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Scribing the Soul
August 2001

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Kathleen's Current Column

by Kathleen Adams, LPC, RPT
Director of The Center for Journal Therapy

In ancient times, scribes were devotees of the Word. They were the bridges between worlds, charged with the sacred task of painstakingly transcribing the Mysteries into a form that could be referenced by holy men and women. Many centuries later, our modern journals give us unlimited access to the Mysteries of our souls. Through this column, I hope to offer ways that we can approach our own lives with the love and devotion of the scribes of old.

Rituals for Soulful Writing

What are the personal rituals associated with soulful writing? I posed that question to my on-line writing community, Spiral Journey, where 35 women and 2 men gather on an e-mail listserv to write about anything and everything. (We take our name from Eudora Welty’s comment in One Writer’s Beginnings: "It is our inward journey that leads us through time -- forward or back, seldom in a straight line, most often spiraling.") Some of their responses follow.

Paula is a writer, photographer and artist who works evening shift as a word processor for a large law firm. She has been married to her best friend for 22 years.

Until recently, my ritual was to write in community. Six years ago I began writing once a week with a writing partner. We met once a week for two or three years, and my writing, and hers, took huge leaps. We went everywhere together in our writing - me going deep into the stories of my youth, and she going deeper into incredible fictional short stories. After a couple of years of this, others began to join us now and then, and our group expanded to 3, 4, sometimes up to 6 women, all meeting together at various coffee shops around town or at each others' homes. We formed a sub-group to meet monthly to work on fiction. But what I really loved was our weekly freewriting sessions.

I loved this more than almost anything I've ever done. The writing. The women. The sharing. The closeness. The kinship. But then my writing partner's marriage began to fall apart, and she along with it. And one of our dear members moved away. And another woman decided she needed to be alone to write, and several of the others decided they needed to have real day-time jobs, and everything fell apart. At the same time I began to study Spanish, and had to drop out of a different weekly writing group I had been in for five years. I miss these communities and our writing times together so much. I hadn't realized how much my days and my contentment with life was tied in with those women, and our writing together. They were my writing rituals. Without them I feel incomplete.


Fran is the newspaper advisor for a private high school in southern California and has worked as a publicist, college administrator, and journalist. For nearly 20 years she has taught the Progoff method of journalkeeping and also teaches her own methods of spiritual journaling.

I am really into power of place. What I've found is that I have several writing areas in my house and I seem to be drawn to different ones at different times. My favorite place when the weather is good is my wild garden/patio--though I even have two different locations within the garden. Inside the house I have two areas in my bedroom that I write, both in window areas. Sometimes I use the computer in my home office and I have a chair in my office window that has a great view of the ocean. I often sit there for sunset writing. I carry a notebook in the car and often find myself stopping for a few paragraphs in different locations I find inspiring.


Gina is a journalkeeper from British Columbia, Canada. She is the owner of the "Journals and You" e-mail list at Topica, which has over 200 members. She is active in her community and recently completed a term as President of the Hospital Auxiliary.

Most of the time I journal with music playing. Usually Enya.

I write outside as much as I can but when that's not practical I almost always have the window open enough to smell the air and the wind and the rain.

Most of the time I journal at night - I don't think of this as a ritual so much as a habit.


Cheryl lives in a co-housing community and works as a psychotherapist for very young children and their families. She is deeply immersed in Celtic, Irish and Toltec wisdom paths. Last year, with the assistance of another woman in her community, she built an outdoor labyrinth. She came to journal writing in midlife and has used writing to heal herself of many emotional wounds.

I write early in the morning, immediately upon rising. In the summer, the sun wakes me and I go to my computer with a smile. I love to write. It is a pleasure to wake up and write. In the winter, I set the alarm for 4 AM, and wake. Same smile as I head for my computer. Nothing else in the past four decades of my life has given me reason to wake with pleasure at 4 AM in the dark.

I have an oil lamp on a shelf over my computer. Before I start to write — soulful writing, intentional writing — I light the candle. When the writing is done, I extinguish the candle. I also have a color photo of our labyrinth next to the candle, a photo taken by a fellow writer, a woman with an eye for composition and depth. This photo captures the aspect of our labyrinth which draws me to it for contemplation and for peace: the Ancestor Tree and the surrounding landscape, table mesas and blue sky. The candle and the photo remind me that writing is a sacred act, a creative act, a gift offered to me in grace, and received in love.


Amy is a poet, journalkeeper, artist, and librarian, who offers art/writing groups to children from 6-12 and storytime groups to toddlers. She makes her own collage journal covers. She has written journals with her two daughters, ages 7 and 10, since they were old enough to hold crayons. Amy is completing training as a Certified Poetry Therapist. Her other passion is kayaking.

My ritual for writing in my journal is to light a candle, breathe, and breathe some more, and center myself in the candle's flame. I have a small storyteller doll that sits next to the candle, and looks at me with eyes full of love. She has been to many writing workshops with me, and gathered stories from the ones spoken into those creative circles. I am sure that those stories sing silently to me as I put pen to paper. I begin each new volume of my journal with a letter addressed to the journal, telling it how much it has meant to me, what a huge part it has played in my life, and how I am looking forward to the places we will continue to go together. I end each volume with a letter of gratitude for the opportunity to use my journal as a vessel into which I pour all that needs to be said.


Catherine DeCuir is the journal guide for About.com. She is a novelist, columnist, avid journalkeeper, wife of a publisher and mother of teenage sons.

