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Processing Emotions: Journaling Works For Me

Happy. Sad. Fear. Anger. Love.

Emotions.

I am not one of those writers who can keep writing fiction when my life is falling apart and a whole slew of emotions are bombarding me. Call me unprofessional, undedicated, even a weenie-I’ve called myself all of those names and more.  In the past I used to stop writing and concentrate on getting my life back together-one time it took me almost a decade.

After all, I come from a family of extremes-the one extreme dealt with emotions by screaming. The other side stuffed the emotions to appear calm and in control in the midst of another’s hissy fit. Personally, I thought the calm and in control person looked well…more sane, so that’s the pattern I chose. But by stuffing emotions I never learned to process them. And though I’m no psychotherapist, I figure that’s why I tend to shut down during crises.

After that whole decade-long fiasco of piecing my life back together, I learned a different way to cope.  (Yeah, I can be slow sometimes.) Journaling. It sort of evolved out of The Artists Way and morning pages.

Let me state right now even though I’ve used them in the past and they work, I hate morning pages. I might’ve mentioned this a time or two…or ten. But this journaling is something I do strictly to process my emotions. And I don’t do it daily (like you’re supposed to do with morning pages). I only journal during highly emotional times, sometimes happy times but more often during a stressful situation or a crisis. Those times that have me reaching for those things which start with “ch”. Chocolate. Chips.  Yeah, chocolate chips work, too.

After recording what happened to piss me off  upset me, I then take time to write down how I’m feeling. My emotions, my body’s reactions (like this eye twitch I get when I’m trying hard to be in control) and how I feel about it-yeah, simple enough, right? Not so much when you’ve never allowed yourself to process emotions.

I have found an advantage to using this method which translates to my writing. By making myself experience the emotions and recording what I’m feeling, I’ve been able to use what I’ve learned to help my characters process their emotions, too. It was after I started doing this that my writing seemed to really take off. (By this I mean I started finaling and placing in contests, including the Golden Heart® after 10 years of entering.)

Aha! Not only did I learn how to process emotions in real life, but I also utilized what I learned in my fiction writing. Definitely win-win.

How about you? Are you one who can create through anything? Or do you have to process your emotions first before you turn yourself loose on your fiction? Do you find real life emotional experiences (good and bad) help you with writing your novel?

 

Just an fyi-I’ll be gone most of the day today-one of those stressful times, I have a son going for his first visit for dyslexia testing. It was scheduled for a week ago but the diagnostician came down with the flu. I didn’t realize the conflict when I rescheduled, and it’s out of town plus it will take up to four hours-so unfortunately I’ll be gone most of the day. I will, however, check in when I get back, and I look forward reading and responding to what you have to say. Thank you!

And one last thing, the normal spiel about me: My indie-pub suspense thriller The Good Daughter is up for the 2012 RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Awards. Squee!! To learn more about my books, follow me on social media, subscribe to my newsletter or read past articles I’ve posted, please visit www.dianalayne.com

47 responses to “Processing Emotions: Journaling Works For Me”

  1. Diane Burton says:

    Great post, Diana. I have a difficult time writing during times of emotional distress. In fact, I shut down for about 3 years when I couldn’t keep all the balls in the air and life sucked. Writing down everything that upset me was therapeutic. Shredding it afterward so my loved ones never saw how I felt was equally therapeutic.

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    • Rita Henuber says:

      I went through two years of what I thought was hell. Everything I thought my life was vanished. I filled three journals with feelings. Half way through the fourth I didn’t care about those things and people anymore. I came to grips with my new life. I burned the journals. What a great feeling.

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    • Elise Hayes says:

      Oh, the shredding. Yes, that would be therapeutic, I think. Like watching your anger/anxieties/fears disappear in the modern version of a puff of smoke. Good one, Diane!

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    • Diana Layne says:

      I’ve read about burning, shredding and/or burying the journals…and I will one day. For now, I need them for the connection and to remind me. When I’m about to get sucked into the craziness again, I pull them out and reread. Oh, yeah, that’s how that felt, don’t do that again. But one day I will when all the crazy markers are gone.

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  2. Dale Amidei says:

    No experience of an author should ever be wasted, as each is meant to its purpose. Some bless us, some build us, and every one holds a lesson that is within our grasp. If you write like you mean it, the results will show.

