by Janet Falon
You’ve probably heard this before, but if you’re a cancer survivor (or the care partner of a cancer survivor), writing down your feelings and thoughts in a journal is healing – emotionally, spiritually, and, many people think, physically.
Maybe you’ve tried. Maybe not. But I want to offer you some new ways of thinking about and practicing journaling that can help get you going or, if you’re already doing it, looking at it in a vital new way.
For instance: You don’t have to write in your journal every day! (I rarely use exclamation points in my writing, so you should know that this is important.) Write whenever you’re moved to, which might be twice a day, just sometimes, or once every two weeks. There is no reason to “should” yourself about writing – unless you’re not doing it at all. In that case, make a pact with yourself that for the next month, for instance, you’ll write three times a week, and at the end of that month, you’ll renegotiate with yourself.
Another important journal how-to: Don’t write in your journal only when you’re miserable. Or afraid, or angry, or sad, etc. Journals are great for “dumping” when things are lousy and often help people feel, at least temporarily, better. But I encourage you to write in all emotional states. After all, writing is an act of commitment; instead of writing, you could be committing your time and energy to any activity. So, if you only commit to journaling your emotions when things are difficult, you’re telling yourself that your feelings are only important at those times. I encourage you to validate other moments in your life, times when things are OK, or even good. Amid the challenges of cancer, there are times – if only minutes – when something is going right. Give them their due.
There is no reason to “should” yourself about writing – unless you’re not doing it at all.
Another tip: Don’t try to be a great writer in your journal. The journal is all about content, about expressing what’s in your mind and heart, not about honing your writing skills. Try to write as freely as possible, not worrying about the quality of your writing. That’s why lists are such terrific journal techniques; they go right to the core of the matter, and you needn’t worry about sentence structure, grammar, or any other “rules.” Only if you’re interested in expressing yourself more publicly should you concern yourself with such things.
What if you just can’t get it together to start a journal? Writer’s block – when you find it difficult to write or to think of something to write about – affects writers of all genres, even what’s called expressive writing, like journaling. I believe that writer’s block can be attributed to two things: The inner critic and the inner censor.
The inner critic is the voice that says to you, when you’re writing, that you’re a horrible writer, that your grammar stinks, that your vocabulary is too thin, and other discouraging statements. With a voice like that in your head, who would want to write?
The inner censor is the voice that says to you, if you write about your true feelings concerning someone or something, or if you share about a hushed-up experience, your family is going to disown you, you’ll lose all your friends, people will think you’re bad, and so on. The censor, combined with the critic, does not make for a happy writing experience.
A good way to deal with the critic is to let it out by writing, in the journal, what it’s saying to you. Often, expelling it frees you to write, at least for a while. Similarly, you might write in your journal a list of things that the censor is telling you not to write about. Consider each item, and you may find that it’s safe to write about some of those things at this point in your life, and that maybe others should remain unwritten, at least for now.
Janet Falon is a writer and writing teacher in the Philadelphia, PA, area. She has been teaching people with cancer for 10 years.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2017.