Journal writing: Lately I've been writing in my older (home-from-college) son's room while he and my younger son play Nintendo or watch Star Trek (two things they like to do together). Sometimes I sketch them or faces from the movie posters on his walls. His room is quite a relaxing and pleasant place. When we moved in, it had been a girl's room and had pink flowered wallpaper, so we told him to cover the walls any way he wanted. They still change often, and are always interesting. "Kind of like a journal, Mom," he says. This has become a running joke in our house: I'm always looking for little paper or flat stuff to include in my journals. The other day I caught myself thinking about gluing little globs of dryer lint to a piece of cardboard. So the varying colors (now purplish darkload, now dove-gray lightload) would show the different days! Heh...

Fiction: To work on a new chapter (or short story, though I haven't done that in a while), I have to have about a page of narrative or ideas handwritten on a piece of notebook paper. Only then can I open a Word document on the computer and write the rest. I have to have near-silence (no music, even) and usually I've reread the last few chapters before I start.

Non-fiction: The radio must be on. Usually it's news or talk radio. I always have a SimpleText and/or html document with a few links or ideas. I have a mug of coffee or herb tea. I have the cat on my lap. I read about half my email, and I start.

One of my college writing teachers said not to let a lot of "superstitions" creep into your writing: "If you can't write unless you have a red typewriter ribbon [that's how long ago this was], you're guaranteeing yourself that there will be days you can't write."

But I think my rituals are easy enough to recreate.


Valorie is living alone after recently separating from her husband. She had been concerned that she had lost her ability to write with depth. "I miss writing passionately, writing thoughtfully, writing while crying or laughing or pondering. I miss writing the deep truths of my life. I miss the thrill of discovery, and the satisfaction of expressing every contradictory and nonsensical thought and emotion I possess," Valorie wrote. "I think I miss writing more than I miss my husband or my house." Then she examined the rituals she associates with writing.

I hadn't realized until last night just how powerful it was to have a ritual. I was able to write as I haven't felt free to write since before I moved into the new apartment, and I followed this ritual in my former home.

A slow jazz or blues song or album playing in the background, the song "Take Me Home" is perfect, a mournful celebration of home, of never going back and of finding it within ourselves. Candles lit, two or four, on either side of the computer. Balance is important.

The postcards in a group, inspiring and comforting...a self-portrait in green by Van Gogh, Leighton's Flaming June, Susan Seddon Boulet's Phoenix, Van Gogh's Olive Trees, Monet's Waterlilies, Boulet's Psyche, Michael Parkes' Danae. Setting them all out last night was like being greeted by old friends, and I don't think they'll disappear again. Change, perhaps, but writing in a clean, sterile place produces clean, sterile mundanae.

No one is home but my baby dog and myself, and it is dark outside. I sit at the computer with a notebook first, writing by hand a selection of twenty or thirty delicious words. Echo, tattered, phantom, solemn, chaos, fae, flare, ashes, peregrine, pepper, periwinkle, belladonna, twitter, sea, viper, cobalt, subtle. Then I can either do some deepcell journal writing, wordplays, answer prompts, think on paper, or just...play.

Yum. A glass of wine and some cheese and crackers goes nicely with these words, but isn't necessary.


Shay is retired and writes columns and essays for her community newspaper as well as for publications aimed at senior citizens.

I journal in the morning on a regular basis. Often I go back later to add or describe the day’s events and feelings. First I like to sit and stare at my water garden. That's what I call it but it’s really just a bowl full of rocks with a bubbler in it. I like to rearrange the rocks and feel the water. It focuses my attention, and my busy mind likes the soothing water-over-rocks sounds. Then I randomly choose three tarot cards. Sometimes I ask a question but usually I just have an open mind. I write a haiku from the three cards and then write morning (three) pages as commentary on the way the cards fit in my life at that moment. Often dreams get into the morning writing and I have a dream journal too. Always I have music. That is a random choice too. I just reach into the CDs and pick one. It is amazing how often the music, the cards, the whole thing fits together into a ritual of setting up my attention for the day. For the last week I have also been writing a dialogue with my inner child. I have a large sketch book and she, Spark, writes with the left hand and I write with my right hand. She chooses a color of sharpie and so do I. I bend the paper in half, lean across to write the questions, Spark leans across to write on the right side of the paper. It is very interesting. A couple of times we have dialogued in the dark with candle light. She likes candles. I am consistent with morning pages. Only missed one day in July. It is a meditation for starting the day.


© Kathleen Adams.  All Rights Reserved

Kathleen Adams LPC, RPT is a Registered Poetry/Journal Therapist and Director of The Center for Journal Therapy in Lakewood, Colorado. She is one of the leading voices on the power of writing to heal and is the author of four books, including Journal to the Self and The Write Way to Wellness. Her upcoming seminars include the annual 5-day women’s writing retreat in Colorado July 8-13, and a one-day Journal to the Self workshop in Denver in late July. She would love your feedback on this column; please e-mail kay@journaltherapy.com or stop by her website, www.journaltherapy.com.


Read Kathleen's Past "Scribing the Soul" Columns:

July 2001 "A Baker’s Dozen Ways to Journal Your Dreams"

April 2001 "Journals to Go"

March 2001 "Healing Words, Healing Touch: Jihan's Letters"

February 2001 "Love Letters"

January 2001 "Scribing the Authentic Self"

December 2000 "Riding the Inky Wave"

November 2000 "The Good News"

October 2000 "Soul Food: Exploring Affirmations in Writing"

September 2000 "Diary of a Headache"

August 2000 "Making Up the Truth"

July 2000 "Pockets of Joy"

June 2000 "Five Ways to Scribe Your Intuition"


Read Kathleen's Feature Article on Dream Journals:

Writing in the Dark: Cracking the Soul's Code Through Dream Journals



Visit Kathleen at her Website:



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