Benefits of journaling
I posted a time-lapse on Instagram the other day of me doing my morning pages. And I immediately got a reply from someone: “You write SO much every morning?! What do you write about? I’m glad if I can write a to-do list for me and the kids.” But with that thinking you’re missing the point of morning pages, of journalling the way I do. It’s not about writing something productive.
Yes. That’s right.
Morning pages is not about writing something productive.
Most of the morning pages I write are absolute crap. They either piss and moan about some aspect of my life that sucks (I’m too busy, too tired, I don’t want to work today, I want to go back to bed, or simply: I just don’t want to do these morning pages), or they are about all the things I still have to do, or some emotion I am feeling. I never know what I’ll write about before I start. I just put pen to paper and go.
So why do it? Why do morning pages when what comes out is total crap that’s fit for the garbage?
Warming up and get the rubbish words out
Well, think of it like this: if you are a runner who does marathons professionally. Would you do a marathon without warming up? Of course not, then your muscles are cold and you either injure yourself or set a crap time. Or worse: do both.
So I see morning pages as my warm-up for the day. Sometimes I get so stuck in my thoughts that my creative thinking is blocked and pushed down. It is hidden under the rubble of ‘I am not good enough’ and all types of ‘this sucks’. So I do morning pages. To get it out. To unclog the drain so the good words can come out.
Neil Gaiman said it better:
Assume that you have a million words inside you that are absolute rubbish and you need to get them out before you get to the good ones.
So show up to your morning pages, get some of the rubbish out to get to the good ones.
But that’s not the only thing that makes morning pages magic. For me, I’ve always been a thinker on paper. I think more clearly when I write things out than I do when I think in my head, or even talk things through with a friend.
So if my thoughts decided to come up with something like ‘I am missing out on this experience because my leg is injured and I can’t fully participate’, I get to think about it on paper. Not directed thinking, I just go where my pen takes me. I don’t think. I let it flow.
So in the above example, I kept writing about how much I didn’t like I couldn’t participate. And then suddenly on the paper, it said:
“Hang on a minute. You show up to everything. You’re doing all the sessions, doing all the work. The only thing you can’t do is jump up and down and dance. And even that you’re doing sitting on your bum in a chair. So ARE participating and you ARE showing up.”
So with those 10-20 minutes in the morning, I am able to stop a negative thinking pattern that would have held me hostage. And turned it around.
And sure, not every morning is magic. Sometimes you write pages and you go: Meh.
But the key here is: I show up. YOU showed up. So whatever your day turns out to be after that. You did this one thing that you said you are going to do every day. So you started your day by showing up for yourself. And that is always the right way to start your day.
Why I burned my journals
A few years ago, I burned my journals. Not all of them, but a few. My journals are my most precious possessions. And I love how they show me what I was like growing and changing. They were with me in good times, dark times, and times where I had to keep them close because ideas were ever-present in my head.
But still, I burned my journals. During the times when darkness was so close to the surface, my journal was a safe place to let it all out. It was a place where I got to work through things that I needed to let go of. A place where I could be myself, express myself while it was too hard to say it out loud, or let the people I love know that I was struggling.
I read through all of my journals, starting when I was seven and started with ‘dear diary. I even tried to name my diary, just like Anne Frank. While I was reading, I noticed a pattern. Dark thoughts, where I said horrible things about people I loved. Where I even wondered if I might be suicidal. I never was, except that one time in high school.
And then I thought about why I kept the journals. Yes, they were my safe place, a place to keep a record of my life, for expressing myself. But they were also my legacy. Something to leave behind for my children, or maybe if I would become a famous writer one day. Were these the kind of things I wanted to leave behind?
I decided the journals served their purpose. They did what they needed to do. They helped me get through parts of my life. They were a lifeline, a way to keep sane and get certain things out. But they were not things that needed to be in my life any longer or pass on to the next generation.
So one night, my dad and I got a large metal bowl out into the garden of my parent’s house. We lit a fire, and I watched how the words I’ve written so angrily went up on flames. How the pages soaked with tears were set free. The ink went up in all sorts of coloured flames, and they licked and devoured the pages of the journals.
And as I entered the house after our hour-long bonfire, I felt free. Like I let go of something that I held on to for way too long.
What is my mountain
Amongst my friends, Neil Gaiman’s speech is famous. You know, the one where he encourages people to make good art. And to keep going towards the mountain. It turns out my mountain got lost along the way.
All my life and growing up, I wanted to be an author. There was nothing I wanted more than to be an author. I wrote all the time, created short stories, novels, you name it, and I’ve done it. And then I stopped.
