A few years back, before being advised to do the online CBT course, I found myself studying articles about whether or not keeping a diary was beneficial. Mostly it’s seen as a beneficial thing, but there’s concern among some that it could lengthen spells of depression and encourage negativity. If you are writing the same bad thoughts day after day, that could make it harder to overcome them and move to a more positive place.
Well, I wasn’t feeling too great, and I’m not sure what I would have done without the diary at all… it gave me something to do; a safety vent; a place to keep the better thoughts circling, because too often I would wake again in darkness. If I re-read bits, though, it was always with detached curiosity. After only a few hours I would have changed or forgotten, and already it as though I was reading someone else’s words. Whatever encouragement was there would shine all the brighter, and I would copy those bits to later days.
That said, I could see that writing the same time after time isn’t as healthy as sallying forth and finding something new to focus on — if you can. And if you can’t? What then?
The thought process I had at the time was that it was taking much longer than expected to heal — years instead of weeks — and so I should heed the warnings about negative journalling. I couldn’t quit it cold turkey, but could nudge it in a healthier direction. That would mean reducing ruminations to a minimum and talking more about other things.
If you’re in the habit of rambling on, it might be hard to break away and include the small stuff, so I created a diary template. It took the form of questions to answer every day, including mini-lists such as ‘five things I’m grateful for’. Creating the template was a beneficial exercise in itself, but, true to form, planning was more fun than follow-through…
Well, the template helped at first. I used it for several weeks, looking forward every day to filling it in. It was scary how important it was, like a colourful little raft in a sea of grey. After a while I realized some questions were pointless. “What five things am I grateful for? Family, friends, The Little Witness, Inspector Montalbano, sun.” Then the next day it would be the same, though I made the effort to mix it up a little. “Rain, liquorice tea, cream, coffee, chocolate.” You were discouraged by the banality. I cut the template down, deleting some questions and amalgamating others. Answers did not need to be so specific, and my focus could vary from day to day.
The next problem I noticed was that because I had banned myself from rambling and was just saying isolated things like “nobody came to the house today, though the nurse came yesterday” or “we watched Inspector Montalbano and a programme about lemurs, then something else with Lucy Worsley in it but I can’t remember the title”… anyway, because this was the new format of my diary, the natural arc of the day had been interrupted and I felt fragmented as a result. I suppose the aim was always to break the connection between myself and the emotional merry-go-round I was on, but now that I was succeeding, I didn’t like it! Whoo.
I decided to allow myself to ramble again — I would start with a ‘narrative’ (the normal daily diary entry) and follow it with a shortened template to fill in. That way I would have the best of both worlds. This was harder to do than expected, because it’s like writing two diary entries instead of one! In the end, I was writing the normal narrative while leaving the template blank every night, either because it had all already been said or I’d used up my time and energy.
So that was that.
I’m grateful the template helped as much as it did. Putting so much thought into my swing away from everything damaging and fruitless was enough in itself to encourage healthier habits. And though that part of my life was painful, I came out of it with a thicker shell.
I’m including my diary template here, in case others want to try — either for fun or because it might be useful.
Delilah’s Positive Energy Template
Start (if you prefer) with a free-flowing narrative, then fill in the following. Things to keep in your narrative: times, health notes, dreams, songs in head, conversations, weather as it progresses, visitors, progress of projects. Go for lightness, fun, detail, happy moments, plans, energy.
Average mood rating over the day:
Average energy rating over the day:
TV watched, with brief comments:
Books read, with brief comments:
What today did I enjoy the most, and why?
What today was the most draining?
Is there anything helpful to suggest about it?
Anything you think you learned today:
At least one positive thing to say about today:
At least one thing better about today than yesterday:
Anything I’m in the mood to do, no matter how wild and wonderful?
At least one habit, good or bad — yours or someone else’s:
One thing you like about yourself or think has potential:
One thing you like or appreciate about someone else:
Any resolutions kept or broken?
Do you feel better now than when you got up? Y/N
How do you rate today?
Which section(s) of this template seemed the most unnecessary today?:
Is this journal template helping me be more positive? Thoughts.
There’s a second mini-template I have… it was part of the original long template but I split it off as an optional addition. Later I dropped to listing just one item a day, because having to come up with five fresh items per question is too much night after night… especially when you’re tired and it’s 2 in the morning!
Five things you’re grateful for:
Five resolutions or personal suggestions (e.g. ‘go to bed earlier’):
Five wishes (include goods, apps, books, music or things you’re unlikely to have):
Five things you could imagine being part of a perfect day?
Five creative ideas (e.g. likely haiku/blog/painting subjects, new hobbies, old hobbies…):
Five things to do some time:
Five things you’ve been forgetting about:
Experiment and change the templates to suit yourself, but never allow them to become a chore. Happiness and courage to my fellow diarists! Enjoy the sun where you find it, along with the rain.
Anyone out there with old diaries? Why did you begin them and why do you still write them — or why did you stop? What formats do you use, and how do you store them? Are you worried someone else will read them or that you might lose them? Is your blog your diary, or do you see it as being separate?
I came across a 2009 article with many varied comments: Ask Unclutterer: What Should I Do With Old Journals? So many people out there wrestling with similar issues! Some burn or shred their diaries while others keep them safe or pass them on. I was concerned at the thought of them being destroyed, but the more I read, the more I realized it’s a very personal decision. Some diarists may feel their writings have no relevance to anyone, not even themselves. They worked through old problems and moved on, and don’t wish to go through any of it again. Others have no space and feel their families will want to lead an uncluttered life without being weighed down by a grandparent’s angsty old tomes. I can empathize with that thought.Would I want to take responsibility for a large collection of family history? I don’t know. I kept some of my grandfather’s old books but didn’t want all of them, foxed and old-fashioned as they were. He didn’t keep a diary but I would have liked one, maybe half a dozen. On the other hand, a whole boxful, supposing he’d been a serial diarist like me? Difficult to know.
