The Mad Ninja Skill for Getting
Anything Done

I’ve found it: the magic bullet. The bass-o-matic technique that solves all problems, cures all ills, makes its own sauce, whitens and freshens your teeth (and laundry) while you sleep.

I’m going to share my super ninja secret for moving forward when I’m stuck (it works even better when combined with Havi’s destuckifier), finding focus, lighting up the escape route when the cabin starts to fill with smoke, and giving me the ninja strength to punch my way through obstacles and make things happen.

This is the equivalent of Beatrix Kiddo’s Five Point Exploding Palm Technique. It’s so powerful and dangerous that you might want to burn your computer after reading this blog post. Or at least, I don’t know, clear your browser cache.

The top-seekrit, ultra dangerous, uber-ninja skill that will set you free

Start writing stuff down.

(From this point forward I’m going to get all bossy and tell you what I do. Feel free to slavishly follow my model or to ignore it and make your own.)

I’m not talking about making lists, although that works too. I’m talking about journaling.

(Normally I despise the practice of making nouns into verbs, but journaling is just different for me from writing or writing in a journal. Feel free to throw rotten apples at me, I understand.)

Journaling is the act of getting all the gunk out of your brain and onto paper.

Journaling isn’t really writing. Writing involves editing and shaping and making careful word choices.

Journaling is more of a purge. We all have a lot of crap rattling around in our heads. Unworthy thoughts. Petty obsessions. Stupid fears.

Everyone. The Dalai Lama, Pema Chödrön, everybody. Murky, ugly mental gunk is part of being a human being. Most of us walk along desperately hoping that no one ever finds out what awful people we truly are.

Don’t worry. The nicest people you know are secretly even more horrible than you. (Hard to believe, I know.)

Journaling lets some air in. Getting the gunk on paper makes it suddenly look not all that bad after all. And writing down all the horribleness robs it of its power. Which leaves you free and clear to master the universe.

The main technique

Use physical pen and paper. Yes, even if your handwriting is atrocious. Yes, even if you hate to write by hand. If you are physically able to write by hand, do.

When you write with a pen on a piece of paper, you can’t go back and change a word because “gee, I didn’t really mean I hate my little brother.” You’re stuck with what’s there. It’s a tiny commitment to get the true first thing out of your mind and onto the page.

If you need to use a keyboard and screen, turn the monitor off. You want to remove your ability to go back and edit. Journaling is all about uncensoring yourself and freeing up your need to be “nice” or “appropriate” or even “sane.”

You don’t have to get all fancy and use a Moleskine or whatever the cool kids are using. You could use a fountain pen, which is what I like (this is a good beginner’s pen), or a .19 Bic. Doesn’t matter. But do use something that’s as comfortable as possible and lets you write quickly. Think flow.

Write without stopping. When you’re journaling, keep the pen moving. Even if you have to write this is stupid this is stupid this is stupid this is stupid this is stupid until you come up with something to say.

Journaling is not about consideration. It’s about moving too fast for your Inner Grown-Up to keep up.

Embrace the horrible. You’re de-gunking, remember? There’s going to be yukky stuff in there. Racist, homophobic, heterophobic, boring, immature, petty, mean-spirited, cruel, violent, bitter, self-pitying. downright evil. Name any quality you don’t want to have, it’s gonna come out.

What you find out when you do this is that you can write the words

I wish a nuclear bomb would destroy all life on earth so my assbag neighbor would melt and die

and nothing bad happens. No nuclear bombs. No destruction. No lightning bolt smiting you dead.

Plus, the feeling goes away. Or at least it eases up a little. You may find yourself starting to laugh about how out of proportion it all is.

You air it out. And when you air it out, the demon loses its ability to slow you down and confuse you. Life works better when you’re not slowed down and confused.

How often do you do it?

Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way recommends three “morning pages” of freewriting every day for a month. I’ve done that a bunch of times, and it’s a great exercise, very freeing.

