When is the last time that you wrote in your journal? Maybe you write in it every day, and if so, deep bows to you. I strongly believe that journal writing should be up there with diet and exercise in the realm of preventative wellness. But if you’re like I was, there’s a solid chance that you haven’t written in your journal for a long time.
It just sits there on your bedside table covered in dust, staring at you like an old golden retriever that really wants to go for a nice long walk in the woods. Enter: shame. Which is never any sort of motivation to inspire the written word. Quite the opposite.
Maybe you don’t even have a journal anymore. Maybe you never did—the whole idea of pouring out your heart-and-soul language on the page is too daunting. For all of you word-wanderers out there, take heart: I have a theory and a practice and I believe they both will help you say what you really need to say on the page and in your life. I call it So Now What Journal Writing™.
Dusting Off the Personal Journal
When COVID hit the U.S., I was in the middle of a cross-country book tour, all revved up for 38 more events. Instead, like so many of us, I did a 180: I went home, bought rice and beans, and sat dumbfounded in my living room thinking how can I help the cause? What do I know how to do that will be a lifeline for people in this massively challenging time? Which meant that I needed my journal to sort it all out— my oldest soulmate that had become something less in recent history. I wasn’t sure why. Enter again: shame. But when our life is falling apart, we reach for what we need. At least, I hope we do.
So I found my journal, blew off the dust, and turned to the endless possibility of the blank page—thinking that a global pandemic would be just the thing to get me back into this once-loved practice. But I quickly found that my brain was too scattered and scared.
The book I’d spent eight years writing had been robbed of the promotion I’d worked so hard to organize. My writing retreats and workshops were suddenly all on pause. My empty nest was suddenly full of my adult children who needed their mother. My life was up-ended in silver linings and dark gloom all at once. I’m sure you can relate somehow.
So I started writing … but my pen just circled in a vortex of woe in thought patterns that didn’t serve me in the least. In fact, these thought patterns were sabotaging any hope for well-being, never mind self-care. And I found myself staring at the ceiling, not at all full of the relief or inspiration that journaling had once provided. I needed a new way.
Art imitates life and life imitates art, and at that moment, the words of my novel’s protagonist came to me. She, as well as the other three women in the novel, are also at major crossroads in their lives. And they use writing to help them find the answer to the question the whole world was collectively asking: So Now What? I took their lead.
So Now What Journal Writing™
I asked three powerful questions for three categories: What do I want to let go of? What do I want to embrace right now? And what do I want to create going forward in my life? Shedding the past, embracing my present, and dreaming my future alive felt good. Those categories felt doable. But how to approach them did not. I was sure of overwhelm. In fact, I was scared of my words when it came to the re-shaping of my life.
Then I had an idea: Instead of just letting my pen flow endlessly into these categories, I would divide up the process between Writer mode and Observer mode and give myself a limited allotment of writing time. How about three minutes?
I chose the first category, Shedding the past, set my timer, and let the words flow, beginning with this phrase: What I really want to say. When my timer went off, I raised my pen mid-sentence and went into Observer mode, asking myself: Is this thought pattern serving me? The answer was No. Not at all. In fact, my thoughts were poison. Familiar poison.
Is this what my mind acted like all the time? I consider myself a highly aware person. I wrote a whole memoir about the concept of mind-awareness. I’ve given speeches to thousands about this subject. And here I was in the utter gloom of self-sabotage. Had the loss of my journaling practice contributed to me forgetting my own message? Had my negative thought patterns become so habituated that I’d become their prisoner? I wanted my thoughts to serve me, didn’t I?
Things needed to change and fast. Especially in the midst of a global pandemic and temporary career loss, I couldn’t risk not having my journal close and at the ready. But I needed a new hunger for it. Which meant that I needed to readjust my practice.
Personal Writing Is Good for the Soul
So instead of berating myself for how I was in my own way when it came to letting go, I kindly went back to What I really want to say and let it flow for another three minutes. The timer went off, I lifted my pen, and again asked myself: Is this thought pattern serving me? Still … the answer was an emphatic No. BUT there was a spark of new awareness and that’s what mattered.
I did it one more time. Closer. Nine minutes to new self-awareness? I called that good.
Then I moved on to the next category: What can I embrace right now? If the answer was yes to the question: Is this thought pattern serving me, then I just kept riffing for the next three minutes. If not, then I went lovingly back to What I really want to say. Rinse repeat for another nine minutes.
Then onto the last: What can I create going forward in my life? This one was actually fun. What can I create is the most powerful question I know. I got playful. I got curious. I got light and even joyful.
By the end of these 27 minutes, I realized that I had landed on something of deep value. And there was my answer to how I could help people through this unimaginable time in our modern world. And So Now What Journal Writing was born.
Creating Time and Community
Every Friday from mid-March, 2020 until June 2021 (with the exception of three times, one of which was Christmas), I led a one-hour live free Zoom So Now What Journal Writing practice using this protocol. Over 700 people signed up over the course of those months, many of whom came every single week. It became people’s weekly lifeline. It gave them focus and grounding in a time of extreme disorientation. People tuned in from all over the world. Oftentimes, I did it too, along with the group, for my own sanity.
This is how I journal now. I have a three-minute “hour” glass that makes me happier than a cell phone timer going off. I write all the way to the last minute, even when I don’t want to. Especially when I don’t want to.
After our last session, I received this email:
You held a sacred space for so many people during the pandemic and for me that was life-changing. I was able to take a deep dive into ME, to dream and take action. I came into the journaling sessions wanting to quit my job and left last week with the realization that I bring beauty, peace, joy, my Self into whatever I’m doing. I don’t have to leave, I can stay and create what I need right there in the job I thought I hated. I will miss our Friday night interludes, but I’m so grateful for the experience. Now the world shifts and we can start to resume our lives. I have the intention of taking everything that I learned this past year with me to create a life of presence, awareness, clarity, and peace. A million times thank you for our Friday nights. I wish you all the best and hope to see you sometime in Montana on one of your retreats. They sound amazing!! — Lori, Buffalo, NY
The pandemic isn’t over, but with the vaccine, people can be more confident about traveling and gathering. The pause button is lifted. Haven Writing Retreats in Montana are back this fall. But I will continue journaling in this way and I hope that others will too, including you. I’m friends with my journal again. It’s anything but dusty. Sometimes it takes a major upheaval to find an old, and very important, soul mate.