Recently I mentioned personal projects and feeling unable to complete them. There are many things I begin and then forget about, or I don’t forget but start questioning myself, or become distracted by something else. One of these projects was to scan and index my old diaries. I used to worry about how I could search them for issues, dreams, recipes or events I knew I’d written about.
I tried writing with a digital pen but that was more work than it was worth. I had to clip a receiver to the book I was working on and keep my writing very straight and neat. I would upload the files onto my Toshiba laptop then edit them in the related software, only to find lots of errors to edit out. It was disconcerting how short the entries were… my handwriting made them seem long, but they weren’t! Later, some of the files disappeared, even saved ones, and the refill for the pen wasn’t available in the UK.
OK, that didn’t work.
I tried typing out journal entries from recently handwritten diaries, but that was boring and I could always think of something else I would rather do. Dropped that plan.
Then, of course, I started typing daily entries directly onto the Mac or the laptop, and quite enjoyed that, because it was easy to edit them and delete stuff I’d changed my mind about. I could also insert photographs. It wasn’t terribly relaxing, however, and I yearned to curl up somewhere comfortable and write what was on my mind without restriction, so bought an iPad. That worked very well for some years and I was careful about backing up — only lost one short paragraph when the word-processing app on the iPad failed to save. I just rewrote what I’d lost as it was still fresh in my mind, but I knew I couldn’t risk that happening again with a longer entry. It was due to lack of space, and I can fix that if I really put my mind to it, but I’ve not got around to it yet. I have to carefully transfer nearly 3GB of old Notes out of Mail. Some of these were diary entries themselves, so I can’t risk deleting them wholesale, and I can’t leave them in Mail where they might get synced into oblivion! Meanwhile the iPad gets older and the days are passing.
The diary must continue, so on 29 December 2018 I picked up a blank jotter from Woolworth and started writing. Now the diary-writing circle (circus?) is complete.
I still have older diaries to worry about, so scanning them seemed the quickest way of backing them up. In 2011 I randomly chose a big orange one, which I finished scanning just yesterday, 7 and a half years later! Shocking. But I’m delighted that I’ve finally completed one of these albatross projects; it’s put fresh heart into me. It can be done! I feel so heartened that I moved the scanner closer to the Mac (why didn’t I do that before?) to make scanning quicker and easier.
I’ve already scanned 31 pages and the front cover from a big pink 2010 diary. Having the colour cover scanned into the same folder will give me a visual reminder of which diary it was, and of course there’ll be an index to help me find things. I don’t need to copy all my diaries into text, especially as I’m still writing… it would be a never-ending task.
This reminds me of a Terry Pratchett book. In one of them, people’s lives write themselves into diaries in a strange library somewhere… was it on Death’s premises? If you were to go there and read your own, it wouldn’t be finished yet, and you would see the scrawl continuing as you looked. “I decided to read a blog post on Aw Diddums while waiting for my friends to turn up. I got to this point in the ramblings when suddenly the doorbell rang. I jumped out of my skin.”
No? Maybe you were reading someone else’s diary then. I can’t help it if you pick up the wrong book!
I don’t know, I’m probably wasting my time doing this, but I believe completing it will give me peace of mind, renewed self-belief, and maybe new ideas — or old ideas buried in old diaries that come to light again and are found. A new better-organized me beckons, and 2019 could be the year! Let’s get on with it.
The Great Diary Project asked about New Year’s Day entries, so I looked up mine. Of course, I’d missed it this year, so couldn’t tell them! Typical. I do have an entry for January 2nd:
Watching Jane Eyre. The Christmas tree is lit, the room getting dark, Jane Eyre is full of creaking floorboards and howling winds. Jane is mystified. I’m hungry… will have something at tea-time when M gets up. Nibbles and shortbread with tea. I got my Evernote app working again. A while ago I forgot my password but sorted it before Jane Eyre came on. I can use two devices without upgrading from the free version. For some reason it had me down for three devices: iPad, iPhone/iPad and Mac! That made no sense to me, but I deactivated the ‘iPhone/iPad’ device and now it works. It annoys me how computers, more and more, do things you don’t understand.
The rest is unquotable! I went back to keeping a handwritten diary — currently using an old Woolworths spiral-bound jotter, purple with spots. My daily entries in it are shorter than typed ones because…
[7 Jan]: …”I’m struggling with my hand-writing. One reason I make so many mistakes is that I leap too far ahead in thought. The form of my words drops away like loose string, and the wrong letters appear too early. I am deliberately writing more carefully at the moment, and it’s slow and frustrating. It feels strange to be carefully spelling out each word when my whole thought is waiting to be expressed, as though jammed in a bottleneck and at risk of vanishing altogether in the next second. Perhaps there’s something wrong with my ability to focus — perhaps the internet really has changed our brains.”
A while ago I started a blog post about the impact the internet has on people’s ability to concentrate, but never finished it. (!) I should look it out.
I’ve been unable to sleep, often waking around 4. I’ll put the light on and read, eventually dropping off again around 5 or 6. Then I’m useless for anything the next day, even falling asleep on the sofa when I should be up and doing. As I said in my diary on the 7th, “if only I could switch the sleeping with the ‘not sleeping’ — that would work out a lot better!”
I started to wonder if it was ‘house noises’ again. Being profoundly deaf, I shouldn’t hear anything at all, but it’s more like ‘feel’. At times the whole room seems to buzz, and I can’t work out why. Mum is absolutely clear that there’s no ‘buzzing’ whatsoever, and I’m equally clear there is! I reckon I’m onto something, because I was very nearly asleep when something in the air suddenly changed, as though we’d switched up a gear. My bed started to rumble, and I thought, “oh NO!” and woke up completely.
I put the light on and reached for my copy of The Lord of the Rings. The first words out of it were:
It was dark and Merry could see nothing as he lay on the ground rolled in his blanket; yet though the night was airless and windless, all about him hidden trees were sighing softly. He lifted his head. Then he heard it again: a sound like faint drums in the wooded hills and mountain-steps. The throb would cease suddenly and then be taken up again at some other point, now nearer, now further off.
