Today I am happy to share an e-mail interview with Mari L. McCarthy. It is all about the power of journaling! Check it out below:
- Why did you decide to start journaling in the first place?
It was for physical therapy purposes only. I had an MS episode where I lost most use of the right side of my body, and I needed to teach myself how to write with my left hand ASAP.
- When did you notice a connection between journaling and how you felt physically, spiritually, and mentally?
Right away. I got started with Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages, and the three stream-of-consciousness pages first thing every morning took me on a magical mystery tour. I started hearing rhymes and started writing poetry for the first time in my life. And, I started remembering things from my childhood 60 years ago and experiencing it as if it was happening right now. I was able to process the events through the pages, became aware of how many erroneous thoughts and feelings I was carrying around in my body, and created new thoughts that reduced all kinds of mental, physical and spiritual stress.
- Who do you think could benefit most from journaling daily?
Everyone. We all have had challenging childhoods where we just sucked in everything, including a lot of erroneous thoughts and feelings (I call them issues in our tissues). Journaling provides us the opportunity to understand the origins of our crazy thinking and shows us how to reframe our thought process.
- What advice would you give someone who is just starting on their journaling journey?
Journaling is about facing our fears, learning how to manage our negativity and inner critics, and reclaiming our power. That is monumental behavior change. Take it easy. Journaling is about thinking with your heart and soul. Our overanalytical head has been in change for so long she’s afraid of losing control. My recommendation is to ask your journal a question and then free-write fast until you feel – my favorite 4 letter F word – like stopping.
- What do you think is the biggest roadblock for those who want to make journaling a daily habit and fail to do so?
We are our biggest roadblock. We are experienced in self-sabotage and in having an unhealthy relationship with ourselves. Fear has controlled us since forever, and it is scary and a lot of hard work to explore our inner world. Plus, we were raised to think that alone time is so selfish. It is a totally new experience to work through the pain and heal our wounds.
- Do you prefer to handwrite or type your journal entries? Which would you recommend to those new to journaling?
Pen to paper every day is the only way to get all the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health benefits that are available to you from journaling. Jumping right in and freewriting is a good start. Make sure you breathe and understand that your head (ego, inner critic, other voices…) will go crazy. Writing fast will show them you are in charge.
- Why do you think journaling has such a profound effect on our lives and how we perceive ourselves?
I don’t know. I can only tell you that I have monumentally healed, grown and transformed myself thanks to journaling. I live a compassionate (!) unconditional love-in with myself, and it grows every day. In my first book, Journaling Power: How to Create the Happy, Healthy Life You Want to Live, I have results from scientific studies that are researching and monitoring this magical, mysterious self-healing process.
- Aside from journaling, how else do you think writing can help us lead better lives?
Writing is creative self-expression, and we have so much inside of us that we’ve been stuffing down for so long. Writing is giving ourselves permission to be the truly talented (wild and crazy) person we are and share our brilliance with the world.
- What do you think we as writers can learn from our journaling patterns (i.e. the topics we keep coming back to time and time again)?
Besides the therapeutic value journaling has, it gives us great ideas for poetry, essays, characters for fiction writing.
- Aside from journaling, what advice would you give readers eager to live their best lives?
Carve out “ME” (self-care) time every day where you can just be with yourself. We’re great doers and care takers and fixers and…. What we need to do is put ourselves first and work on reconnecting and staying connected to our true self every day.
Mari, thank you for sharing such great advice and insight with my readers! Best of luck with the rest of your blog tour.
In Mari L. McCarthy’s latest book Heal Yourself with Journaling Power, she outlines the many personal benefits of starting or continuing to journal. Heal Yourself with Journaling Power offers writers and non-writers a concise overview of how journaling can be used to help resolve all kinds of personal issues through daily journaling. The book itself serves as a roadmap and call to action for anyone desiring change or left wanting more out of life. I expect nothing less from the author/creator behind CreateWriteNow.
Mari begins by describing the true power behind journaling: daily habit. It did not surprise me that she begins by mentioning morning pages. The same concept fuels one of my favorite websites: 750words. Deceptively simple, the humble act of writing daily drives later change. Once journaling becomes a daily habit, the real work begins. However, all true healing through journaling hinges on writing consistently.
In the book, Mari provides readers with an outline on how to use this power to heal their own lives. She includes different aspects of her personal story and anecdotes of others who have had similar experiences to drive her points home. In addition, she provides readers with journal prompts in each chapter. As a result, it can easily be viewed as a textbook by anyone wanting to use journaling to fundamentally change his or her life. Part memoir, part writing manual, and part self-help book, I would recommend Heal Yourself with Journaling Power to anyone remotely interested in self-improvement, journaling, or writing generally.
