Posts in Writing
After Twenty Years of Journaling, Here’s What I’ve Learned

I’m a journal guy. It started in college with those 99 cent notebooks you could get at any local grocery store. Then, after college, I graduated to the more expensive, $1.50 versions. Each morning, during my time of prayer, I would jot a few thoughts. Sometimes, these looked like prayers while on most days, I would just write whatever came to my mind.

This has continued for the better part of two decades. 

I’ve discarded most of my journals. Rarely do I go back and read them. I don’t care about them. I don’t want to relive the past.

What I value is the very act of journaling and after two decades, here is what I’ve learned: 

  1. Journaling has been the singular best way for me to measure progress in my spiritual life. By keeping to a daily discipline of journaling, I am reminded to pray. I only journal in the context of praying and in so doing, I take a mental note, “I prayed today”. This develops streaks which propel me closer to God. Momentum trumps willpower any day of the week as I’ve mentioned in The 5 Habits of Prayerful People.
  2. Journaling is a selfish endeavor.  When I journal as a form of communication with God, journaling is God-focused. Most of the time however, I’m journaling to get stuff out of my head and that’s fairly self-focused. If I’m honest, I journal for myself more than for anything or anyone else. I need to clear my mind. Some people jog. I journal.
  3. Journaling is a core component of my prayer life.  I use journaling as an essential part of my daily devotions. By practicing the ACTS method of prayer, my journal serves as the “container” for that routine. If you’re unfamiliar with ACTS, this video will help.
  4. Journaling helps to clarify thought.  The more you write, the more clear you think. The more clear are your thoughts, the better you will communicate with the rest of the world.
  5. My journals are 100% temporary and disposable.  I rarely go back and review what I’ve written. I don’t care if they are lost, destroyed or misplaced. It’s the act of writing that counts more than the final products. I journal to stay in mental and spiritual shape. The journaling is a blunt means to an end.
  6. My doctoral dissertation and book would not have been possible without journaling. I don’t think that I would have been able to write a book-length dissertation or The 5 Habits of Prayerful People without two decades of journaling. It’s partly about volume folks! Even a marathoner starts with a 5K race.
  7. Journaling can masquerade for prayer itself.  While journaling is a part of my morning devotional time, I can at times mistake journaling for prayer itself. It can be but it’s not necessarily the same thing. Just because I’m writing doesn’t mean that I’m automatically praying. 
  8. A digital journal app is the single most important app I use.  My calendar and email app are important but without my journaling app (I use DayOne) I’d be toast. It’s an anchor for daily prayer, intellectual growth and my interior life in general. 
  9. I’m only getting started.  Who knows where God will take my writing and prayer in the next two decades. One thing I know- I’m only getting started! Each day, I look forward to writing a few thoughts. 

If you are a journaler, I’d love to hear why you journal and what God has taught you through it.  Want to see how I use DayOne for daily prayer? This video explains much of it.

How Writing Can Improve Your Prayer Life
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As I write, I’m preparing for a trip to Africa. By the time you read this, I’ll be sleeping under a mosquito net somewhere in Uganda. I could be going over my packing list one more time or making sure that my immunization list is complete.

Instead, I’m writing.

To my left on a comfortable chair is my dog, Ace. A loyal companion, Ace is nearly always at my side. Safe to say, he’s coauthored more than a few blog posts in the past year. He is a quiet editor and rarely criticizes story or syntax. He does occasionally chew on his paw.

My “office” for the next 15 minutes is my porch. A decent cup of coffee to my right, an iPad in front of me and an ugly green writer’s table- these are my tools. The table is small and my wife will probably have “repurposed” it by the time I return from my trip.

I look out the window. A rabbit is having breakfast on the front lawn. My neighbor’s truck is missing, a sign that he’s gone fishing (again). I’ve been up for an hour. Walked Ace. Brewed coffee. Said my prayers. Wrote in my journal.

Now, I’m at the writer’s table. I don’t want to be here or maybe I do. Writing for me is like exercise. If I think too much about it, it simply won’t happen. Instead, for me, it’s best to just dive in. Not that kind of dive they call a “pencil” jump. Rather, a headfirst-make-a-splash kind of thing. I’ve never been a great swimmer and my diving reflects that.

Still, I’m in the water. Ace relocates to another spot on the porch.

Most of the time, I’m writing under a cloud. The cloud is flooded with tension. Shall I write only about prayer today or add a pinch of productivity? Will my readers be turned off? What if this generates more ”claps” on Medium? What if it produces crickets?

Writers know that this cloud follows them. Sometimes it is generous enough to open up and bring about a clear sky. For me, most of the time, it just hangs around. I know it’s there. I simply need to write and pierce its presence. Screw you, I tell the tension. I’m writing and that’s that.

With my first book set to come out in 2019, my writing habit has paid off. The writer’s table. The affable canine. The habit. I still don’t think I’m any good at it but at least someone, a real publisher, does and it willing to put a cover on the thing. Part of me hopes no one will read it. I tell my parents that, by my third book, that’s when I’ll get good at it.

Writing has become a part of my life.

It’s still hard. I never wake up wanting to do it. I still feel like I’m a pathetic writer on any given day. But I press on. There are more words to write and more thoughts in my own head to clarify. I’m a selfish writer. I’d say I write about 90% for myself and the rest for the reader. At least I’m honest about it.

Surprisingly, I’ve found that writing helps with prayer.

There are too many similarities to make here. Suffice it to say that both need discipline. Both are about playing “the long game”. Neither gets noticed by the outside world. Both bring clarity to your thoughts and heart. Neither is glamorous. Both slow you down. Neither requires a special place. Both produce peace of mind.

The two also play nice together. Interestingly enough, my prayer and my writing have become intertwined. I journal (writing) as part of my morning prayer. I pray as I’m struggling to write. Lord, what am I really trying to say here? I mutter when the words don’t come out right. The prayer and the writing, they find a way towards one another. When people aren’t comfortable talking to God out loud, I tell them to write out their prayers. Game-changer for most.

Writing makes you a better pray(er) and I’m grateful for both practices. 

Which can you try today? 

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Why You Might Enjoy Using a Text Editor

ByWord.  

Text Wrangler.

Scrivener.

For years I woud hear these words and not only be obvivious to what they meant but also naive as to how they were used.  They are after all, text editors.

Turns out, most serious writers use text editors to crank out volumes of text.  Having been a Microsoft Office user for years and more recently using Apple's Pages program, I really didn't get why someone would turn to a text editor for word processing.

That is of course, until I used one myself.  

"Byword nails that fine line between useful and fiddly with features and options."  David Sparks

Lately I've been using ByWord for Mac and iOS.  It's simple, clean interface makes journaling and blog posts a snap.  From a devotional perspective, my journaling has taken on an almost poetic style and I owe it to ByWord.  No joke, it makes a difference.  My shelves of journals (maybe 10-12 books?) are now in digital version and I can write anytime and basically anywhere.  

What are you using to journal or for daily devotions?

 

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http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=1556