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  3. Liz Talley says:

    I’m not sure. I haven’t really gone through something traumatic while on deadline…I’m sure it’s coming though. At some point we all have to deal with crap in our life and the publishing complany may care a little but not more than they care about getting that book on the shelf. But I like the tool you use. I’ll definitely keep that in mind.

    Thanks for the post. Emotions are how we connect 🙂

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    • Diana Layne says:

      I hope you don’t ever have anything traumatic! Some people are born knowing how to create a good life and you so far seem blessed, so don’t expect anything different. Me, I’m a slow learner sometimes but I’m getting there.

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  4. Shirleen Miller says:

    I am a quilter, so when upset I find but boy did it take years, to learn I was doing my best work when I let go and just quiilted. Each stitch hour after hour took the stress away so I could cope. I believe creative people feel things more deeply and we must have a tool to protect ourselves till we can solve the issues. Thank you for sharing it is never easy opening up.

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    • Elise Hayes says:

      I love the quilting idea, Shirleen. I handle stressful emotions through physical exercise–running. I just put on my running shoes and then pound the pavement, venting in my head (and sometimes out loud, although I do quiet down if I pass someone walking their dog 🙂 until all the things I can’t say directly to whoever/whatever is causing the stress in my life gets said. And by the end of the run–if the run is long enough–my head and emotions are a blank slate again, a very zen sensation that helps keep me sane.

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    • Interesting point – and I would think creative people have more coping skills since they have more outlets for their emotions. I enjoy oil painting, and sometimes when I look at a painting, I remember what I was feeling as I painted a certain part.

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    • Diana Layne says:

      I do think that creative people tend to feel things more deeply, a blessing or a curse? Regardless, it’s great to have an outlet-and how awesome when you create something beautiful as well!

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  5. When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2011 my whole life fell apart, which included my ability to write or even read. I didn’t/couldn’t look at anything fiction. I craved knowledge on how to fight and win to live.

    So I went about a month without writing until my husband pointed out that I am a much happier person when I write. Since I couldn’t write fiction, I journaled on Caring Bridge and amazingly, people followed me, cheering all the way.

    I have over 150 heartfelt, honest, scared-but-fighting entries that I will one day make into my first non-fiction book. Journaling was a way I could “bleed” out the fear so I could battle without the emotional straight-jacket fear puts me in.

    I am now in remission (yay!) and have picked up my fiction writing again, but I will always have those pages that allowed me to heal.

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    • Elise Hayes says:

      Turning those 150 entries into a gift for other people who might be sharing the journey you took would be a lovely thing, Heather. I love that you found your way through that dark time through your writing.

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    • Diana Layne says:

      I’ve read some of your posts, they were wonderful. And I bet you’re not the only one they helped. Yay on being in remissions and prayers you stay there!

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  6. jeannie platt says:

    Diana,
    I have a hard time dealing with my emotions too sometimes the get bottled up until i have a mega cry/meltdown… I know how you feel about the doctor appointment thing… My eldest has dysgraphia he is 9 and because he is so smart it took forever for him to get tested. I have to drive to Duke for my boys appointments for their specialists but it is worth the drive for them… I make jewerly so when i get frustrated i normally have a good excuse to beat the hell out of some wire with my hammer.

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    • Elise Hayes says:

      Beating up wire with a hammer sounds like a brilliant way to deal with stress, Jeannie–and then you’re left with something beautiful at the end!

      And learning disabilities are so hard to figure out with kids. We’ve spent a few years wondering if our daughter had dyslexia/dysgraphia. The jury is still out on it–if she has it, it’s mild enough that she’s been able to scrape by at school and things *are* slowly getting better–but it’s something we’re keeping an eye on because it’s not just about maintaining grade level on things like reading and math, it’s about ensuring that she doesn’t get so frustrated with learning that she loses all interest in it. It’s hard.

      The Duke specialist for your boys sounds fantastic–good for you for making that drive!!

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    • Beating stuff with a hammer sounds like great therapy! And then you have something beautiful to show for it afterward.