I usually journal when I’m feeling blocked up. There’s a particular sense in my gut when I’m not moving freely and I’m unfocused and crabby. That’s when I know I’ve got some gunk to clear out.

Sometimes I need to journal every day. Other times, I might go a month or two without needing it.

Journaling and goals

Lately I’ve had enough big projects to juggle that I’ve had to get a little more focused about goals. Plus I gained about 15 pounds that, for some reason, don’t look all that good on me.

So I’m doing Dave Navarro’s Damn Serious New Year’s process for some goals. Every day I journal a page (or two, if I feel like it) on progress and stuck places and looking for potential gunk. It keeps my attention on my goals and reminds me why I want them.

And it helps me see that I am getting traction and the wheels are moving, even if the movement is subtle. Which is huge. I don’t know anyone strong enough to keep taking action on goals if they don’t think that action will bear fruit. Journaling lets you see the little baby steps of progress, and those will build momentum if you let them.

Share your ninja prowess

Do you ever journal? What tools do you like to use? Paper or pixels? Fancy notebook or scrap paper? Do you journal every day? Do you keep your journals or destroy them?

Let us know your ninja journaling techniques in the comments!


  1. Adam Kayce says:

    I used to journal; all the time.

    Now, it seems too slow of a medium… although I still do write some things by hand everyday—like goals, affirmative statements, etc.—and I see the value of it. I have a hard time thinking about going back to journaling stream-o-consciousness style regularly, though.

    It definitely has its moments, though, and if you say it’s the end-all, be-all, I-wanna-be-a-badass-like-Beatrix tool, then I’ll give it a go more often. Why not, right?

    Adam Kayces last blog post..Put The Power Of Ritual To Work For You

  2. I am a HUGE fan of Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way Morning Pages! Writing 3 long hand pages of “gunk” in the morning is more effective and cheaper than therapy!

    I highly recommend actually doing the pages in the morning too. When I do them in the morning it sets my day up to be a pretty gunk free day. When I write at night or later in the day, it’s a lot more like reporting the events of the day or bitching about those events. I don’t get the gift of surprise insights and possibilities when I write later in the day.

    Great advice! I’m a fan of helping people remain in motion and living their dreams! Writing is a low tech, nearly free way to help yourself bust through blocks. Way to go.

  3. I journalled a lot when I was in my early 20s and super insecure. For me therefore journalling reminds me of wallowing and whining. The stuckedness you talk about? That’s how I get about journalling. I’d need to journal about journalling to get unstuck! ;)

    Alex Fayle | Someday Syndromes last blog post..Cats, dogs and guilt: following through on responsibilities

  4. chas says:

    every morning. before i poop, even. mental poop. 3 pages long hand. crazy thing is i just twitted this very thing. wow. i smile in the midst of a shit storm so prolonged and unavoidable.

    so you know, i keep them. hidden. never read by me (this is why i hide them). and this is a very important point, so pardon me if i shout:


    whew. seriously. no one else will ever understand the stuff that ends up in ink on paper. lock and key or fire. or shred and recycle. just don’t let them see the light of day!

    do i sound like i have some experience here? sigh. it’s alright. i’ll just write my pages tomorrow morning and everything will be alright.


    chass last blog post..monday morning motivator! 7, my back pages

  5. Timmy says:

    I finally got into bed at about 2:30AM last night, but couldn’t stop thinking about this project I have been wanting to do. I was afraid I would forget them (as I often do when I think important thoughts right before I fall asleep lol), so I jumped onto my computer and began typing away about how to get corporations to donate more of their profit.

    When I have a ton of thoughts running around, I prefer the computer; I can just let em all out. When I write important things down I like to write slowly and neatly, always imagining that somebody else will be reading them. I wish I journaled more than I do, though. But I’m getting better at blogging! That’s basically my journal.

    Great post, by the way. Thank you.

