Speed Journaling

Keep your travel journal up-to-date without missing the rest of your trip

By Dave Fox

One of the biggest challenges of travel journaling is simply finding time to write when there’s so much else to do. You’re off on a big adventure, but your day still only has 24 hours. Serious travel journalers tend to be travelers first, and journalers second. We don’t want to be cooped up, writing about our experiences, when we could be out having more experiences.

My favorite journaling technique in these situations is what I call “speed journaling.” It’s based on the teachings of creativity gurus like Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron. Once you become comfortable with speed journaling, you’ll be able to spill your entire day onto paper in a matter of minutes and get on with your adventure.

In her books, Wild Mind and Writing Down the Bones, Goldberg teaches a technique she calls “timed writing.” The idea of timed writing is to write fast and recklessly. Don’t stop to think about what you’re writing. Just write.

“Keep your hand moving,” Goldberg advises. “Lose control…. Don’t cross out…. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, [or] grammar…. You are free to write the worst junk in America.”

Let’s take this a step further since we’re travelers. You are free to write the worst junk in the world. The point is you must write as fast as you can, never stopping to think. When you stop to think, you give your inner censor time to intervene. Just start journaling about your day and don’t worry about whether your wording is poetic, or if your thoughts make sense. Many of your thoughts will seem to not make sense, but a few sentences later, you’ll figure out why they came out when they did.

In Goldberg’s teachings, she advises setting a time limit for your writing. It can be ten minutes or two hours. It’s up to you. Julia Cameron, in her book, The Artist’s Way, recommends a certain number of pages rather than a time limit. You can do it either way — as long as you write — fast, without censoring your thoughts.

Embrace Your Imperfection

Writing “junk” (feel free to use another more colorful word here if you like) feels painful to a lot of us. We’re creating keepsakes from our trips and we don’t want them to be “junky.” Big trips can be life-changing experiences, and we feel a need to document them as dramatically as we experience them. To some people, writing junk feels like trivializing their experiences.

The problem we run into is our perfectionism stops us from writing. Some people call this “writer’s block,” but writer’s block is really just fear of our own mediocrity. Sometimes, there’s simply not time to create greatness in our travel journals. So we can settle for imperfection and still get our journals written, or we can freeze, let our own writing intimidate us, and come home with a book full of blank pages.

Twenty years down the road, when you reread your words, you can be thrilled by your imperfect journals that bring back so many memories. Or you can stare at blank pages — which might give you a nice Zen sort of experience, but it won’t do much for recalling your journey.

If you find time to sit down and write well-crafted prose, that’s great. Chances are you will have moments in your trip when you can enjoy the luxury of slow writing. But for many of us travelers, those moments are few. So instead, spill your thoughts onto the page as fast as you can. Let your mind roam freely and flow out through your pen. If you make a mess on the page, you can clean it up when you’re home. But while you’re traveling, spill those thoughts!

Splash as many impressions across the pages of your journals as you can in a ten-minute burst. Don’t try to write down everything, and don’t linger too long on one topic. Follow your stream of consciousness. You can even write fragmented sentences or random words. These will all serve as memory triggers when you’re home. Your mind will fill in the blanks if you give it a few scraps to begin with.

That’s one of the brilliant things about our minds. Have you ever heard a song on the radio from another era in your life and suddenly felt transported back to that time? Or smelled an old familiar smell and remembered a long forgotten place or person? All you needed was the trigger of the song or the scent. Your mind has filled in the rest. Without those triggers, though, it has no starting point. Scribbling down triggers as you travel will help jar your memory later on.

The other brilliant thing about speed journaling is your Inner Censor can’t keep up with you. If you keep plunging quickly beneath the surface of your conscious mind, going in at different and unpredictable angles, you wear your Inner Censor out. You break past his barricades. When you write slowly and methodically, your Inner Censor has plenty of time to stop and ponder which thoughts to let you think. With speed journaling, you sprint past your Inner Censor — in and out of your subconscious mind before he can stop you.

When I’m traveling, speed journaling is one of my favorite techniques because it enables me to get a lot of thoughts down on paper in my limited time. I blast my thoughts onto the page quickly — focusing on details that will trigger my memory later, rather than obsessing about whether it’s good writing.

When I journal with this technique, I go back later — often after my trip has ended — and rewrite my journals into publishable articles. Once I’m back home, and there aren’t more exciting things in my immediate world pulling me away from my journals, I then take the time to craft my journals into more readable prose. I call this technique Re-Journaling.

Published on Thursday, January 1, 2004

2 Responses to “Speed Journaling”

  1. Namai
    November 13, 2017 at 9:46 PM

    Thanks for the tips Dave.

    Would you say writing as fast as you can, can also be typing as fast as you can? Do you think there is any difference?

    • November 14, 2017 at 4:51 PM

      Great question, Namai. And yes. I find journaling by hand to be more effective than typing — in part because when we type (especially if we’re trying to do it fast), we have a tendency to create typos, which we then tend to back up and correct … and that disrupts our flow. I also find journaling by hand to be a more (I hope this word doesn’t sound creepy in this context) “sensual” experience. I tend to use mechanical pencils instead of pens because I just like the feel of the pencil lead scratching its way across the page.

      That said, there’s no right or wrong way to journal. Some people do a lot more journaling when they write on a computer just because they like it better. If that’s the case, I encourage them to still try writing by hand and seeing how it feels, but if you’re more motivated to journal on a computer than in a notebook, and you’ll get more writing done that way, then go for it!

      Thanks for your question!

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