A few months ago, I was depressed and dealing with several addictions. An old friend reconnected and recommended I start a new hobby. That’s when I discovered why handwriting in a journal was an invaluable tool for writers.
When I say ‘journaling’, I mean literally writing on a notebook with a pen or pencil. Several visionaries today from Oprah to Richard Branson either write on a journal or consistently handwrite. It’s not a coincidence.
I highly recommend it even if you’re not a writer. Typing on a computer can have its benefits too but to get the full effect, you’ll need to go old school.
It wasn’t easy, to begin with.
Like any millennial, I barely handwrite. Thanks to smartphones, I don’t even write down phone numbers or people’s names anymore. I write slowly and illegibly.
But that’s why I kept it simple and stuck to a tiny little notepad that fit in my pocket. I made sure to limit myself to two pages (back and forth) so I would write as succinctly as possible.
Every day I would write about a variety of things:
- Something to be thankful for
- A new thing I did or tried
- My feelings
I journaled at the end of each day or at the start of the next day.
It’s best to do it on one of these two times.
If you miss a day, you can still go back and write but your memory may not be as fresh.
It didn’t feel like it did anything for me at first. But I immediately felt more at peace every day I stopped for five to ten minutes just to write. And don’t just take my word for it. I did some research.
Here are seven reasons how handwriting in a journal can be a powerful tool for writers:
1. Great way to warm up
The mind is almost like a muscle. Before exercising, it is recommended to do some stretching and some warm-ups to optimize performance and minimize injuries. The same can be said for writing.
Handwriting in a journal when I wake up helps me get into the writing groove and helps me expel some of the “mental diarrhoea” in my head so I can be sharper for my more serious projects. The hardest part about writing is getting started and when you’re journaling, you make this process a whole lot easier.
One does not simply sit down and get into a “flow state”. Like exercising, pushing out words for the sake of can be a helpful exercise to get into it. Trying writing exercises is one thing. But something as simple as writing down on a notepad can help “wake you up”.
2. Creates new article ideas and improves creativity
I didn’t start handwriting in a journal because I wanted new ideas but that’s what they naturally evolved to. It’s like a stream of consciousness and you blurt out whatever comes to mind, and you’ll eventually find something worth sharing with people.
Since I started journaling 47 days ago, about 25 of these became article ideas including this one. Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages advocates this very process. She emphasizes keeping things simple and just letting things flow.
As writers, we can fall into the habit of overthinking and overcomplicating our content ideas. Who can blame us? We need to constantly produce content and it can be tough. But sometimes the best ideas come from the simplest things including your daily life.
Journaling helps us focus on the daily things we take for granted and gives us a fresh perspective worthy of turning into a 500 or 1000-word piece to share.
3. Stress relief
This one is obvious and is scientifically proven; we all need some form of relief, from all our thoughts and pains. I started journaling to get over my porn addiction, among other things. Sometimes putting things out frees stuff from your head and allows you to think more clearly.
A study published in the journal Psychological Science found that during a social experiment, students were able to improve their self-esteem through journal writing. Those who wrote positive thoughts on their body image remembered it while those who threw away their notes after writing negative admissions were at peace.
Another study suggested that students turn to handwriting in a journal to de-stress. Being a college student is one of the most turbulent moments in our development and handwriting in a diary, amidst all the smartphones and social media can still be a viable method of coping.
4. Set-up goals and accomplish them
I usually keep track of my goals on a weekly basis. I used to keep a more detailed “productivity chart” but I’m taking a break from it for now as maintaining it can be a task. Having a journal is like a less detailed but more organic way to keep me motivated.
There are many ways to stay updated on your goals. Keeping a journal is one of them. While in the middle of a project, writing it down in a journal will give you a set of notes you can turn back to. You can go track your development or go back to a reference point.
It’s also a useful way to find trends and patterns not just on your goals but on your life (depending on how long you’ve been journaling).
Handwriting also sends signals to the brain conditioning us to take what we write more seriously as opposed to texting on a phone or typing on a computer. We become more aware of opportunities tied to our goals.
Jotting down a to-do list on a stick-it note, or journal could prove to be a more effective tool than having a digital checklist.
5. It can help motivate you
I’ve felt inspired simply handwriting in a journal. Whether I was writing down my goals, being thankful for my blessings, or a combination of both, I felt a bit more uplifted. It gave me a sense of accomplishment, especially if I journal at the start of the day.
In fact, handwriting is scientifically proven to help make us happier, healthier, and more productive. It is therapeutic and helps develop intrapersonal communication: the thoughts we have in our heads. For writers, this is an essential skill to develop.
Studies have also found a link between handwriting personal goals and motivation. While I still have my tasks and schedule online, I make it a habit to write about what I’m doing all of this for in my personal journal. It not only enlightens me and helps me seem them in a new light, but also inspires me to take action.
6. Helps with short-term memory
A critical part of journaling is keeping track of your days; while I do “cheat” and skip journaling from time to time, I need to focus on remembering what happened on the days I am journaling about. This helps me improve my memory and keep track of what’s going on with my life.
Martin Conway and Sue Gathercole proved in a series of experiments at Lancaster University that handwriting helps with memory. And according to Agnes Szollosi, a professor at the University of Technology and Economics in Budapest, the best time to do so is during bedtime.
Handwriting in a journal just before bedtime is the most optimal way to sharpen memories. Just the effort you put into remembering the events of the day helps you be more mindful. And on the days you forget to journal, you’ll learn to develop this skill even further.
7. Develops Empathy and Humility
Nothing humbles me more than realizing I am a big screw up every day; maybe this is a bit harsh but since I’ve lost my full-time job and began writing “full-time”, I’ve been on a tight budget and have been spending so much time by myself I learn to better deal with my emotions.
When I write about them and think them through, I gain a bit more understanding of myself. While I still haven’t figured it out entirely, I’ve learned more about myself than since before I started journaling.
There are many creative ways to do journaling too. I mainly focused on just writing about my day and about my feelings. But here are a few exercises (designed for children but still applicable for adults) that can help brighten days, reduce stress, and help us understand ourselves.
Oprah’s Gratitude Journal is another great journaling tool to help you appreciate all the small good things in your life. I undertook this for a week and helped put me in a great mood just before getting a good night’s rest.
Handwriting in a Journal Will Make You A Better Writer
Writing on a journal daily is almost like having a therapist. While I won’t recommend substituting it for therapy, it can help you become a better person by helping you understand yourself and self-heal. It can help you expel your negative thoughts and makes you happier.
And a healthier, happier, and more focused writer is a better writer. Ditch the keyboard and monitor for a pen and paper and start handwriting in a journal again. You’ll be thankful you did.