Life got in the way; I got busy. I never stopped writing, but it turned from writing fiction to blogging and content marketing and using my words to convince others to take action. Now there is nothing wrong with that. And I loved that I could help others with my words. But I became too tired to write for fun. Too stuck in the regime of blog posts that nothing else came out.
I tried it yesterday. Wrote a little bit of fiction, not much, 300 words and they all felt wrong. Nothing came out the way it was supposed to. It felt stiff, uninspired, and there was no story behind it. It seemed I have lost my spark.
I know that a big part of writing (fiction) is pushing through. I am getting over the fear of the blank page. And write. Sometimes when you think about something too much, nothing comes, and you get stuck. Somehow I couldn’t push past the stuckness this time. Not like I can with blog posts.
Since the beginning of January, a writer friend and I have been writing 500 words daily. She writes fiction, and I write blogs. This should be the ideal time to make the transition and to start working on my fiction skills again. Then why am I not doing it?
Part of that is the severe amount of pressure I’m currently putting on myself where I feel like I have to do anything and everything like finding a job and (paid) work and clients. Oh, and on top of that, I also need to write fiction again. I feel stuck in myself and my brain.
So how do you get out? How do I make sure that I love writing again? And that I make the most of these joined writing sessions every morning? How do I make the shift from writing blog posts to writing fiction?
First of all, I need to start reading again. Get more stories in my head and also get out of my head and into the world more. Get more input and find inspiration. That came even be by walking around and getting some fresh air. But getting outside and not staring at the screen will be instrumental in being able to get inspired.
And then I think it comes down to this: get your butt in your chair and write. No excuses and push through. And yes, that is the hardest part.
Don’t be afraid to take a life detour
Being 31 is a difficult age. It’s the age where you’re not ‘young’ anymore. The wild years are behind you, and you should look ahead and think about settling down. You know, buy a house, get a dog, have a kid, get married, in whatever order. But at the same time, 31 is also the age where I start to feel more like myself every day, where I’m finally figuring out what I want to do with my life.
It’s like trying to decide what you want to become in high school. No one knows what they want to do when they are 16. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I just picked something. In my case, it was journalism because I wanted to become a writer. Good choice? Perhaps. But in reality, it didn’t equip me with more skills than I already had. I came away from university with the sense that journalism had set me up for failure. Magazines sales were going down, and the internet was coming up. Everyone said this was going to be the end of journalism as we knew it. I had a lifelong of scrambling for a job ahead of me.
They were right. But not in the way they thought they were.
Yes, journalism as we knew it is changing. But that is not a bad thing. It took me almost ten years to come back around to journalism and writing. I took detours, got another education, worked other jobs and found myself drawn back to freelance journalism.
Truth is there will always be a need for good quality content. It doesn’t matter if it’s for print, digital or anything else. Because magazine print sales are going down, doesn’t mean people stop reading. I see people on their phones all the time. Reading news sites, blogs, watching videos. They are consuming content all the time.
I’m not saying all content out there is great, far from it. But therein lies the opportunity.
Come up with great content, get it out there. Talk to people, inspire people. Be a journalist in your own life and that of others. And I guarantee you; it doesn’t matter which medium you choose. Video, text, photography – everything goes here. As long as it tells a story that is yours, and that makes other people feel something.
When I graduated from journalism school, I knew two things: I didn’t want to be a freelancer, and I didn’t like journalism. I was wrong on both accounts, and it only took me several detours and ten years to figure that out. And that is okay.
Don’t be afraid to take a detour; they are never a waste of time. It’s the detours in life that helped me figure out what I wanted to do. They helped me find what I knew all along: writing is my passion.
Freelancers, work for free!
You die of exposure. And freelancing doesn’t mean work for free. It’s all been said before, nothing new there. Still, there is something about writing for exposure thing that annoys me. And it’s not what you think it is.
See, when you’re starting as a freelancer, you might not have any clips yet. It can make you feel uncomfortable pitching to (high) paying clients right away. I get that. I also get that you want to practise your skills, get your work out there and build up a portfolio. So why not write for a website that gives you a good clip to use in your portfolio? (
Gasp! Yes, I said that out loud.
I’m at a point in my freelancing career that I can’t afford to work for exposure anymore. I have bills I need to pay, and I would very much like to eat. However, if there’s a publication I want to write for and they don’t pay their contributors, I still pitch them. Why? Because it’s fun.
For instance, for the past ten years or so, I have been writing for a little non-profit that helps baby elephants. I love the organisation, elephants and I really want to contribute. Do I care that I’m not getting paid for it? A little, yes, but I love them too much to stop writing for them. It only costs me an hour of my time every other month.
Charge what you’re worth
When the discussion about charging what you’re worth starts, I’m the first one to say you should charge what you’re worth. You should not work for free. But keep in mind this comes from someone in a different place in their career than a beginner.
