her writing. "That is so helpful," she said. "That alone gave me a new perspective!"
4. Hear Your Work Come Alive
If writing allows us to experience life twice, then we can move to an even deeper level of self-awareness by sharing that writing with others. Reading aloud from your work should never be required, but try to encourage participation from everyone.
At minimum, someone might remark that the prompts were particularly difficult or didn't seem applicable. Perhaps they were distracted and couldn't focus. Or, someone may be so moved by the experience she exclaims, "This was so amazing! I've got to read you what I wrote!" Typically, people fall somewhere within the two extremes. But as you continue to meet regularly, trust builds and snippets from journals are more freely shared.
Sharing gives life to your work because you not only encapsulate the experience, but also face the sometimes surprising emotions that surface as ma-terial is spoken in your own voice. "Until I shared my entry," said one journaler, "I didn't realize I was so angry."
5. Share and Grow
There is risk in sharing, but also excitement. Our emphasis has never been to be "great writers," but only to grow through the writing. I've felt honored, however, to be present when someone experienced an insight or "aha" moment on paper that left me speechless, or wrote something so profoundly beautiful it took my breath away. I've heard freshly penned poems and newly composed songs. I've witnessed the moment someone made a key connection in his life or a sad discovery. When we share an insight, it cements the experience in our hearts andminds and makes us feel more alive.
6. Listen and Learn
There is power in the sharing, but also learning in the listening. As we hear about the decisions, obstacles and triumphs of others, we learn about ourselves in the process as we make pieces of their stories our own. "I'm addicted to sugar!" came the revelation one morning. After months of hearing others talk about battling food sensitivities, this woman realized she had many of the same symptoms. Had she not heard the struggles of others, she may not have recognized the similarities in her own life.
7. Experience Life Together
The longer a group meets, the more you journey together through illnesses, deaths, job changes and other difficult times. But you will also walk together through celebrations, successes and even the realizations of dreams.
"I want a horse!" Tya exclaimed one day in our group. She was having difficulties thinking of a response to an exercise about our hopes. Then, over the weeks, she remembered the love she had for horses as a little girl. When she made her proclamation that morning, we raised the roof. At Christmas, a group member gave her a pair of red cowboy boots, like the ones she'd worn in a childhood photo. The following summer, we all celebrated when she showed us Brandy, her new mare.
8. Deepen Relationships
As we learn more about who we really are, we bring a more authentic self to our significant relationships with family, friends and co-workers. The group provides the practice ground for sharing growth and ideas with people who are not emotionally entwined in our lives. Lisa had journaled for 26 years, and after sharing pieces of her writing in our group, she began to share brief entries with her spouse for the first time.
Sharing with each other also gives us insight into those around us. As I heard a fellow writer wrestle with life issues, it helped me empathize with another friend who had similar challenges and temperament.
Groups can enrich your journaling experience by adding deeper dimensions to an already positive exercise. The time together is not just about "journaling," but gaining clarity, growing and making connections. My journaling group has been the place I go to remind myself of who I am apart from the roles I play. It's been my safe harbor regardless of the chaos in my daily routine. It's where I dream my dreams, talk to God and remind myself to take steps in important areas of my life. It's catapulted my personal growth in the context of community.
And I believe it's done that for others as well. One new writer commented, "Through our group, my life has been revived in a brand new way ... thank you for inspiring me to journal!"
From the Febrary 2003 issue of Personal Journaling.