Find your language by letting go

Keeping a journal resembles having a best friend who hears all of your thoughts and understands your emotions.  Rereading your journal entries – either silently or out loud, even many years later – can bring to light unacknowledged or unhealthy beliefs and emotions and allow healing and psychological growth.

I have been writing in my journals for 25 years.  It’s easy to begin, not necessarily time consuming and you don’t have to write every day.  But, to reap the most benefits, it is important to continue your journaling practice over a period of time. 

“A Walk Between Heaven and Earth: A Personal Journal on Writing and the Creative Process” is a unique book by a creative writing professor at California State University in San Francisco, Burghild Nina Holzer, who traveled often between her family’s home in Austria and her work in the United States.  

Students in her creative writing classes were surprised that her curriculum differed from all other writing classes they had taken.  They learned to relax and become open to fresh thoughts by practicing meditative techniques to calm and center themselves before each period of writing.  She insisted they avoid trite or well-worn metaphors forcing them to write far more creatively.  Critiquing other’s work was replaced by commenting only on the positive aspects. 

“A Walk Between Heaven and Earth” intermingles excerpts from two different journals Holzer was keeping simultaneously over nine months – one, commenting on her student’s responses to her teaching style – the other, a deeply personal account of her life in which she wrote her dreams and nightmares when they occurred and processed her grief after the death of her brother.      

Her writing prompts along with her students’ reactions are scattered throughout her book.  The prompts are simple and offer a broad range of possibilities for creative writing to elicit deep emotions and unique metaphors as well as a sense of wonder to help writers tap into their own creativity and inspiration.

  1. Writing about the present moment “is often done in meditation, simply sitting to become aware of your breathing, your body.  I tell my students to get up, go outside, become aware of the place you sit in, your breathing, your body, rather than racing off into thoughts. This often changes the tone to a calmer and yet very alert state of being. Always be ready for the gifts that come, but not to plan them.”
  • Sketching dreams, feelings and the outdoors before including language may lead you in different directions toward new possibilities.  Jot your thoughts – a single word or phrase – in and around your images.
  • Exploring metaphors outdoors, one can “look for a natural metaphor – something that becomes a symbolic expression.  This exercise invariably produces the finest poetry – poems disguised as journal entries.” 
  • Reading aloud words you have just written is the fastest way to hear and feel your own voice in your body and know if it is true whether you are alone or with others.  

 “Keeping a journal is a process of education through movement, in the physical and metaphorical sense.

“You don’t have to have an idea, and it isn’t a matter of finding the right one.  Trust the moment and open yourself to it, then what needs to be there will be there, and what needs to be said will be said.  It doesn’t matter what you pick as a first sentence, or what outside stimulation or inside memory you start with, you will eventually get around to writing what has been waiting inside you to be written.”

Susan leads personal writing groups and workshops in South Carolina and teaches online for the Therapeutic Writing Institute & Center for Journal Therapy.  All of her previous Columbia Star Newspaper articles can be read at:

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