~ The Return of the King, Book 5, Tolkien; p862, Chapter V: The Ride of the Rohirrim
That must have been annoying. Do orcs never sleep??
My energy has gone. Life is full of interruptions, and it can take ages to return to whatever I was doing, especially if motivation has vanished in the meantime. I don’t know why it should, but suspect there’s little or no value attached to my personal projects. There’s no real purpose. The most important thing I do right now is ‘keep house’, and my hobbies are as hollow baubles… they don’t hold my interest for long. When younger, I was convinced these things (writing, art and photography) would have their own intrinsic value and not just for me, but I no longer believe that! Life shows you that you are nothing out of the ordinary, and very little survives the passing ages. I still wish I had enough drive to make the most of my spare time. How much more we could achieve if we didn’t tire out, lose focus or lose heart — but perhaps that’s unrealistic. 🙂
I’ll look for that blog draft on internet reading, and see if I still agree with any of it…
P.S. About those orcs I blamed for keeping Merry awake, I’ve been corrected by Marshal Elfhelm in the book:
“Nay, nay'”, said Elfhelm, “the enemy is on the road not in the hills. You hear the Woses, the Wild Men of the Woods: thus they talk together from afar. They still haunt Druadan Forest, it is said…. they are troubled by the darkness and the coming of the orcs: they fear lest the Dark Years be returning, as seems likely enough.”
~ The Return of the King, Book 5, Tolkien; p863, Chapter V: The Ride of the Rohirrim
“I’ve been working on this for hours now… It’s too much to find questions and people (that would be like 100 people if I did these correctly) to tag in it. So maybe I’ll go with a cop-out and say “Hey, if you want to answer any of these questions, then go ahead! I nominate you!”
– Life of Chaz
Wow! Reading Chaz’s award catch-up post, I realize just how many of these are buzzing around out there. I confess I was tagged once and didn’t respond in any shape or form, even to say ‘thank you’. I still feel guilty. It happened just as I was screaming around the house getting ready for a rare family vacation, and at the same time was retreating mentally, which meant I probably wouldn’t respond to anybody online for a long while. I’m not sure what that was about, and it’s years ago now. Perhaps I can make up for it a bit?
From Chaz’s post I picked out 15 questions I could answer, along with a couple of short lists at the bottom.
1. What qualities do you like most in others and why?
A gentle sense of humour, genuine interest in others, patience and tolerance (though not loud and confrontational… I mean a quiet understanding of people with a willingness to listen and think).
2. What qualities do you like most in leaders and why?
Direct and discreet honesty. Supportiveness; tolerant sense of humour. Strength and determination (obviously!) but no blind arrogance.
3. Describe one moment in your past that you would say changed your entire life.
Becoming more aware of people outside my little bubble… I won’t say how that happened. 😛
4. What qualities do you look for in a friend?
Kind sense of humour, predominantly positive outlook, friendly patience, chattiness and responsiveness (though I don’t require that they write every day — life can be too disruptive!) A good conversation is balanced between two people… if it’s too one-sided, you feel frustrated and unheard, and the friendship is likely to founder.
5. What’s your favorite book?
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien — I read it four to six times AND it was first to mind, so I really have to nominate that. There are other frequently read and loved books too, but I’ve only been asked for one…
6. What advice would you give a new blogger?
I’m not much of a blogging personage, but I believe in caution. We don’t have the protections professional journalists do, so I’d say everyone on social media should read Blogging and Tweeting Without Getting Sued (Mark Pearson).
7. Are you a book person, digital person, audio person, or combo person and why?
Combo without the audio. I’m too deaf to listen to audio books. Amazon probably can’t understand why I never respond to its emails about the audio books I could download! eReaders are amazing because you can have access to a huge library without cluttering up your house with paperbacks or visiting the library. The town library doesn’t even have a smattering of what I could read on Kindle. Yet I have a big collection of books in print… cookery books, textbooks, some poetry, art and photography books, comic books and some old sentimental paperbacks.
8. Do you have a particular reading spot?
A solid and comfortable Parker Knoll sofa protected by a bright throw, with my feet up on a huge padded footstool. It’s also my favourite blogging spot.
9. Who is your all time favorite author?
Tove Jansson. Does that contradict The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien) as ‘favourite book’? Well, I’ve thought about it, and both my answers are still the same.
10. What’s one insecurity you have about yourself?
My speech is very, very quiet and I pronounce a lot of things wrong (born severely deaf). I hate speaking, so clam up if I’m not comfortable with someone or in a particular situation. I’ve been amazed, on the other hand, how I can prattle away at a total stranger, one I’ve taken to for no reason that I know of… other than that I like them and they seem kind.
11. What’s one exotic animal you wish you could have as a pet?
I’m torn between iPad and wheelie shopping trolley…………
13. What’s the best thing you’ve learned or experienced from blogging?
What my own writing strengths and weaknesses are. Also that the vast majority of people are kinder than you fear. 🙂
14. If you’re not blogging what are you doing?
Cooking, laundry, housework, shopping for groceries, feeding the cats, taking the rubbish out and putting out bins for the bin men, walking outside with camera, reading other people’s blogs, having coffee in town, chatting with friends, listening to music, watching TV or DVDs, reading the news, watching YouTube videos (mostly about Brexit), writing in my private diary, composing the odd weak haiku, editing photos and (when I have time, which I haven’t lately) digital art.
15. What’s the last record/album/mp3 you bought?
I bought two together — Rumours by Fleetwood Mac and 1989 by Taylor Swift.
‘One Lovely Blog’ tag: Share 7 facts about yourself.
1. Aargh! The Mini-Beast is here. (Snow whirling past window).
2. I hate excessive swearing and sudden bodily references (e.g. ‘he has balls’ or ‘all that shit’) because they genuinely distract me from the point that’s being made. 😛 I’m not a prude… it’s partly because it points to strong negative emotions, so when you feel that someone is angry or aggressive, your brain promptly clouds up and you want to retreat. Message lost.