Does that mean that if you’re starting out you shouldn’t get paid for your writing? Of course not!
Even if you’re starting out, you should charge people for your writing. If you don’t start right away, it will be hard to ask for payment later on. Always charge what you’re worth (and you’re worth more than you think!).
As a beginner, you can try to break into a new market with guest posting. Or if there’s a publication you want to write for because you think they are super cool – do it even if they don’t pay contributors.
However…. watch out that you’re not there ‘collecting’ clips for too long. Get a few clips, get your writing chops validated and then move the heck on to paying clients.
Because trust me: you’re worth it. We all are.
Why I write
I realised something today: I hate how-to posts. Sure, they are useful when you’re installing something or need to fix your hover. But when it comes to real life, you don’t need them.
Today I received a comment from a, to me, unknown reader and it moved me to tears. It wasn’t a comment on a post on how to get the most out of your marketing efforts or how to use light in a photo. It was a comment on an honest story about disliking your job and being burnt out. A story about how I decided I needed a change and personal to me. And my story resonated with someone else. The value of that is beyond words. I realised there and then: this is why I write, to inspire people.
Now don’t get me wrong. How-to posts are great. They have their place in the world. But they are not my cup of tea. I always favoured stories about passions. This comment made it clear I should stick with that.
The blog world
The problem with the blog world these dates is that everyone is trying to sell you something. Usually, that happens through ‘helpful content’. The how-to articles are recaps from someone else’s content and unoriginal. But most of all, it teaches you how to do things exactly like everyone else. Where is the inspiration to get people to act and think as only they can? All we hear these days is to think like everyone else. Especially since we have other people telling us what to do and how we should be doing them.
Blogs are no longer about inspiration, wonder or escapism. It’s only natural; our instinct is to do what everyone else does. I fell into that same trap. I stopped being true to who I was. I stopped telling stories and started writing how-to posts: I wanted to be helpful and relevant like everyone else.
It stops here. I’m not playing this game any longer.
From now on, I’ll focus on storytelling, spreading passion and sharing inspiring stories. How-to posts can quietly take the back door and leave the building. I want you to leave this space, feeling a little more inspired than when you came — inspired to take action and do it your way. Because I know you and I both have it in us to do great things.
That is why I write.
Freelancers: stop looking at office porn
Sitting in a cafe with my chai latte, laptop out and writing the best articles. That’s the dream, right? In reality, I’m writing to you from the sofa in sweatpants and from underneath a comfy blanket. What happened here?
We’ve all seen them, those Pinterest perfect workspaces. Squeaky clean white, super stylish and not a speck of dust on them. Colourful matching pens and stationery and everything seems to fit together somehow. You can get so discouraged looking at your own workspace. I know I did since my workspace (and my blanket!) don’t look anything like the Pinterest perfect images.
But then, why don’t I go out more and work from a cafe or another inspiring place?
The thing with freelancing is that its hard work, and most of the time it feels like hard work too. Sometimes you roll out of your bed straight to your laptop and eat lunch with your laptop too. I know that is wrong from a lot of different angles, but hear me out. When you’re working as a freelancer, the hustle is real. It can mean whether you eat or not that month, especially when you’re starting out. So it can feel very stressful in the beginning.
There are morning when I wake up and feel like every second I’m not working is ruining chances of success. Deep down, I know this is utter bullshit, but I can’t help but feel on edge. Feel like I have to make this work or else…
So that’s why it’s easier to let dust gather around you and throw on a pair of sweatpants. As much as I love looking at those office images, I don’t get where they find the time to create that perfect picture.
Freelancing for me, is bloody hard work and at the end of the day, all I want to do is go to sleep. Not fiddling around with my pens and trying to match them up.
It’s super easy to feel discouraged seeing those stunning images on Pinterest. Seeing all the cool offices that you aspire to work in. Or to keep dreaming about working in a cafe. But the hard truth is that unless you make money that is not going to happen. And that is okay too.
We as humans put so much pressure on ourselves to do it how we’re supposed to be doing. We only focus on that picture-perfect life (especially since social media). Because of that, we forget that we’re looking at an image that someone styled to look their best. We don’t know what it looks like at the end of their workday, or how often it gets cleaned. We need to remember that social media and the internet is a place where dirty laundry gets hidden. Highlight reels are the norm.
It’s time that we’re going to be more radically honest. More honest about all the things that are not as great as we like people to believe. And then maybe we stop worrying about writing rambling articles like these in our sweatpants.
Travel alone to find your writer’s voice
The plan was to hop bookshops, cafes and write. So far, I have a sore shoulder, a headache, no books and not a word was written.
