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Journal Writing: The Right to Write

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July 2011
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By Dave Hood

Suppose you want to become a writer, but you haven’t developed the habit of writing on a regular basis. Perhaps you’re not sure what to write about. Perhaps you don’t know how to get in touch with your inner self. Perhaps you just want to explore journal writing, learn to do it. Julia Cameron has written a splendid book, “The Write to Right: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writer’s Life.”, that will kick start your journal writing.

It is written for both the established writer and the aspiring writer and been a bestseller.

In this post, I’ll discuss some of the aspects of her book, and how her exercises and advise can inspire you to write in your personal journal.

Author Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write” is a series of essays on a myriad of topics. Each essay ends with an exercise that will help you begin journal writing or bring an end to writer’s block. She includes essays on such topics as “Let Yourself Write”, “The Writing Life”,  “Bad Writing”, “Mood”, “Place”, “Procrastination”, “I Would Love to Write, But..”, “The Right to Write.” If you’re not sure what to write about in your personal journal, Cameron’s book “The Right to Write” is a valuable tool that will inspire you to write, and also provide sage advise on writing.

One of Cameron’s themes is that we must make time to write. In journal writing, you can “think of something to write about or write about what we happen to be thinking about.” It’s best to just let the words flow like a river from your mind to the paper or the screen. Don’t think so much. Just write. Journal writing allows you to make time in your life for writing.

Cameron shares the wisdom that we must “make time to write” rather than waiting to “find time.” In other words, you must set a time, establish a place, purchase yourself a notebook and pen, or setup a file, blog on the Web, and then begin writing on a regular basis, each day for 15 minutes to 30 minutes. Journal writing allows you to get into the habit of writing, enables you to practice your  writing, experiment with your writing, record your life story, plant seeds that might grow into poetry, personal essay, a short story. She suggests that we “don’t wait to find time.” We should “steal time”, and use this precious time for writing—-at a coffee shop, while cooking dinner, first thing in the morning.

How do you get in the habit of journal writing? Cameron introduces the task of morning pages. Each morning, first thing you need to do is write three pages of stream-of-consciousness writing, also known as free-writing, in a personal journal. You can write three pages of absolutely anything that pops into your mind. The point is to write. Writing develops the habit of writing, makes you a writer. “We often say we don’t have time to write But we do have time to write—a little, each day.”

Cameron also suggests that we use the tool of the “Artist’s Date” to inspire us to write, prevent writer’s block.  She writes: “Learning to take such dates is pivotal to our artistic maintenance. They enrich a sense of well-being and create a bubbling up of inspiration and insight.” Each week, or a couple of times a month, you need to feed your creative spirit by doing something that involves creativity, such as visiting an art gallery, see a vintage film, walk along the Boardwalk next to the lake, take a bike ride in the woods, attend a jazz festival. By doing such activities, you will discover things to write about.

Cameron also suggest that we should focus on just getting it down on paper, now worry about making mistakes, not judge our writing. She writes: “In order to be a good writer, I have to be willing to be a bad writer.” In other words, write it all down, fill the paper or screen. Don’t edit as you write. Revising, editing, proofreading take place later in time. She points out: “Perfectionism is a primary writer’s block.”

For instance, her chapter on “This Writing Life” ends with the following exercise: “We are often so busy wanting to have a life as a writer that we forget that we have a life to write about.” She suggest that we start writing about our life by describing a situation in your life that you want to metabolize, such dealing with the bossy boss, worrying about an illness, dealing with unemployment.

She has an exercise in her chapter on “Drama.” She writes: “Drama in our lives keeps us from putting drama on the page” When we lose focus, we need to reconnect with our “before, during, and after life.” She suggests that you write out a list of 100 things you love. After you have completed the list, save it. Next time you lose focus in your life, reread the list of 100 things you love.

In the chapter on “Valuing Our Experience” she writes: “Writing is an act of self-cherishing. We often write most deeply and happily on those areas closest to our hearts. “ In this exercise, she suggests that you write a list of things your “most proud of.”

One of the most interesting exercises in the book is from her chapter on “Specificity” in which she suggest that you list and describe 10 things in your environment, such as your bedroom, living room, study, coffee shop. Next, ask yourself: What are your associations with them, however nonsensical Then write about it. For instance, I used this exercise to help uncover deeper meaning in a poem on driftwood. I described the driftwood, and its deeper meaning to me was that it reminded me of a piece of art by Henry Moore, who sculptured various shapes, forms of reclining figures, art that I love.

Another useful exercise is explained at the end of the chapter “ I Would Love to Write, But…” The exercise is called “The Reader’s Digest Quotient”. You are to list five  trite, clichéd, heartfelt topics that are human to you. Your goal is to generate a list of topics that anyone can relate to.  You then choose a topic, write about it. You are to recall what was memorable, what you enjoyed, what is loveable about your subject, then write it down in detail.

Throughout the text, she provides words of wisdom. Here is some of the sage advise she shares:

  • “The act of writing makes you a writer.”
  • “When we just let ourselves write, we get it right.”
  • “We should write because writing brings clarity and passion to act of living.”
  • “Writing is like breathing, it’s possible to learn to do it well, but the point is to do it no matter what.”
  • Most of us try to write too carefully. We try to do it “right.” We try to sound smart…Writing goes much better when we don’t work at it so much.”
  • There is a great happiness in letting myself write. I don’t always do it well, or need to, but I do need to do it.”

For Cameron, writing is food itself. She requires a certain amount of writing to stay healthy. If this metaphor applies to you, you need to read her book “The Right to Write”. If it doesn’t, you still need to read her book. It will provide words of wisdom, useful exercises that you can use for journal writing. Most of all, it will inspire you to begin writing through journal writing.



  1. “We are often so busy wanting to have a life as a writer that we forget that we have a life to write about.” ~ Julia Cameron

    My favorite quote! Thanks so much for continuing to inspire me as a memoir mentor and writing/publishing coach!

  2. Dawn Herring says:

    This was an excellent review on Julia Cameron’s The Right To Write. I loved that book when I read it. Perhaps I’ll even read it again. I am a huge fan of Julia Cameron, so I was delighted to discover your review. I plan to post it on #JournalChat today. 🙂

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition

  3. Alexis says:

    I love the “words of wisdom” you cited. Thanks for a great review!

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