3. I have brown eyes.
4. My best friend at university said she can never ‘read’ people with brown eyes, whereas it’s always clear what people with blue or grey eyes (like herself) are thinking. I’m not so sure about that, because people have a horrible habit of knowing exactly what I’m thinking without me saying a SINGLE WORD! Phweee.
5. A recent discovery in the local supermarket: stonebaked wholemeal pitta breads. They aren’t big tough ones… they’re soft and full of flavour.
6. In my blog’s side bar are the posts I’ve recently liked… more about that further down.
7. We’re having chicken, carrot and courgette bake for supper tonight (homemade, of course!)
‘Listicale Tag’; prompt given: Top Five Favorite Villains (in no particular order):
1. Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (Gary Oldman’s character in The Fifth Element)
2. Bill (Oliver Twist)
3. Any villain played by Alan Rickman, like in Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves
4. Count Olaf (as played by Jim Carrey in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events)
5. Gru (Despicable Me)
Blog posts I recently ‘liked’ in WordPress:
This isn’t a tag, though you can run with it if you like. 😛 I mentioned it above as one of my ‘facts’. I read and ‘like’ so many posts that they must disappear quite quickly. By tonight, the five at the foot of ‘Posts I Like’ in my sidebar will almost certainly be gone:
Some ‘facts’ are such that not everyone agrees, and that’s because they are not facts. Real facts don’t necessarily make sense outside a particular context, and if you distort the context, you might come to a conclusion that others disagree with. People regularly present their conclusions as being ‘facts’ even when they are not.
I tried to think of a random example, and eventually came up with three. How about….
(1) Fact: “I’ve never seen her smile or laugh.”
False conclusion: “She has no sense of humour.”
(2) Fact: “He lies more casually than most.”
False conclusion: “He never tells the truth.”
(3) Fact: “Most of the time I don’t understand, like or agree with his perspective.”
False conclusion: “He’s a liar / stupid / a bad person.”
I noticed some time ago in debates that opposing sides batter each other with ‘facts’. It’s confusing. If there are facts to prove something, why don’t these speak for themselves, presenting us with a single, clear-cut course that everyone automatically agrees on?
I imagine it’s a combination of errors, unproved assumptions, changing context and varying perspectives. Just because X is X and will always be X, you won’t necessarily agree that it means Y, and that Z is the only and best way of dealing with it. You may not even agree that A is a desirable outcome. There will also be characters and groups who only work for themselves; they are not averse to muddying the waters and making things difficult.
Anyway, last night I was trying to turn FACT into an acronym, and wrote these:
Friends are courteously truthful.
Fair and completely true.
Fixed and certain truth.
My favourite is the last one, but I was thinking about the first — ‘friends are courteously truthful’. Is that a fact, or am I offering a narrow view of what a friend can be?
The term ‘brutal honesty’ comes to mind in this context. Do you believe in brutal honesty? Does it work in instances when nothing else does? Do we all mean the same by it? Is it useful to express something in a harsh or punitive way, perhaps even when there’s nothing to be done about it any more? Or does ‘brutal honesty’ involve merely stating a disagreeable, bubble-bursting fact at a time someone could still make use of your advice, and without too much loss of face?
For example, in a situation I’ve made up here, there are certain things you might tell someone:
(1) “For goodness sake, Emma, you look like a pregnant whale.”
(2) “No, it doesn’t suit you. I know it’s the fashion, but it’s not a good fashion. I like you better in the old blue one, which I happen to know Richard likes as well. :-P”
(3) “Everybody said how dreadful you looked last night in that dress, and the guys you fancied were laughing at you.”
To me, the first would be brutal honesty that might save someone from a disastrous party, though it would still be awful and depressing. Courteous honesty would be the second, and the third would be pointless spite. It might have such an effect that your friend’s dress sense would drastically improve thereafter, but there are always better ways of intervening.
When it comes to defining what a friend is, we must be wary. The internet is full of advice such as ‘real friends don’t…’ but there are bad friends who are still friends. They might snap, growl, make mistakes or lie to you sometimes, but it would be wrong to suggest that everyone who has a tendency to behave this way isn’t a friend. Some may have meant well and had no idea you’d misunderstand them or respond so badly. Others who are sharp with you do care about you, and would have your back when the chips are down. Possibly they are on a personal journey and will mellow and improve with time… gradually you find your relationship improves. Then again, perhaps not; it could be that they don’t care or will never learn. You can’t make generalizations.
‘Brutal honesty’ could just be banter in some cases, genuinely lightening the moment and causing everyone to laugh and bond. Truthfulness isn’t always required, but when it is, it’s best delivered kindly and at the right moment… yes, with mocking laughter if that’s what works for your group, but never with spite or intent to cause pain.
‘Friends Are Courteously Truthful’ is largely true, I think, but it’s a complicated world and there are exceptions… so it’s not an outright fact.
In the iPad App Store on Monday, I downloaded this week’s free app — MindNode, a tool that helps set out the groundwork for projects. I love new apps, and it doesn’t hurt when they’re free, but I absolutely adore making plans… probably more than carrying them out. When it comes to organizing in general, my computer groans with deeply-nested files; defolderifying is required when my system proves more of a hindrance than a help. I should probably delete redundant files altogether — those awful old merged fractals from 2007, for instance… I can do a lot better nowadays.
It can be hard to let go, sadly. My middle name should be Squirrel.
As any squirrel knows, sorting resources into careful heaps and folders is calming. It’s an acceptable way of gloating over your hoard while allowing you to feel more in control… so I had hopes this mind-mapping thing would be a useful weapon against the encroaching world. In my experience, plans morph into action surprisingly quickly, leading to greater self-confidence and a lot less of the energy-sapping procrastination I’m prone to.
“Incredible — I sorted that out myself! No dithering for days on end wondering what to do!”
It astonishes you to discover you’re a rational adult and can take on many comers, regardless of their role in life. Usually that phenomenon is attributable to pencil, paper and copious notes, and it’s also why MindNode now lurks on my iPad.
So far, so good.
