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How Journaling Makes You a Better Writer

by Jacki Andre September 04, 2018

How Journaling Makes You a Better Writer

Dear Sparkly Unicorn Friends,

You know it’s true: Practice makes perfect.

We’ve all seen it happen. It’s how we learned how to tie our shoes, cook an egg to our liking, take a good selfie, drive a car.

Sometimes, we really have to stick with a thing, like Baby did in Dirty Dancing. Man, she was persistent! And who can blame her, right? Who wouldn’t want to dance like that -- and with Johnny Castle to boot? *swoon* I, too, would certainly keep my eye on that prize.

Sure, it’s possible to hit a home run at your first time up to bat. Just witness Daniel Larusso pluck that fly out of the air with his chopsticks in The Karate Kid. But as Mr. Miyagi crustily points out to Daniel, “You, beginner luck.” To keep catching flies, Daniel will need to practice.

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell famously postulated the “10,000-Hours Rule.” That is, “you need to have practiced, to have apprenticed, for 10,000 hours before you get good.” Now, some people argue that it’s not just practice in general that leads to improvement, but “deliberate practice.”

As Nick Skillicorn writes in an inc.com piece, deliberate practice is:

being completely honest with yourself about what you want to improve, finding the best ways to actually achieve that improvement, and then actually executing that practice even if it is challenging and uncomfortable.

Think about it this way. Let's say you spend 10,000 hours baking bread. But, in every single loaf you make, you dissolve the yeast in cold water. Thousands of loaves later, you're still producing heavy rectangular pancakes instead of light, airy loaves. If you keep practicing something the wrong way, with no effort to improve, the argument is that you're never going to get good.

Interestingly, it doesn’t work that way for writing. To up your writing game, all you need to do is pull out your lined journal and put pen to paper. If you practice “freewriting” (a stream-of-consciousness style, with no editing), a few interesting things will happen:

You will find your voice

When we’re bogged down by grammatical conventions, it can be hard to write freely. Advice to “write like you talk” is fine and dandy. But how do you reconcile grammatical rules with the vernacular? How you gonna do that, hmmm?

The answer is that you work on your voice first and on grammar second. As Marcus Sheridan discusses, your voice is what projects honesty, sincerity, and transparency. It’s genuine. It’s you. Once you can write the same way you talk, it will be much easier to get words onto paper. You’ll stop overthinking things and just write.

You will expand your vocabulary

As you become more comfortable writing in your own voice, you will start using new words. Rosalind Atkinson explains this process well in her blog at Craft your Content:

[In our writing journals] we have a chance to express ourselves with less self-consciousness, which helps stimulate and access the brain’s latent vocabulary. … Writing in a journal gives me an opportunity to dance around in my brain’s vocabulary, trying out words just for the hell of it. New acquisitions from reading might creep in, and old friends will be called for at just the right moment as I describe what I am most familiar with: my own experience.

You will become more fluent

Google Dictionary defines fluency as “the ability to express oneself easily and articulately.” Studies (such as this one by Ju A Hwang) as well as anecdotal evidence, show that all you need to do to become more fluent is to write more.

You will overcome writer’s block

As Hwang points out (and as I can certainly attest!) getting started is one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. With freewriting, the goal is just to get something written down, even if you keep rewriting the same sentence over and over. And once you start writing something in your personal journal, you kickstart the entire process.

You will gain confidence

All the other things that are happening intrinsically as you write more -- finding your voice, expanding your vocabulary, increasing your fluency, and consistently overcoming writer’s block -- will increase your confidence as a writer. And being a confident writer means you will write more, which keeps the circle going.

Writing more and writing better are byproducts of each other. All you need to do is get started. Grab yourself a lined journal and go to town. If you need tips on how to get started, I’ve got you covered, yo.

This week’s blog was written in recognition of International Literacy Day, which occurs annually on September 8. The date is a chance to reflect on literacy challenges worldwide, with the goal of helping all people achieve literacy.

Photo Credit: terimakasih0 on pixabay

Jacki Andre
Jacki Andre

Jacki Andre has been journaling for over 30 years and still has her jam-packed Judy Blume Diary to prove it. Somewhere along the way, she started writing for reals, and is now a published author and Huffington Post blogger. In her spare time, Jacki supports dog rescue, advocates for disability rights, and educates other drivers via hand gestures about the importance of using turn signals. She keeps in shape by chasing joy (and her ‘80s teen idols) in earnest.


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