In fact, a few simple tools will put anyone on the path to healing through journaling. Personally, I would recommend using 750words or another online journal to get started journaling daily. Add in the community and resources over at CreateWriteNow along with a copy of Heal Yourself with Journaling Power to keep motivated and moving forward. I don’t see the need for much else when it comes to journaling, although different prompts are always fun and often provide insight that moves the process along.
As a writer, I found myself largely agreeing with Mari throughout the book. While I haven’t experienced some of the more dramatic physical changes she attributes to journaling, I have journaled consistently enough during various stages of my life to attest to its power. I particularly agree with Mari that journaling provides a clarity that is difficult to find anywhere else. The clarity that comes from journaling consistently can help writers overcome a myriad of obstacles that may be in their way, no matter what they might be.
While I would recommend Heal Yourself with Journaling Power to any writer, non-writers may benefit from it message to a greater degree. The techniques outlined in the book can be used by anyone to help identify roadblocks and move forward on any goal, dream, or ambition. Using the journaling process to help organize one’s thoughts and formulate a plan of action may not be obvious to non-writers. The power of journaling needs to be experienced to fully understand just how lifechanging it can be.
Stay tuned! Next week I will be interviewing Mari L. McCarthy.
About the Author, Mari L. McCarthy
Mari L. McCarthy is the Self-Transformation Guide and Founder/Chief Inspiration Officer of CreateWriteNow.com. She is also author of the international-bestselling, award-winning book Journaling Power: How to Create the Happy, Healthy Life You Want to Live.
Mari began journaling to relieve the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis (MS) over 20 years ago. Through journaling, Mari was able to ditch her prescription drugs and mitigate most of her MS symptoms. Now she teaches people throughout the world how to heal, grow, and transform their lives through the holistic power of therapeutic journaling.
She lives in a gorgeous beachfront home in Boston, where she has the freedom, flexibility, and physical ability to indulge in all her passions, which include singing and recording her own albums.
I’ve discovered so many great books and resources on writing lately. I would share them with you here, but there are too many. I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to share them here separately, such as my post yesterday on Scrivener. That way, they can all be linked via tags. Also, I do plan to write a few pieces for other blogs covering similar topics, so stay tuned. As soon as they are published, I will link them here.
So why am I so fascinated with discovering new books on writing and writing tools? Well, I am continually seeking to become a better writer. That is why I write. I do have something to say, and when I finally start working seriously on something for publication, I want to be the best that I can be.
So, here is what I have learned so far:
- Famous books on writing are famous for a reason. They are worth your time. I have yet to be disappointed. If you are looking for a place to start, this list should do it. I am slowly working my way through it. There is always something to learn.
- The online writing tools out there today offer something for every type of writer. Do your research and choose wisely. So many great things to try out! It might take you some time to figure out what works for you, and that’s OK. If something isn’t working well, see if you can find something better.
- It is fun helping others who love to write. Seriously, I love to help, and it is great motivation for me to keep going. If someone discovers 750 words, Scrivener, or On Writing by Stephen King thanks to my recommendation, all the better. There is room for everyone. My ideas are not your ideas, etc. That, for me, is the beauty of any art.
- Writing groups – and critique groups in particular – are invaluable. Any feedback I get from Mid-Michigan Writers is great. Even if I decide not to use it, it alerts me to other ways of viewing my work. As writers, we are too close to our own work. No matter how perfect a piece may seem, there is always room for improvement. Just being around other writers and discussing all things writing is priceless.
- There is always something else to learn. This goes along with the fact that all writing – and I do mean all – can be improved. Start with your interests and see where it takes you. If you get stuck, start researching, whether subject or genre. It doesn’t matter much. See what else is out there. You will discover something.
The more I learn about writing, the more I wish ELA (English Language Arts) curriculum spent more time on creative writing. Plenty of instruction on how to nail those high school and college essays, but little in the way of creative writing instruction. It is true now, and it was true twenty or even fifty years ago. If writing were a separate subject in the high school curriculum, that certainly would have been my focus. Sadly, creative writing courses are only offered at the college level (usually) – and many college students can’t find a way to fit it in due to either lack of time and/or money. Notice I did not say lack of interest.