You can’t, however, be a rational adult without questioning yourself and others, so there are reasons for me to be sceptical as well as hopeful.
First of all, mind-mapping looks and sounds terribly technical and arcane, and you wonder if you’re doing it right, particularly when not learning anything from it. You suspect it’s an attention-seeking gimmick that does the job no better than merely writing lists. Mind maps don’t present with a neat appearance, so how could they be better? They start in the middle of the page and sprawl in different directions… what if you ran out of room and started writing on the table by accident? A mouse could make a nest in someone’s mind map and feel completely at home.
Secondly, I know myself too well! A helpful and instructive tool becomes a blunt instrument in my hands. I bludgeon myself with it remorselessly, then give up, disillusioned and bruised.
It’s one thing ‘actioning’ a highly-targeted plan when there’s a time limit and a specific outcome in mind. It’s another to ‘improve’ myself or my daily life with something like a Chart of Chores or a To Do List, because these tend to be grandiose, pernickety, perfectionist schemes, quickly tired of and forgotten.
Who wants all of their time earmarked in advance, even for pleasant pastimes like watching Blackadder’s schemes on TV? Years ago I created such a time chart in an effort to combat a bad spell of procrastination, but I never tried it out. It’s still in my nested folders somewhere. I could draw up a new one specifying “read blogs at 10 every Sunday morning”, but it’s unlikely to happen. This is real life: I read blogs at different times during the week and could be there for anything from two minutes to two hours. I’m not a robot, and there’s no point trying to programme myself as though I am one.
iNotRobot. Depressing but true.
There’s a To Do List app in my arsenal, but it wasn’t at all long before I deleted it. For the right kind of people it’s excellent, and they doubtless use it the right way. I, on the other hand, use it completely the wrong way, so for me it wasn’t working. There’s something about being told what to do that makes me dart like a spooked squirrel the other way — even if the person telling me to do it is me.
Before discovering the app, my usual organizational methods included (and still include):
Lists — I love lists
Spreadsheets and charts
I don’t use the iPad’s Reminder app as it’s never worked for me… too limited, or so I thought when I tried it. I can’t remember much about it now, but a lingering impression is that there were only so many items I could add to a page. I would tell it to alert me to something, and either the alert wouldn’t arrive, or I’d be uninterested and ignore it when it did.
By ‘journaling’ I don’t mean bullet journals, which I haven’t yet tried — I mean ordinary ‘dear diary’ journaling. This has surprising strengths which I should probably go into another time. The gist is that you start with a problem and enter into a conversational spiral, one thought leading to another… ending up fairly consistently with an idea of what will work and what won’t. Sometimes when you re-read, you pick up on things you forgot, which is all to the good. It’s like an old-fashioned ‘text’ version of problem-solving mind-mapping, no neater than a pictorial mind-map, and though I’ve filled out most of my thoughts fairly satisfactorily, you are left with a mass of text you might never read again. Unless you type your diary on computer and remember the keywords you used, you’d find it difficult to search for a particular event or idea.
That said, I love journaling, and wouldn’t stop for all the tea in China (or anywhere else in this globalized world). Mind-mapping should be just my cuppa, shouldn’t it, even if I don’t have carte blanche to waffle on?
To get to grips with my use of the MindNode app…
This isn’t intended as a review or how-to page, and I’m not going to focus on the technicalities of how to use it, but I’ll just comment that it’s easy for beginners — you don’t need an instruction manual, other than a couple of starting tips. Fiddly to use at times, but it’s good to be able to move things around or delete them altogether — an aspect which must blow pen and paper mind-mapping out of the water.
My first experiment
When trying it out for the first time, I mind-mapped an established creative process in digital art. My aims were to (1) provide a reference to keep me working quickly without getting bogged down; (2) potentially to inspire. I hoped mind-mapping might live up to its reputation and work some mindspace voodoo. Who knew what it might do? I lived in hope.
In the process of creating my nebulous map of creativity, I ran up against a few problems.
I got confused about what should come under certain tags. For instance, radiating away from the word ‘artwork’, a key word in the map is ‘organize’. I read somewhere that you should use one-word terms rather than pin yourself down with something more specific. OK, keep it loose. Should I then go on to list organizational methods like folders and databases — or platforms like the iMac — or the type of resources to be organized, such as Bryce master files, Photoshop brushes, tutorials and so on? These are long lists — how do I put everything in one place without making the mind map explode?
This led to the possibility of repeating the terms like ‘organize’ elsewhere in the mind-map, but I feared that might be against the rules. Also, how do you tie in ‘platforms’ with ‘software’, specific creative processes and different types of resources in a neat and orderly fashion, seeing as the software all worked together in some cases but not others — while working from different platforms in different ways — so I couldn’t list everything neatly in one place, moving in a sedate direction therefrom?
The results of this, my first experiment in mind-mapping:
No benefit. I had no room for all the items I wanted, and it was as though I hadn’t got to grips with the problem — if there was one.
The process I tried to clarify showed itself in its true colours. It’s a creative process that pulls in resources and inspiration from everywhere, and you can’t list these, slot them in one logical place or plan them robotically. This is something I should already have realized, and I didn’t need a mind-mapping session to tell me that.
I found no inspiration or new ideas.
If used as a reference to keep me on track, it would add an extra, unnecessary step. It wouldn’t improve matters, being more likely to throw me off.
Even so, I realized I’d used the process wrongly with a subject too big (or not properly broken down to something more rational), while having no clear and specific aim. It would be unfair to condemn it on such grounds. I’ve never before mind-mapped, and needed time to consider how best to use it. Some of my first attempts are bound to be duds.
Ploughing grimly on
If I was not to discard the baby with the bath water, it was clear I should do more research. It wasn’t looking at all good for my experiment, which I now viewed with a degree of irritation. I was hot all over, my heart raced, my brows beetled and I was starting to pout.
I recognize that soul-destroying feeling from other projects I’ve not been good at.
