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Journaling for exam stress blog

Last week I gave a talk for a local children’s cancer charity. It was at a fundraising lunch and, as I always do, I walked in and looked around the room, taking in as much as I could about the audience I was about to address. I don’t know whether this is a throwback to my teaching days, when I used to assess what mood the children were in before I approached the subject I was teaching, or whether it is just an instinctive thing I do in life generally, probably a bit of both. I just find it helpful to know who I am talking to before I begin.

I had been asked to talk about storytelling, I wanted to pitch what I was saying just right, so that I wasn’t just talking to a room full of hungry, bored people.

I started talking about my Grandad Joe. I had taken his flat cap and one of his woodworking tools as props. I explained how when my Dad had lost his Dad quite suddenly he had asked all my other grandparents to write their life stories and how I had with me a document, which was 20 sides of A4, typed, containing the first 26 years of Grandad Joe’s life. I went on to explain that there also exists a similar document for my Grandma and that they then wrote an even longer document about their life together.

 TThese writings are so precious to our family because they contain information and stories that we would never have discussed, despite being a very close family and spending a lot of time together talking about all manner of things. I then encouraged everyone to consider writing their life stories as a legacy document for their families. I asked them how much they would value such documents written by their grandparents and explained that if they had grandchildren, they might not realise how precious these stories are yet, but in the future they would treasure these memories.

The response was wonderful. Why? Well, they understood what I was saying. This theme is universally understood, but also because it was a room full of lovely people, mostly of retirement age. Most of whom had grandchildren so could relate not just to my perspective as a grandchild, but they could also see the value of sharing their lives with future generations and keeping their memories and stories alive.

When we speak it is so important to connect with the people we are speaking to, whether that is one to one or to a huge audience. The same is true when we write. Whether we are sending a text message to a loved one, or writing a book, it is important to think about who we are writing for and make sure we use the right language to engage them. We must think about the subjects we talk about and ensure that our words cannot be misinterpreted. It is important that what we are saying and how we are phrasing it conveys the intended meaning, and that that is what our reader absorbs.

When you write do you write for yourself or for others?

I know I do both. My journaling and note making is just for me. As long as I know what I am saying that’s all that matters. When I journal it is more about the process of getting things out of my head and organising them so they make sense and I can work through all the emotions and thoughts I am experiencing. When I am writing for others I have to be aware of who I am writing for. When I was a primary school teacher it was vital that I only used words and phrases that were easily understood and appropriate for the age group I was working with at the time.

Writing for adults is no different.

If you are writing for a national newspaper in the UK you should write as though you are writing for a 7-9 year old as it is believed that that is the reading level of most newspaper readers. Writing here I dare to extend that quite a lot because many people reading on Substack are themselves writers, so they have a good grasp of language. Even so, you want your writing to be accessible, and if you make it too complicated, and use too many unnecessarily long words, you will lose your reader.

Are you striking a chord with your writing? Perhaps you give talks and have strategies for keeping your audience engaged, I would love to hear your tips and experiences.

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