I only had the opportunity to pursue a general writing certificate program at the community college level due to the fact that I learned about the program thanks to a writing workshop and the fact that I was already taking classes there for my teaching certificate. I loved my experience, and in some ways, I wish I could go back and complete some assignments as a more seasoned writer – my portfolio for one class in particular. I know I’ve grown as a writer; I also realize I have a long way to go.
It is no secret that I am my own worst enemy at times. OK, most of the time. Lately, I’ve been spending time thinking of ways to write more efficiently and better organize my work. I keep coming back to Scrivener. I took the time to learn it a few years ago, and I loved it. The issue became I didn’t keep using it. I’m not exactly sure why I quit, but I did. Well, I am getting back into the habit again. It offers a variety of ways to organize all of my work.
In a recent post, I stated that Scrivener is the closest thing writers have to a digital studio. I firmly believe this. It is so versatile it can accommodate any form of writing and any organizational method. You get to create templates and forms to use for the type of writing you do most. There are preset options that include fiction and non-fiction, as well as a handful of specialty options. It may take me some time, but I am going to relearn Scrivener and start using it on a daily basis again. I owe it to myself. It makes back-end organization that much easier.
Is it worth the initial investment of time and money? For me, the answer is unequivocally yes. I took the time to go through the extensive in-program tutorial: a definite must if you want to make the learning curve a little shorter. Besides, there is humor built in. If you choose not to go through the tutorial, you may miss out on a lot of great features. In fact, I believe that is how people become overwhelmed. Scrivener is truly built for writers by writers. That means that it allows you to slice, dice, organize, and label all materials to your hearts content. Just remember that as a writer, no one is forcing you to use all the features at once. Out of all the writing software I’ve come across over the years, Scrivener continues to stand out. I see no need for anything else.
Then again, there are a lot of fun online platforms out there. At least that is one thing we have going for us as writers: our tools. I love the fact that there are so many great writing tools out there for little or even no cost. In fact, there are so many that it takes time to figure out what works best for the way you work. Only now, after years of trial and error, am I beginning to find a process that works best for me. Hopefully, it will get me where I need to go. It is worth it to take the time to figure out how you work best as a writer. There may be several stops and starts, but each time, it becomes easier than the last. Eventually, your process starts to emerge. No matter what your process may be – or your genre – there is a place for Scrivener.
It isn’t every day that I can say a book fundamentally changed the way I view writing and how I write. Such is the case with Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Somehow, I thought I read the book nearly a decade ago. No. No I didn’t. That became clear when I picked it up recently. I wish I read it ten years ago! Better late than never, I suppose.
I finished the book several weeks ago at this point, but I couldn’t quite capture the impression it left. I took my time reading her essays and highlighted (in my Kindle version) what I perceived to be the best writing advice contained in each essay. That is one feature I love about this book. Her advice is all nice and neatly wrapped up in small essays that make you feel as if you know her. So, how did it change the way I write?
Well, here are a few changes that I made as a result of her book:
- I finally got journaling right. Finally.
I may have mentioned this before, but I have had a love/hate relationship with journaling for as long as I can remember. I love the idea of journaling every day. Better yet is starting a new journal. Add online journals into the mix, and the entire thing is one huge mess. I collect journals. I hate actually writing in the more beautiful ones at times. Beautiful journals call for beautiful words. No one gets it right the first time. After a short period of time, I always wanted to start all over again. Repeat.
So, what changed? Well, I started acknowledging there is a need to get the junk out of the way first. That is where 750words comes in. By writing daily in this online journal daily – no frills, just the junk that comes to mind – I tend to become much more focused when I write a blog post or in one of my beautiful traditional journals. I limit what I write in a traditional journal to one short page a day. It is much more focused.
Natalie refers to the “junk” as monkey mind, and that concept deserves its own blog post. The idea is that we all tend to think in circles. We have to write through our wandering thoughts before we can write something meaningful. She discusses this concept throughout several of her essays.
- Find What Works for You.
This seems so cliche, but she suggests experimenting to find what processes work for you. No judgement regarding pen versus typing, morning versus evening, and so on. Writers need to write when and where they can. She provides several wonderful examples of this and how the local atmosphere can seep into writing.
What really made the difference for me was her discussion of what works for her – writing in cheap one subject notebooks until she fills them up. She goes on to say that the tools truly do not matter. While I knew that wouldn’t work for me, it did get me thinking. It finally hit me. A three-ring binder I could decorate with my favorite writing quotes and fill with tab dividers and loose-leaf notebook paper would work well. I could plan, write, and revise blog posts without having to worry about destroying bound notebooks. A binder would allow me to reorganize different pieces as I see fit. So far, I love it. I also included some of my favorite blog posts, lists of topics, and writing prompts – anything to keep me writing.