Baking is definitely one, when I start off with fond ambitions of delicate, beautifully decorated little cakes and wafting cinnamon smells, and end up feeling it’s all more hassle than it’s worth. After which I start chucking flour around in lumps and slamming badly-shaped objects in the oven. Another recent project was mindfulness — I was determined to give it a go because I might learn useful life skills, but every time it asked me to do something such as imagining a peaceful scene while repeating a senseless question over and over, dull rage surged up and I had to put the book down. So I’ve not yet read it.
That doesn’t mean I won’t read it… the real reason I’m irritated is it’s something I want to do but it turned out not to be that easy or pleasant. Also there’s still the worry it’s overhyped and I won’t get what I wanted: a better life and a better me. I’m not the perfect person I was fondly imagining.
Oooh. We have now reached the point in this narrative where I was getting these dangerous rumbles over mind-mapping. It was distinctly worrying but I grimly soldiered on. The only way to turn this around was to find out what other people use it for.
One site provided me with some real ‘ah ha!’ moments, and I gleaned the following:
Mind-mapping is used for problem-solving. (I’d been thinking in terms of organizing and streamlining; not quite the same thing).
Think of the keywords in terms of headers rather than processes. If I was planning a party, I would have lists for food, guests, games, music and ‘things to do’ before the big day. The chances are low that I would head one of my lists ‘Organize’!
Leading on from this, I can see my worry about repeating keywords doesn’t matter… it’s flow and direction that matter. You are trying to get somewhere, and it’s not a crime if there are half a dozen information offices in your map, provided they are all well-located and useful.
The biggest break-through for me was when it was pointed out you could use mind-mapping to plan blog posts.
A better attempt
All my pouts vanished, and in no time at all I was embarking on my second experiment: Mission Mind Map. If that term seems a little familiar, it’s because it is!
Shortly after starting, I knew I was onto a winner.
I was now thinking in terms of headings and lists, and didn’t get stuck.
Item order mattered. Things don’t just spring up in the middle of nowhere, and the map finally had a direction.
You see, I was finally getting the hang of it, but my pernickety nature ensured I aimed for at least two items per heading. You can’t have a list of one, can you? In a mind map it’s really about flow, like in my diary… one thought leading to another — but while thinking of thoughts as lists, I wanted two leading on from one, and would fish for another point just to make up numbers.
That’s the feng shui approach to mind-mapping, I guess — or plain OCD.
I enjoyed it; it was a lot of fun. I was able to go into detail without forgetting minor points or losing the shape of what I was writing about.
The next worry, however, was how to get the mind map into my document. The idea of swiping back and forth between it and my blog post didn’t appeal.
Of course, MIndNode wouldn’t have been a proper app if it didn’t have a solution! I was able to convert it into a column of text in my favourite writing app. First of all it arrived in a mad jumble, starting with my last point and ending with the introduction. So I went back and moved everything round the other way, reimported, and this time items appeared in the right order.
When I remembered things I’d forgotten, I made direct changes to the text column rather than edit the mind map itself. I was tempted to think of the map as a finished product, like a picture, but it’s only a stage. It had already done the main work and was not part of the equation any longer.
Some of my changes and additions in the text column arrived as long lines and paragraphs, which is how I’ve always written. I put ‘brief’ ideas in the right places, and these immediately start growing, forming the nucleus of the post itself. In contrast, placed in a mind map, they would remain short snippets of text to be fleshed out later rather than ‘now.’ The process of allowing your notes to expand immediately can take you in new directions, and these are sometimes worthwhile. On the other hand, it’s confusing if these weren’t directions you meant to go in, leaving your original point jostling for place.
Perhaps the mind map is not a hindrance to the evolution of your post — more a temporary postponement of narrative in favour of deeper structure. It still reminds me of my use of journals to ‘problem-solve’… one thought leading to another and ending in a plan. It’s certainly keeping me busy and I’ve not yet abandoned this mass of text! I’m polishing sections of this before I’ve even written the rest of it — it’s partly procrastination; partly because in some sense it’s been written already, and I can relax and not worry that I’ll forget things.
A few days ago, I was listening to a song that has stayed in my head all the time I’ve been writing this. Long Time Coming (David Sneddon).
And in a deeper part of me A stronger soul is breaking free And I want you to know Can’t hold me down for any more Pull myself from off the floor And I want you to know
Based on my short experience of it, pros and cons for mind-mapping as part of a writing process?
Cuts down the usual muddle, though not completely.
Possibly you would axe redundant topics before spending much time writing them.
Otherwise short and lazy posts would become longer and more detailed, though I don’t entirely know if that’s good!
It becomes less intimidating to deal with your blog topic overall; you don’t need to put it off to a later time when your thoughts are less scattered.
Tendency to waste time tidying the map — trying to balance it out and make it beautiful.
Mine was inside-out and back-to-front, but there’s a setting to adjust that.
This way of laying out your thoughts seems difficult to read. I showed it to a friend who commented: “I couldn’t get my head round it! It’s too much like the kind of thing the office used to produce as one of their many flavour of the month initiatives!” I can sympathize because I dreamed about mice (the ones nesting in it) and have no love for the corporate environment myself.
The map is transformed into a column of indented headers. Why not write them that way in the first place? This is one I find hard to explain away.
There’s a risk it disrupts one’s usual thought process. My style is conversational, but what if the mind map keeps me so much on the straight and narrow that I fail to follow some enticing side-path? On the other hand, the map probably makes sure I see the side paths, shoehorning all of them in. Both aspects could be bad.
I already write long posts which could now become three times as long. Maybe you waste time overwriting it initially and need to trim it down later. The length of the text column generated from the mind map was putting me off, so progress was quite slow. I would ‘flesh out’ a section then scroll hopefully down, thinking, “There, I wrote quite a lot, I must be near the end?” Unfortunately, the tail of the mind map trails forever into the distance…
My initial structure is too rigid. When I know what I want to say and look for somewhere to add it, I see what’s already there and there’s no logical place. Reading all the previous stuff, I promptly lose track of my new idea. Normally I write down phrases in my head before they are gone, fitting them together later. Perhaps it’s not the mind-mapping itself that’s at fault, more my use of the technique — I need to start with a looser structure and not break things down too much in the first place. It would leave me more room to move. Though that begs the question — why change from your existing method?
