My dad is an avid journaler, who has a stack of red, hardcover notebooks that date back to when we lived in Russia, and, though my parents never taught me the importance of journaling or introspection, I have always seen them practice it. To this day, my dad sits down every night to write at least one page in his journal. My mum writes like she lives – sporadically, in great bursts of enthusiasm.
My journaling practice started early on but wasn’t consistent. It had more to do with my obsession with pretty notebooks – I had stacks upon stacks of spiral notebooks, sketchbooks, diaries with locks that I kept losing the keys for. I usually started the notebooks with a lengthy introduction of who I was – my favourite colour (purple), my favourite book (‘The Secret Garden’), my favourite film (‘Spirit’ or ‘Home Alone’), and then promptly forgot they existed. I still have all those notebooks in a box in my bedroom. I’m a hoarder at heart, I guess.
What started as a hobby that I wasn’t all that committed to, became a lifeline when I was a teenager. I remember anxious nights before school, anticipating eating my lunch in the girls’ toilets or spending breaks hiding in the library. I remember the comments the teachers made about how my uniform was not the right shade of green, and how respectful they were to my mother when they thought her accent was German, and how swiftly their faces changed when she told them it was Russian. Filled with frustration, anxiety, and loneliness, I spent nights journaling.
Somewhere down the line, those midnight journals turned into morning pages and bullet journals, but the purpose is the same – purge whatever’s holding me back and stressing me out, write down my thoughts to understand them, own up to other thoughts I didn’t even know I had. It’s a practice that has always sustained me, but I have made another discovery recently, which has changed my life and my writing: free writing.
I was reading ‘Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce and Tender Wisdom of the Women‘ by Mirabai Starr, a book given to me by one of my spiritual friends. Mirabai writes about female mystics and how we should implement their wisdom in our daily lives, offering writing prompts at the end of most chapters. Her writing prompts follow the rules of free writing by Natalie Goldberg, which you can find here. The main idea is: time yourself while writing and write as fast as your hand can move and your mind can think. Don’t edit yourself. Not on the page, not in your head.
I was reading ‘Wild Mercy’ after coming home, feeling uprooted and out of whack. I spent a week feeling at a complete loss, and the only thing that helped was talking to friends. Even the morning pages weren’t cutting it – I felt I wasn’t being honest with myself anymore, I could feel I was suppressing something but I wasn’t sure what. In short, I felt stuck.
But then I sat down with one of the writing prompts Mirabai Starr suggested: “What do you want from the Holy One? Write a letter to your Beloved, stating your demands.” I’m often sceptical about anything that has to do with God, after having been to a humanistic school and grown up in a mostly atheistic family (apart from when my mum lit candles to help my brother or me pass an exam). But for this exercise, I let go of judgement. I just wrote. And it all spilled out.
I wrote about why I felt like the ground was disappearing underneath my feet, I wrote about what I wanted the Universe to take away from me, like my anxiety, stress, the want to be liked and loved by people I don’t even care about. And it was stuff I’d been holding back in my other writing, but setting a timer for ten minutes and not stopping until I finished, stopped that inner censor from creeping up. I’d been talking about our inner censors for a long time now, so I was surprised to find out I still hadn’t banished mine. I’ve been keeping up that free writing practice for over a week now, and it’s made its way into my morning pages, my lyrics, my academic writing. I’ve been writing more easily and honestly.
If you want to try free writing, here are some writing prompts to get you started:
- What are my values? What would my life look like if I lived it accordingly?
- What do I believe to be true about myself? Which of these beliefs are limiting? How will they affect my life if I act as if they’re true? Why are they not true?
- What does living with intention mean to me?
- What emotion am I trying to avoid in my life? What do I think will happen if I allow myself to feel it?