Journaling in the Third Person

How writing about ourselves like a character in a story of our own making helps us believe and create the good things we desire.

By Lara Zielin, Guest Author

For years, as a published author of romance and young-adult fiction, I was always asking, “What do my characters want? What would make them happy?”

That all changed when my publishing career imploded and my book contracts dried up. Within scant weeks of each other, both my publishers decided they no longer wanted to work with me.

The identity of “published author” that I clung to so tightly evaporated almost overnight, and it left me feeling like a massive failure. I began drinking too much and pulling away from the people closest to me. I was reeling and lost, wondering who I was anymore.

In this dark place, I knew I needed a way to change my story. So that’s when I decided to write about myself like one of the characters in my novels.

For so long I’d been asking, “What do my characters want?” and I finally began asking, “What does Lara want?”

While admittedly it was hard to imagine the good things that could happen to me directly, it was relatively easy to imagine the good things that could happen to Lara the character. We are, after all, the heroes in our own story, right?

I started a book I unimaginatively titled Lara’s Life, and I wrote about everything that would make the character of “Lara” feel joyful, happy, and fulfilled. I put her in wildly delightful situations – giving her trips, financial security, purpose, confidence, you name it.

Within a year of writing this book, my life was markedly different and, to my surprise, many of the things I had written about in my book had actually come true. I realized I’d hit on a new method of journaling that didn’t just rehash the past…it could actually shape the future.

When I set out to understand why this had worked, I discovered three primary reasons.

1) First, this type of writing exercise fuels pattern recognition. When you write down what you want to have happen to you, it helps you see more clearly the things that are holding you back. The tension is right there on the page for you in real life, the same as it would be for a character.

2) Second, writing ourselves as a character helps us understand our stories. Dr. James Pennebaker from the University of Texas has done research that shows how storifying experiences helps people approach what’s happened to them more objectively and can ultimately provide perspective on and understanding of these experiences.

3) Third, we create more possibilities. According to researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, the third-person perspective helps people think about themselves as they would others. And often, it’s easier to believe things are possible for others versus ourselves, so in this way, we can trick ourselves into believing in better outcomes.

3rd Person Journaling Activity

If you’re eager to try this for yourself, it’s pretty simple stuff.

First, get a notebook and grab a pen. (It’s very important that you do this by hand; trust me, it’s more science!)

Then, imagine your character (who is you) as if you were writing a book about them, and they are living their best life. To start out, I’d like you to think about how this character is feeling in their ideal “story.” Try to go deeper than “happy,” and get as specific as you can about their emotions.

You can begin writing “[Your Name] feels … “ and see what comes up.

Next, think about what this character is doing What brave actions do they take? You can begin writing “[Your Name] is excited to be doing…” and see what comes up.

Finally, what advice does this character have for you in the here and now? Imagine your character standing tall, chin tilted with pride. “This is what I want to tell you…” they say. What wisdom do they share?

There’s so much more to this method, but you can try these few prompts and see how it feels.

This process changed my life, and I believe it can do the same for you, too!

Guest Author Bio

Lara Zielin is a published author, editor, and the founder of Author Your Life. Her debut young-adult novel Donut Days was selected to the Lone Star Reading List, and her romance novel And Then He Kissed Me (written as Kim Amos) was nominated for a Romantic Times Reader’s Choice Award. Her magazine articles have appeared in Writers DigestCultureMedicine at Michigan, and more. Her nonfiction book Author Your Life is about using the power of writing to create a better life for yourself. She lives in Michigan with her husband and dog, and her goal is pretty much to eat all the cheese.