In any case, here it is… my mind-mapped blog post.
I am glad I persevered and didn’t give in to my attack of the blue devils. In the future I can see myself using MindNode for jotting down blog ideas, perhaps in combination with a page of ‘fully-sprung’ paragraphs, ‘use or lose’.
I still don’t see mind-mapping as a problem-solver — my problems may never have been that complicated. For me it’s: ‘Do research, write email or make purchase. Done!’
In decision-making I write lists of pros and cons; I can’t imagine using a mind map for that normally, but it was more complicated when choosing a new camera recently. I set up a chart composed of what I wanted from the new camera, showing how different models fulfilled these points compared to each other. Using this, I wrote lists of cameras in each context from best to worst. Different cameras came out on top in different contexts, but some listed high more frequently than others. There was a clear winner and it wasn’t the most obvious, being an older model I’d initially dismissed. I only added it belatedly for the sake of comparison, but it did so well (and blew off the roof in a number of reviews) that it seemed the only real option.
The newer camera model I nearly bought, praised in several reviews, would have been a pleasing choice as it was nice in its way… but it was not as good a camera, or as appropriate for me.
The above was in part a visual decision-making process but was not mind-mapping!
The idea of a mind map as study aid is interesting. In history, for instance — you could put main events in order and break them down. It would certainly help you write essays.
I’m still not sure why a mind map would work better than a series of lists. It was a great relief to me when I saw mine laid out as an ordered column of text. The ‘visual’ aspect doesn’t work when it comes to writing, as my usual need is to establish direction, not relationship.
I lost the plot towards the end of writing this, but it’s probably my fault for including too much detail and moving away from the visual map to an unbroken text column!
Will I continue to use it? Yes, I want to, and can make it work for me. Time will tell in the end, though my horoscope yesterday offered the following:
Someone’s ‘good idea’ could have you captivated – even if it means shifting things round yet again. The prospect of advance both at work and in financial matters could bring a smile too. With encouragement from someone who’s good at focus and who knows exactly how to present things on paper, you could enjoy a day of ‘personal development planning’.
‘False‘ is a recent word prompt, causing me to stare at a blank page for several minutes. It’s not that I’m without ideas; more that it strikes me as false to offer a word prompt that isn’t a noun.
‘Falseness’ is an easier to way to begin and makes a better blog title. “Falseness bedevils the modern world”, I could intone, or “Falseness is a fool’s flight from reality”… unfortunately, it’s not going to be that simple. Must I approach the topic differently because the subject is not ‘falseness’ but ‘false’? Does my grumbling even make sense? Doubtless it doesn’t matter, as I can approach it any way I want to and use whatever title I see fit. Nevertheless, it threw my mind into a non-productive spin.
The word usually means ‘untruthful’ or ‘fake’, possibly even ‘non-existent’. For instance, a false promise doesn’t imply you’ll get the opposite of what you were offered — it’s more likely that there’ll be no change at all. Sometimes the person making the promise really meant what they said but it fell through for some unforeseen reason — does that still make it ‘false’, or does it become something else such as ‘unfulfilled’? I don’t think it would be a false promise, as ‘false’ is a very negative, deliberate word.
Wait now… false teeth aren’t a negative thing. False teeth aren’t trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, pretending to be something they’re not. Instead, they very sensibly and usefully take the place of real teeth that didn’t want to stick around. False teeth are a good thing, which is a rare quality for anything that’s false.
More viscerally, false or shallow pockets (especially those ‘decorating’ an otherwise useful winter coat) are the most pointless, infuriating invention ever and should be stamped out of existence — by referendum if need be.
False grass… not good. False assumptions… somebody got confused and miscalculated. False bottom (in a suitcase) — a positive thing for the world, I suppose, unless you’re up to no good.
You could have a false bible — you open it and it turns out to be a box you can hide your false pearls in. That’s a good thing to have too. In general, if the false thing works for you and is protective of you, you will think it good — but whoever you were trying to dupe or deny will be less impressed.
Sometimes something creates a false impression, which can never be good, as it’s better if we all know where we stand. Even if you realize the case has been overstated, there are others who somehow don’t, and the disaffected will take full advantage of that confusion by claiming false outrage.
A truly false promise is obviously a bad thing because you thought you would get something that didn’t materialize. On the other hand, a false threat isn’t a good thing either, because you were being manipulated against your own interests.
These are very black and white subjects, but falseness can be a lot more subtle. Just about everything we think we know or see is false, in the sense that ‘truth is relative’. People can experience the same thing in completely different ways… it tastes good, it tastes awful, or something in-between. The picture is beautiful, ugly, nothing special or even quite nice. That person is wonderful, a walking disaster zone, or merely human. What you believe would seem false to another, but in your world there’s no question — Marmite is brilliant for you, always, though to someone else it’s anathema.
Is that fair, though? If you say, ‘Marmite is wonderful’ and for you that’s true while your best friend thinks it’s false, does that mean it IS actually false? Or is it like Schrõdinger’s cat where it’s both lovely and vile, and you won’t know which till you’ve opened the jar? It’s false to point to that theory, however, as there’s no sense of uncertainty — everybody who’s tried it has a clear opinion.
Perhaps this is a false premise to work on, as Marmite is in fact neutral. It’s not trying to be one thing or another… it’s just gloop to put on your toast. Statements such as ‘wonderful’ or ‘awful’ are all yours; your own truth and nothing to do with Marmite. It would doubtless post your opinion back to you with the words “I don’t own it.”
Now you’ve reached the end, I have to inform you… you’ve just been reading a false blog post. It’s not lying or trying to mislead you, but in some sense it resembles the false bible. You were perfectly well aware it wasn’t real, but when you opened it, hoping to find something valuable, it proved empty of any pearls of wisdom.
If we were having coffee, you would have a red cat on your knee and a notebook to write on, and we would be writing notes back and forth. Probably we would be fighting over the black cat pen — who had it last?? I thought you had your own pen!! Peeve.