  6. Sonia Simone says:

    @Chas, that is such a good point. No one can ever, ever, ever, ever, ever read them. No one. Not your heirs or space aliens in the 23rd century, no one.

    @Alex, laffing.

    @Adam, if you pick it up again, let us know how it goes!

  7. SMCuter says:

    Other than having the linkbaitiest title in the known universe (come on who doesn’t love Ninjas! unfair ;o) this is absolutely and totally true.

    I started doing this recently, and I literally feel better when I do. I feel more connected to what I want to do, and like I have taken action or created something, which pushes me to take further action/create more.

    SMCuters last blog post..SMCuter: for my SEO’s out there (a couple of the 169 of you must be an SEO right?) what would you say are the components of a good SEO evaluation?

  8. Amy Crook says:

    I love you so much for knowing how to spell “lightning.” So. Much.

    I haven’t ever done much journaling like you describe, but since I’m feeling pretty darn stuck lately, I may have to give it a go. At the very least, it’ll use up one (or more) of the many, many blank books I seem to collect!

  9. Sonia Simone says:

    @Amy, I think that’s a pretty darned good sign! I, too, am addicted to the blank books. I have boxes & boxes, some filled up, some no.

    @SMCuter, super ninja bonus points for using “linkbaitiest.”

  10. Pam Court says:

    If you have a hard time getting started journaling, pick up the “book” Wreck this Journal. It is filled with ideas to get you going and maybe not in the direction you thought.

  11. I don’t journal, but I really did enjoy your essay about journaling. And I’ll do just about anything that gets me closer to the title, “Ninja.”

  12. i write everything down! it works

  13. Adam Kayce says:

    I kept thinking about this all evening, and how I’ve had such good results with journaling-type activities in the past. So, I came back into my office after the kids went to sleep, and just finished three pages of journaling. Whew! Spending so much time on the computer, and rarely writing anymore, my penmanship is atrocious!

    Energizing process, though… I didn’t dump out all my fears and negativity, I tried using the time as a free-flowing exploration of my thoughts, goals, and dreams. Sort of a law of attraction focus, while letting myself be honest with where I was at. Hard to describe, but a good process.

    I’m definitely planning on keeping this up; thanks, Sonia!

    Adam Kayces last blog post..Put The Power Of Ritual To Work For You

  14. Great article, Sonia. I like that you explained the Why of it too; wish I’d thought of that more when I wrote about the How just last week, with my tips for newbies.

    And that image is the BEST! I notice she’s (gotta be a she to be doing the splits that way) a cutie-pie red squirrel and not a tree-rat grey!

    Fi Bowman (@fibowman)s last blog post..Photo Transfer Printing Sources

  15. Joanna Young says:

    Hi Sonia, I always knew you were a ninja – thanks for the sharing the secret as to what makes you so :-)

    Like others I’ve journaled in the past through *very* stuck states and don’t feel I’ve the patience for it just now. Maybe that’s because I’m not currently stuck though…

    I do enjoy writing a gratitude journal before I go to sleep. It seems to throw a happy spell over my dreams, and keeps me focused on what’s good rather than fretting over what I’d like to change.

    Joanna Youngs last blog post..The Audacious Guide to Starting a New Blog

  16. Ulla Hennig says:

    I am writing a journal, but not on a daily basis. I am using the possibility of having a “private” blog at wordpress for that, because my handwriting is bad and it goes much faster with the keyboard. The journal is mainly about my goals and how I stick to them (sort of success journal). But I also jot down my sorrows, problems and – of course – how things are like after a week or so (much better!).

    Ulla Hennigs last blog post..Winter in Berlin

  17. Hello Sonia,
    For me, pen and paper is best. I have a folder on my desk to store ideas and notes I’ve written down, unimaginatively titled ‘stuff’. You’d be amazed at the things I’ve written on – napkins, till receipts and even the back of a parking ticket. New Year’s Resolution: must remember to keep a note book in my handbag!
    Here’s a great visual way I’ve found to keep track of your goals. See:
    Hope you find a good way to get you through your busy spell.