- Don’t Beat Yourself Up.
I would love to write full-time. The reality is that I substitute teach, spend summers working in the family business, and so much more. I am trying hard to find time to write everyday, but every once in a while, I don’t. I am learning to just pick up the next day. I don’t need to stress about it. It is a little thing, but it helps. Creating a simple writing routine helped simplify everything.
I love the fact that she embraces the fact that everyone writes garbage. We have to work through the garbage to get to the good stuff. Authentic details are everywhere. Even when not writing, we are still hard at work collecting details, situations, characters, stories, ideas, and so much more. In fact, that is one reason why I started blogging: I wanted to experiment with and collect different story ideas – to think out loud.
- Write Everywhere and Anywhere.
Write. Write. Write. Writers spend so much time avoiding writing. Plotting, planning, organizing, and even cleaning are all brilliant distractions from the actual writing itself. This is one reason why I head somewhere else when I actually want to get something done. I can always find something to distract me when I am at home. Natalie goes so far as to offer tips on how to effectively use cafes and coffee shops as places to write. My dream is to have a wonderful coffee shop near my house. It won’t happen any time soon, but a girl can dream.
Writing Down the Bones may mean different things to different writers, but I would recommend it to anyone who loves to write. I think there is something in there for everyone. It is a book I will come back to time and time again. Writing Down the Bones already fundamentally changed the way I write.
Why do I write? There are many reasons, but the best one I can think of is for my own peace of mind. Over the last month or so, I have finally started writing daily – just for myself. It grounds me in a way I can’t fully explain.
In addition to journaling daily, I also started using 750 words again. There are rumors that Margaret Atwood mentioned 750 words in her masterclass on creative writing. Personally, I love it. I joined 750 words approximately two years ago, and I am finally starting to use it daily. I use it to spill everything out onto the page, nothing more. I let my mind wander and go from topic to topic.
Getting the garbage out of the way helps. It doesn’t matter if I write in my traditional journal before or after I write my 750 words entry for the day. I am much more focused. When I sit down to write a blog post, I am not nearly as distracted by random thoughts.
Journaling, I only write approximately a page a day. It isn’t 750 words, but I usually have something to say that is focused on my inner life or events going on that grab my attention. I finally found a type and size of journal that works for me.
There is a difference writing on a laptop versus writing pen on paper. I do both daily, no matter what type of writing. For example, I may write a blog post during lunch or conference hour. I then type, edit, and then post it when I get home. Allowing myself some flexibility really helped. I don’t beat myself up if I don’t write in 750 words or my journal every day. I am beginning to feel “off” if don’t write at least something each day.
It comes down to finding what worked for me. I am in the middle of reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. I love it – and I don’t want to rush it. So far, I tend to agree with her. There is a need to process whatever is on one’s mind before writing something for public consumption. It doesn’t have to be done that way, but it tends to make the entire process easier. Writing Down the Bones is a collection of essays on writing, and my favorite so far discusses the tools of the trade. She talks about how we get all too caught up in fancy journals (so guilty, just ask my ex!) and being afraid of writing garbage in something so beautiful. She makes the case for using cheap one-subject notebooks and just filling them.
This gave me the idea of decorating a binder and filling it with loose-leaf notebook paper. It works like a charm! If I completely screw up, I just start over. I have something with a good aesthetic, but I am not worried about permanently wrecking a notebook. For me, it is the best of all worlds, and this simple change made me much more productive. Natalie stresses this principal throughout Writing Down the Bones: Find what works for you. I couldn’t agree more. With my notebook, journal, laptop, Chromebook, and Android phone, I am set. That isn’t to mention Google Docs, Google Drive, and 750 words. I never have an excuse not to write or read. More on Writing Down the Bones to come.
Here it is: A few of my favorite writing tools, along with a brief explanation as to how and why I use them.
Mid-Michigan Writers – I am proud to belong to one of the oldest writing groups in Michigan. If you are a writer without a writing group to help you polish your work, I am truly sorry. I’ve learned so much in the last few years I’ve been a member. One of the highlights for me is the annual Gateway to Writing Workshop held in my hometown every September. The friendships and critique process I’ve taken away from this group are invaluable. Once you become a member, dues are $15 annually.