There would be a fresh shower of rain streaming down the windows, as it’s pretty wet these days… windows to front and back, so you would see a quiet street out the front and a hedge at the back with a lot of big trees. The pigeons would sit in the trees and look at you. They are always there, and sometimes a grey squirrel too.
Presumably you would be writing something like, “Well, this is nice, isn’t it, but a bit puzzling. How did I come to be here?”
I would take the cat pen and reply, “I think it’s my fault. I decided to try this hashtag thing — weekendcoffeeshare — without having a clue how hashtags actually work. I thought it would bring bloggers to my page, not here to have coffee with me. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to meet you, but I do hope you will excuse the mess…”
And you would write, “Oh, the mess is fine. Just don’t do it again, that’s all! I am not quite sure how I’m going to get back now. Thingy will be wondering where I disappeared to.”
I would say, “I don’t know. If you know how to work hashtags, it might be the way home for you?”
And you would say, “Sorry, I don’t know a thing about hashtags. Never use them.”
There would be an awkward silence, then the red cat (Delilah) would stretch happily and dig her claws in, as she does love having someone new to torture sit on.
You would say, in a relenting tone of scribble, “Since I am here, I’ve often wondered what you really look like behind that eskimo bear,” and I would say, “Well, as you see… there’s no eskimo bear! It’s upstairs, just sleeping.”
“Oh,” you would say, and “I guess you don’t look like an eskimo bear.”
And I would say, “You don’t look how I imagined, either.”
“What, doesn’t my picture look like me?”
“Noooooo…. you look…. more real.”
After another silence, you would say, “Don’t you think that eskimo bear photo is a bit outdated? You’ve had it since you first began blogging in 2005 or whenever. Now it looks kind of soft and old.”
I would start having a panic attack at the thought of just how old the bear is, the camera it was photographed with and the blog, and you hastily say, “Don’t worry! It’s all good.”
“OK,” I’d say. “Let me just get my iPad. Where did you say you lived again? I’ll look up the train times. Where?? OK… PLANE times. Oh, and take the bear with you, just as a souvenir. I feel the need for a brand new profile picture…”
He sits with his chin on the iPad tray, a game of Risk he will sometimes play; protests my paintings are never quite right, while rolling his eyes at the words I type.
Thoughts from my diary swim past his eyes, mistakes in my emails cause him to cry, and when I’m drafting posts for my blog, with a shake of his head he gustily sighs.
When trawling the ‘net I turn up odd sites on the evils of iCloud or nasty tick bites. He forbids me to believe all that I’ve read — opens eyes wide, says “no no no!” But when ignored so that all falls on my head, this little witness… no, he does not go. Sitting up close, he soothes my distress; says “yes, I forgive… now it’s time to rest.”
Drift to a land of shadowsaurs; they’re so big they eat mountains whole; roaring rivers burst their banks and all past your house tsunamis roll. When you rush to stare from the door, it’s deathly quiet — the land is no more. The moonlight is bright and so is the scene but it’s the single worst thing you’ve ever seen. You bound up the stairs, hurting your arm, but no one is left to raise the alarm. With a gasp you wake in the cold light that’s dawning to tell him bad dreams that seem like a warning.
“Listen,” he says, with a disdainful look, “You are far better off with a good fiction book. You should read about people in fantasy worlds as far from the stars as a cold snowball hurled. Dragons and unicorns suffer no ticks, while evil cloud nets are eventually bricked; real life then has no cause to intrude — the chatter of millions you completely exclude.”
Oh, you might think you’re well enough off; when you get in a twist he’s not there to scoff! But with all of your posts that I read every day, he’s a witness to my life and yours also…
Today’s prompt by the Daily Post is fleeting, a tempting word to dangle in front of a writer! I could talk about fleeting thoughts, fleeting joys, fleeting beauty or the fleeting sands of time… all the clichés. We mostly try to avoid clichés and anything else bland, but still fall into the trap by following certain trends. Resonant writing, for instance, is something to admire, but there’s so much of it around I find myself recoiling. Do you feel manipulated sometimes? What if we ditched the resounding lines and dreamy philosophy and just said what we think?
It’s true that clear layout and good editing is part of good writing. If a word interrupts the flow of your reading, such as an unnecessary ‘I’ mid-sentence, delete it. If you make the same point repeatedly, cut the repetitions (unless they add something). If you’ve chosen an impressive word when a simple word would be less distancing, change it.
However, I liked Iridescence’s post about writing straight from the heart and deleting nothing — as opposed to constant editing, particularly when your memories are at stake. She is really referring to diaries but makes a good point — if we edit our thoughts and personal experiences too much, are we editing our own histories? Often when you look back you can’t understand why you said or did something, and it’s not till you come across an old email or diary entry that really says what you were thinking or feeling that it becomes clear. All the emotion comes back and you remember why… oh, I wasn’t such a baddie, then! Right.
Well, when writing a diary of any type, it’s important to keep that emotion in your language — don’t lose it in favour of ‘good writing’ or simplicity.
Real, true-to-ourselves writing isn’t just for ourselves, though. Sometimes I spend so much time editing and changing things to maximize flow or ‘sense’ that what I post bears no relation to my original thought. When I’m confused enough it’s not published at all, which I think might happen to this one. Well, plodding on…
The best kind of writing, I think, is smooth enough that the words don’t distract you. If you use long words or writing tricks to impress, bear in mind we all know what you’re doing — we’ve done it too!
There are so many beautifully-written posts that are not quite devoid of humour, character, personality or interest, but still fail to convince. Truly inspirational posts have something more to them than just elegance — some kind of meaning that you won’t get anywhere else, along with honesty, accuracy, and your own normal voice.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve learned anything from this post. I spent so much time changing it that I got lost, and don’t know what I’m saying any more. Nor do I know how to end it, so I’ll try a profound quotation I found on the internet.
Glory is fleeting, but obscurity is forever.
– Napoleon Bonaparte