    Sonja Jeffersons last blog post..4 great marketing books for small professional businesses

  18. Sonia Simone says:

    Adam & Joanna make a good point, which is that journaling about positive stuff is also a great exercise. It’s not always about gunk. Often if I’m trying to work up a plan for a new thing, I’ll journal it out again and again until the details start to smooth out.

    @Fi, the red squirrels are cuter than the “tree rat” variety, aren’t they? I thought I was the only person who called them that. The little fiends ate up half my bulbs last year, I take a dim view of the creatures.

  19. Ali Hale says:

    I’m imagining ninjas with fountain pens now … slightly disturbing mental image …

    You’re completely and utterly right about journalling. I find that life goes much smoother when I make the time to sit with a pen and my journal and scribble about what’s on my mind. And my uber-stressed-out mood earlier this morning was probably a pretty good signal that neglecting the journal for two weeks was a bad idea…

    Thanks for the reminder of the Real Ultimate Power (ninja TM) of the written word … going to dust off the journal and find my pen!

  20. Diane Owens says:

    Wow Sonia,
    I try to twist the writing arms of fearful flyers and the women writers I work with all the time, but your ninja approach was such a great way to get the journaling message out there.

    Journaling has so changed my life since I began two years ago after reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write. However, I did have to trick myself at first because, “Hey, I don’t journal even though I’m a writer. That’s for weird writers–not ME!” Julia and her amazing book convinced me to try, so I picked up a notebook with glittery flowers on it that didn’t look at all like any of the unwritten-in journals people had given me over the years. Then I began a journey back to myself.

    So if you’re stuck like I was, be sure to pick up a journal or a notebook that speaks to you. It has to fit you, just like the pen you talked about, Sonia.

    Thanks for helping to spread the journaling gospel so wisely and so well!

    Diane Owenss last blog post..Fear of Flying Doesn’t Fit into Oprah’s Best Life Plan

  21. Laura Roeder says:

    I journal usually a few times a week, unlike others here my journal focuses mostly on the positive! It’s because I don’t want to lose those good thoughts, I want to be able to look back later and remember what being in that place was like.

    I use a program called vjournal that I would definitely recommend. For me paper writing doesn’t work, I’m so out of practice with hand writing that my hand starts to cramp very quickly and it makes me want to stop writing. But I do write in my digital journal the same way you suggested – I never stop, edit, or correct anything.

    Laura Roeders last blog post..lkr: @ElizabethPW So glad to hear your daughter is ok!

  22. Tara says:

    Yes! Yes! YES!
    I journal for all the reasons you stated and for the reasons everyone else mentioned! Some weeks all I journal is crabby junk and other weeks it’s all planning, plotting, project-focused.
    I sincerely can not keep my life or my emotions or my ideas in order unless I write them down.
    In addition to journaling when I need to (about three times/week), I also keep a handwritten To Do list next to me at my desk & jot down anything I think of during the day (sometimes blog prompts, sometimes yarn-color ideas, sometimes “toothpaste!”).
    As much as I love quickly typing, it just doesn’t trigger the same sense as flow as handwriting does!

  23. I’m in the process of doing the Artist’s Way right now. I love it and hate it. I sit there, writing those morning pages, thinking that I am completely wasting my time and my life and that I should be doing more important things, but then that’s all part of the process isn’t it? I know at the end I’ll feel better for getting the gunk out.

    By the way, thank you so much for the donation to my friend’s play. Very, very, very appreciated :)

    Sarah Marie Lacys last blog post..Happy Hour Fridays: Letting Your Light Shine

  24. For years now, Ayn Rand was one of the only women writers I’ve admired.

    It’s not like I’m some close minded chauvinist pig who believes women are inferior to men. I adore them. Hell, Ayn’s most famous and heroic character is a woman.