Scrivener – Where do I even begin? This is the writing program I’ve been looking for from the very beginning. It is truly a digital studio for writers. There are so many features in this program, which is designed to be used by any and all writers, that the entire tutorial takes hours to go through. The nice part about the design is that the features you don’t use are not obtrusive, and yet, they are there when you need them. I heard the hype for years before I decided to see what all the fuss is about. I am sorry that I waited so long. It truly is designed by writers for writers. I will never be without it again. You can purchase Scrivener here. There is a one-time cost of $40.
750 Words – I just recently heard about this website and started using it. So far, I love it. The point is to empty your mind of nagging thoughts by just typing them out. It is all about reaching 750 words. There are no requirements, and it is private. The fun part of it all – and why I am considering joining after my free trial – is the analytics provided after you have written your entry for the day. Not only does it show you frequently used words, it tries to interpret your mood as you write and provide you a rating (similar to the movie rating system) for your writing. It is pretty fun, even if meaningless. Membership is $5 per month. Check out the website here to see what else is included for $5. There are many free online journals out there, but none are quite as fun and motivational as this site. You also get a true sense of community. Just getting it down works.
Evernote – I’ve known about Evernote for years, but it always seemed a little too fussy for me. Well, I’ve found it to be useful for jotting down writing ideas, keeping tracks of various lists, and more. There are many features at the basic (free) level of membership. It appears to sync well between PC and Android. I use it for personal notes as well, and I am considering using it to replace ColorNote completely. I tried to use Red Notebook for the same purpose, but Evernote is much better for making lists and taking notes. Red Notebook has better uses.
Red Notebook – If you are looking for a decent digital journal that isn’t online, this is it. You can download it for free (or a donation) here. I’ve used both Digital Expressions and Live Journal in the past. As much as I liked them both, Red Notebook offers a basic digital journal offline. There is no privacy setting to set. The possibility of accidentally sharing a post you did not wish to share is no longer an issue. It is simply a digital journal. Nothing more, nothing less. That said, it has quite a few features for a basic digital journal.
That is pretty much it. It has taken me years to figure out what works best for me, but I finally think I am there – at least until the next best thing comes along.
The best of intentions don’t always work. I intended to start blogging again in January. It just didn’t happen. Life happened. So far in 2017, Grandma Reid passed away, I’ve finally been matched with a little sister through Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and my exam schedule for my teacher certification tests is set (one down, three more to go!). There is no easy way to write about my life at the moment. I’m not quite ready to write about Grandma Reid yet – although I will one day. I can’t write about all of the wonderful experiences I am having with my little sister – at least not in a way that is true to the whole story. I understand why, certainly, but it could be such a fun topic. As far as my career is concerned, nothing can really change until all of my tests are complete. Instead, I am going to have to focus on blogging about reading and writing for the moment.
I’ve read so many great books lately, thanks to book club and my sister. Reading is becoming a habit again, and I am a better person for it. Finally reading has largely replaced TV and movies in my life. I can’t ask for much more than that. As I have said before, I need to go back to keeping a list of books I’ve read. I want to share them with all of you. By listing the books I read on my blog, I became an intentional reader. I still am. I need to get back to sharing what I read. I plan on eventually sharing book reviews on GoodReads as well.
Writing is another story entirely. I always miss it when I don’t write. I need to write. Even though I’ve owned Scrivener for over a year, I finally took the time to go through the entire tutorial and learn how to use it properly. I don’t think I will be without it ever again. I love it, and it is exactly what every writer needs. The capacity built into Scrivener to meet the needs of almost any type of writer imaginable is mind-boggling. It becomes apparent once you go through the tutorial and start using the program just how customizable it truly is.
At the advice of a friend, I’ve also started using 750words.com. The verdict is still out. I do like the idea of free writing 750 words each and every day without it having to be used for a polished piece of writing. I’ve also been exploring RedNotebook, which I’ve been using as a personal journal. In fact, you can actually create numerous journals. It is basic, but great for creating lists too.
In April I hope to attend at least a couple of writers’ conferences. Nothing is settled yet, but the reality is that I could attend writers’ conferences every weekend in April, with the exception of Easter weekend, if I wanted to do so. I ask myself why I go, and then as soon as it is over, I realize that I always take away something useful. In fact, one of the reasons why I am so excited about these particular conferences is due to a possible opportunity to present on education for writers in an upcoming workshop this fall. If nothing else, I will take away something. There are other things going on behind the scenes as well, as always. So many things to do and never enough time!