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    • Diana Layne says:

      oh, I like the idea of beating the hell out of something with a hammer, lol. I might have to take up jewelry making! Before I found my outlet, I would rarely have a meltdown, usually the stuffed emotions came out in the way of some weird illness. One time it was vertigo, yikes, that was bad. Yay, that your sons are getting help, have my fingers crossed with mine-we won’t know the diagnosis til the next appt.

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      • jeannie platt says:

        it took me a little while to figure out what i was good at but wirewrapping is where i do my best work because even if i mess up it can still become something great… But I agree it is a slow process to figure dysgraphia/dyslexia because every child is different… My son has a very high IQ and had the highest test scores for his grade on the eog’s but was failing his class work and spelling and writting… he is now going to therapy for his hands and learning to channel his thoughts through sensory items (piece of velcro in his desk). Very blessed that our insurance covers speciality doctors and we live close to the best doctors. That is one thing NC has going for it Duke and UNC are offer some of the best.

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  7. Rita Henuber says:

    I didn’t begin writing until a handful of years ago. My problems set me free to finally do what I wanted. Write. I am one to take a few days break when things get icky.

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    • Diana Layne says:

      I can identify-sometimes good things come from the problems. Shoot, I just read this somewhere and now I can’t find where I read it-it said something like, sometimes when you think your life is falling apart, it’s really falling into place.

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  8. Thanks for this post, Diana! It is very hard for me to work when my emotions are in turmoil. Probably why I’ve had a very unproductive last couple of years. I’m trying to turn it around, but when I get thrown for an emotional loop, my motivation tends to completely shut down. I tend to completely shut down, actually. I’ve already deemed 2013 ‘The Year of Balance’ … if I can achieve that in the coming year, I’ll feel SO much better!

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  9. Thought-provoking post, Diana. I keep waiting for life to slow down and (sigh) it never does. And life only seems to get more difficult. So I’m trying to work around that and find a way to work writing into my daily life in a way that is balanced. Not easy. But putting it on my to-do list and being able to cross it off feels so good (even if it’s just “write for 20 minutes”).

    Now that I think about it, I took up writing at one of the most difficult times in my life, because I needed something for myself, and needed to escape into a fictional world. It was slow going at the time, but it gave me something else to focus on.

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    • Elise Hayes says:

      I’ve had enough glimpses this year of the stress that is to come (still mostly in my future) from helping aging parents that I’ve really been thinking about the issues Di raises. But I’m really trying to go with your approach, Anne Marie: if I can write for 20 minutes a day (or, for me, even just 10 minutes), I call that success.

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      • Good luck! Some days, I have to give myself some serious pep talks. 😉

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      • Diana Layne says:

        Elise, I just came out of that phase-aging grandparents and a mom not so old, but terminally ill. It does play heck with the emotions and now that they’re all gone, and at way too young of an age, IMO, it creates another whole set of emotions I’m having to learn to deal with. Best thing I found is to look for something to appreciate each day and share it with those loved ones while you still have them. And write down all your favorite recipes of theirs! Some days I still catch myself thinking, I gotta call my grandmother and ask her how she makes…(fill in blank) and then I have to remember all over again I can’t call her. I did get some of her recipes but not all, she was a pinch of this and a dash of that kinda cook so I’d have to watch her to figure it out. 🙂

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    • Diana Layne says:

      That’s fabulous that you can use fiction to escape! And crossing writing off the to-do list is how I finally got back to it and made it a habit again.

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  10. Shirleen Miller says:

    as I was reading this I all of a sudden thought of what I did when my kids were little. I made Swiss steak. Took round steak and pounded the tar out of it till it got tender. I felt better, husband and kids had a comforting meal and all was right with the world as I beat the blank out of the round steak. The more stress the tenderer the meat! LOL.

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    • LOL – kind of like making lemonade out of lemons. 😉

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    • Elise Hayes says:

      When my mother-in-law and her two elementary-age children were going through a stressful custody battle, she gave each kid a phone book…and told them to rip out both individual pages and chunks of it, to tear those pages to shreds. With two kids going at it, egging each other on, it turned into a great stress-release valve…even if the end result was less productive than a yummy Swiss steak dinner 🙂

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    • Diana Layne says:

      Oh, another pounder! I do like that. And yum, I do love swiss steak, too, I always buy the meat tenderized already though. It didn’t occur to me you could do it yourself, good to know! Something else I do that’s physical is vacuum. I just love to vacuum…

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