The NYT’s “What’s All This About Journaling?”

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On October 25, 2018, the New York Times published an online article by Hayley Phelan — who generally reports on fashion, shopping, and culture — entitled “What’s All This About Journaling?* It’s worth seven minutes of your time.

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Why? In her short piece, Ms. Phelan (who is pictured above) shares details of her recent return to journaling as an adult. She also provides commentary from two of the most respected names in the field of expressive personal writing: author Julia Cameron and social psychologist Dr. James Pennebaker.

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Now in her early thirties, Ms. Phelan began journaling as an adult at the age of 29. Why? Her now ex-husband recommended she do so to, in part, cope with the stresses of their dissolving marriage. At the time, he was journaling by following the recommendations that Julia Cameron describes in her landmark book The Artist’s Way, which has sold more than 4 million copies since its publication in 1992.

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In her seminal work about creativity, Cameron challenges readers to pen three hand-written “Morning Pages” shortly after rising from bed each day. As Ms. Phelan notes in her article, Cameron describes this writing as “strictly stream of consciousness.” To read about how Cameron addresses questions related to the Morning Pages routine, please see her 2017 blog post entitled Morning Pages: FAQ.

In addition to interviewing Julia Cameron for her article, Ms. Phelan corresponded with the foremost researcher in expressive writing, Dr. James Pennebaker of the University of Texas at Austin. Nearly every news story about the process and potential of journaling written in the last decade features at least a quotation from Dr. Pennebaker, who is recognized as one of the world’s experts on writing therapy, a form of expressive writing that he is credited with developing in the 1980s.

Pennebaker’s book Opening Up by Writing It Down, which is now in its 3rd edition, shares his research about how focused writing can help us process trauma and lead to faster recovery. Ms. Phelan notes that Dr. Pennebaker is not necessarily an advocate of daily writing. Why? If frequent journaling results in “rumination” that causes anguish, he recommends a shorter-duration approach. His research has revealed that just several intensive writing sessions lasting 15-30 minutes can yield measurable decreases in stress and increases in one’s ability to cope effectively in the aftermath of trauma.

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Ms. Phelan describes how her journaling practice, which has now stretched into its third year, resembles Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages. She writes “three to five pages every morning by hand.” And how does Ms. Phelan assess the effectiveness of this routine? She explains: “[J]ournaling provided me with an important outlet for the debilitating anxiety that had come to paralyze me at odd hours each day. And besides, I enjoyed it. It was fun to wake up every morning and spew a hurried black scrawl all over those straight blue lines.”

Please see her full article “What’s All This About Journaling?” if you are interested in personal writing; it is worth seven minutes of your time. And stay tuned for future blog posts about Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Dr. Pennebaker’s Opening Up by Writing It Down later this spring. In the meantime, pick up a pen and give journaling a try!

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* — Three days later, a version of the article was featured on page ST7 of the paper’s New York edition with the title “Writing in a Journal Can Help.”

Note — The photograph of Haley Phelan at the top of this post was obtained from her website, hayleyphelan.com. The illustrations featured in this post were borrowed from the online version of Ms. Phelan’s article, which can be reached at nytimes.com. The covers of The Artist’s Way and Opening Up by Writing It Down were taken from Julia Cameron’s website and the website for the Guilford Press, respectively.

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