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An Introduction to Creative Journaling

Writer Swarnim Agrawal reflects on the concept of ‘home’, after our creative journaling workshop with Hannah Bevan.

Feeling at Home

the riverside seems far, yet it’s just a walk away

the sound of birds chirping, spotting magpies and robins

my fingers constantly press the shutter icon on my mobile phone

the smell of freshly mown grass fills my body with a sense of delight

there are people whom I rarely talk to, but feel connected with, walking past each other every morning

the eatery near my accommodation welcomes me to stay for hours, working on my laptop, watching tennis matches, alleviating my mood

i have seen the trees become vibrant orange in autumn, the leaves falling, and the buds sprouting in spring

this is a place where it rarely snows, yet i experienced my first snowfall here

i have gone to open mics surrounded by strangers, coming back with a head full of fulfilling conversations

the ducks in the pond where i walk, shine through at the break of dawn, splashing in the water, crossing the stream and the road

pasties and gelatos are a guilty pleasure here

while still searching my reason “why”

it’s a place i might call my home away from home.

A poem written by Swarnim Agrawal following the creative journaling workshop with Hannah Bevan. Read on for more reflections from Agrawal on the concept of ‘home’, both as a physical space and state of mind, along with five insights for you to use in your own journaling practice…

Moving homes is often a strenuous experience. Whether we were there for decades or just a few months, memories and experiences attached to a place make it a part of our story. In a novel, one chapter might lead to another effortlessly, yet it is the writer who spent hours working – the many drafts they tested, the number of times they questioned where to end or start a chapter. Similarly, moving places takes effort.

While attending Hannah Bevan’s creative journalling workshop at the Kaleider Studios in Exeter, run by The Lit Platform, Arts & Culture and MA Creativity at the University of Exeter, once again I confronted the idea of ‘home’.  Last year, I moved from India to the UK for my degree. I love Allahabad, the city in India where I lived for two decades, and which I still call home.

There’s a sense of connection to the people who live there and the stories that I grew up around. The city’s rich history of literature reminds me of the creative heritage I was born into, and which I hope to continue with my own writing practice.

Then there are the physical reminders of a place that was once home. I have safely kept the paper that came attached to a parcel, just because it had my father’s handwriting on it. The special snacks, spices, and flavours of home-cooked Indian food take me on a nostalgic trip. Sharing my kitchen creations online with family and friends helps me remain a part of the community despite the geographical distance.

And now there’s Exeter, the city that I call home just because my mail gets delivered here. Many say it is a small city, yet as a newcomer it seems fascinating to me – exploring and observing the minutiae of a new place. But the question of what defines a home looms over me yet again as I consider completing my degree and moving on again.

"I have safely kept the paper that came attached to a parcel, just because it had my father’s handwriting on it."

A part of me still doesn’t know what “home” is or will be for me. Moving from education to career, young adulthood to adulthood, finding houses and jobs – it’s all a part of life, or, in the modern jargon, “adulting”. But it is in these moments of life that questions of identity pop up into our minds and comfortably make space for chaotic confusion. That’s where creative journalling can help. As Hannah Bevan aims to achieve with her Hometown creative journal, sometimes immersing ourselves joyfully might help realise the sense of attachment we have with a place. Journaling can act as a caesura in the humdrum of our lives – make us mindful of the relationship between ourselves and a place. After all, it’s not just living entities that we get attached to. It is the places too – a corner café you visit weekly, a road you walk on every morning, a bus you take regularly…

While I may still be on my journey of finding my perfect home, such experiences and reflective practices assist in establishing a relationship with a place, one deeper than is written into the ‘address’ box on forms. Bevan’s approach to finding a sense of “place attachment” while experiencing the therapeutic benefits of journalling opens up a creative as well as sensorial dialogue between the individual and the place they currently live in, initiating a process of feeling “at home”.

"Journaling can act as a caesura in the humdrum of our lives."

Here are five journaling methods that can be helpful if you’re looking to make sense of your environment:

  1. Free flow writing: Open a blank page in your journal or take a blank sheet of paper and just start writing whatever comes to mind, without thinking of the grammar rules or format or what reaction it would elicit. You can even draw or scribble if you want. Unburdening your mind can lead to better wellbeing.
  2. Gratitude journalling: Make a list of things or people you are grateful for and why. This can lead to a better relationship with people and places around you as well as fill you with optimism.
  3. Reflective journalling: Setting yourself some basic questions such as “how happy/sad are you feeling right now”, “how would you describe your mood in two words”, can be helpful. Doing this regularly helps keep track of your emotions and reflect on the positive/negative impact of the factors around you.
  4. Victory journalling: Noting down your victories at the end of each day can be helpful in increasing self-confidence and rationally appreciating your efforts. These victories don’t have to be big – waking up early morning or getting through a meeting or going for a walk or buying groceries – anything and everything counts.
  5. Guided journalling: If you are looking for a more structured approach, you can try prompt-based journals which can be helpful in starting your journalling journey. Hannah Bevan’s Hometown journal is one such example.

By Swarnim Agrawal. Find her work by clicking the link below.

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