There is something magical about writing. The magic of creating something that wasn’t there before. To shape something that takes readers away with tools that everyone uses every day. It makes you feel like a wizard. But in reality, writing is hard work. Creating magic puts pressure on you that is not easily lifted. In fact, drinking tea becomes more important than why you came to the cafe in the first place: to write. If you’re reading this, it means that I succeeded: I wrote. But here comes the funny part though: is it magic or not?
When I first started writing as a teenager, I wrote because I felt I saw the world differently. I had stories in my head, and I shared them unfiltered. I wasn’t afraid if it was good enough, or if other people would care. I just wrote. In many ways that feel got ruined not only by adulthood, but by social media, and peer pressure, I would even go as far as to say that it’s the reason why I stopped writing.
Ok. You got me, not really. I write for a living. I’m a content creator, a storyteller and a blogger. I write every day. I get paid with writing, and that helps me to keep the lights on. According to Stephen King, that makes me a writer: someone pays me to string words together. But that’s all I write. I know I can hear you gasp in horror: I only write during work time. There I said it, and I don’t like it.
See, I fear the blank page. I fear that no one gives an actual shit about what I have to say. I fear that I am not good enough and I fear that I just plain suck as a writer. I mean, dear stranger of the internet whom I have never met, we’re friends, right?
So in many ways, I long back to the uncensored 14-year-old who was always writing. How to get that girl back? Here comes the tricky part that we all already know: just write. Just sit your ass down in a chair and write. And that is why on a cold October afternoon in Dublin I find myself on a sofa that I’m afraid I’ll never get out of. And I’m writing. There is something magical about this city that makes me feel comfortable enough to take the gamble and write. I can borrow the magic of the city not to have to conjure it up on my own.
And while I’m swooning over the accent, hugging guys from Amnesty international that I’ll never see again and indulging in bookshops. I’m wondering: is travelling alone the way to get the magic back?
You’re never too old to travel
There is a scratch map above my desk. One of those where you scratch off countries you’ve been to. It’s looking very bare.
Up until three years ago, the furthest I’ve been from home was Ireland and a city trip to Prague. I hadn’t even been to France or Germany. That changed quickly when I met my boyfriend. For all the things we don’t have in common, our love for travelling connects us. We were only together for a few months when we took our first road trip to Germany. I always wanted to see the Black Forest, so it felt like a great idea to do that together.
Since then I’ve travelled to the US, Asia and several other European countries. I’ve spent the day with Elephants, cooked Thai food, drove around on motorbikes (tumbled off a scooter) and hiked down a sulphur crater in the middle of the night. To be honest, I still can’t believe half of the things I’ve done and seen.
Yet, there is so much I would love to see: the Chinese wall, the Mayan and Inca temples, the great pyramids, but also wild Elephants, Japan and rain forest.
I was 29 when I started travelling, and part of me regrets not doing that when I was younger. It feels like I missed a great part of my life, and it feels like I’m behind. Then again, how can you be behind when you’re following your own path?
This year I want to travel a lot. Go on hikes, maybe even wild camping. The idea of doing those things fills me with excitement, and I can’t wait to get out and go.
Right now, it doesn’t matter that I didn’t do this when I was younger. I wasn’t ready for this when I was younger, and that’s okay too. I am now, and that’s all that matters.
A word on journaling
I’ve never been the type of girl that commits to keeping a diary. Committing to pouring out my heart on the pages of a secret diary with a padlock in the ‘dear kitty’ kind of style, never really was my thing. And yet, I had a gigantic stack of filled journals filled with stories from my very early youth right until now. They form the running chronicles of my life.
Even though the girly diary style wasn’t my thing, journals have always been a safe place for me. To try things out, to write about my life and to make (life) lists. Flipping through my old journals, you’ll find a collection of bad poetry, depressive thoughts, chronicles of the boys I have had a crush on, confusion, happy photos and parts of stories I was making up.
While there have been gaps, journals always played a huge part in my life and have been the sole constant in a life where everything is always changing. Yes, there have been gaps in the journals, and sometimes they were more a planner than an actual journal, but there was always some form of a paper book as my sidekick.
As I’m wrapping up 2018, I’m finding more and more comfort on those paper pages again. I missed it more than I thought. Sometimes not doing something makes you forget how much you need something. Sometimes you can get caught up in what ‘it’s supposed to look like’ that we forget that it’s a tool to help you with things. A journal is a tool to help you clear your head, get clear on how you feel and work through issues, emotions and feelings. It doesn’t have to look pretty, because you’re not going to show it to someone else. It’s for you to face your feelings. It’s something I forget at times. So yesterday I started a new journal. It’s not pretty, my writing is sloppy, but I already feel more grounded than I did before I started again.
What are you starting again this December?