    I’ve just yet to become a fan of any women business writers. And I haven’t yet taken John Carlton’s advice of diving into Danielle Steele novels to see how women communicate. Cosmo and Marie Claire yes, but no steamy lust tales yet.

    But I’ve got an announcement to make…

    Your style is waiving inconclusive evidence in the face of my jury convincing me you should be admired also.

    I’m brand new to reading, writing and commenting on blogs. I’ve only read three of your posts and your “Japanese steel” wit has put a smile on my face every time.

    I found a post on that listed 64 different blogs focused on the topic of personal productivity. I can’t imagine how many there are for writing.

    While cruising through this list I found some people had the goods but were slowly but surely putting me into a comma with their textbook style writing.

    Your sassy and brassy personality breathes life into potentially boring topics like marketing, writing and personal productivity . And in doing so you open up my mind so it can absorb the wisdom you weave into your posts.

    If journaling produces results like yours, I’m wide open to the suggestion.

    Talk to you again soon Sonia,
    Note Taking Nerd #2

    P.S. For any of you who are fans of Jim Rohn or Tony Robbins both of these studs have sold products on this topic. If you want their take on this topic, seek in Google and ye shall find.

    Note Taking Nerd #2s last blog post..If I Could Hear The Questions You Ask Yourself Would I Think I Was In The Presence of a Leader Or a Victim?

  25. Sari O. says:

    Last fall, I decided to put some structure into my on-again-off-again journaling habit, so I decided I’d write every evening before I go to bed. And I did. Christmas wrecked that habit (along with others), but I’m trying to re-establish it since it totally works with getting the gunk on the move.

    I love your idea of airing out the nasty ideas – a visual that comes to mind is a long-haired little critter (tree rat, even?) in a water tank, all burly and scary. (Like in an aquarium zoo where you look at it from floor level.) Writing the thought down picks it up from its own juices and lo and behold, there’s hardly any substance there. :)

    Thank you for this inspiration!

    Sari O.s last blog post..Directness vs. Indirectness: Mind Reading

  26. Mary H Ruth says:

    Before I read the other comments …
    Must point out that blogging is nouveau journaling, right? It’s what’s so ultimately cool about blogging: the phenomenon is leading millions of people through their vision quests, just like good old fashioned journaling.
    ‘Course, the pen and paper journal has an audience of one; your blog many more than that. Levels of self-revelation.
    And too, ahhhh, the familiar simplicity, the intimacy of pen and paper: these can’t be simulated digitally.

  27. J.D. Meier says:

    Thinking on paper is the way to go.

    It’s one of the most effective ways to trade a “buzz” on the brain for a peaceful calm.

    I find carrying a little yellow pad of stickies helps a lot. I try to limit each sticky to one thought or action or insight.

    J.D. Meiers last blog post..Actions, Insights and Notes

  28. Yes! Getting my thoughts out on to paper and even the computer help me cleanse my mind. I’m a huuuuge fan of poetry. It’s such a free form that doesn’t put an barriers on the thoughts.

    Sanely Worried

    The new office, CEO dirty looks, and my none stop tasks build worry in my mind.

    Where to go, what to do to keep myself sane.

    A walk along an a weed infested metal fence calms my worries. Relaxes my anxiety.

    And this poem that I can share with you.

    Karl Staib – Work Happy Nows last blog post..How Do You Define Success?

  29. Judy Dunn says:

    Journaling! Julia Cameron! The Artist’s Way! I have to say that book had an incredible impact on my life. Boy, there’s something mighty powerful about writing it all down. I’ve accomplished 8 of the 10 things I whined about in my journaling (including buying a house and living on this gorgeous island in Puget Sound).

    I’ve been writing my Morning Pages for eight years now. At first, I was like Grumpy Old Man (one of Dana Carvey’s characters in the Saturday Night Lives of the mid-to-late 80s, all you youngins’.) All the crap came out. But then I moved beyond that. Now I have notebooks and notebooks full of good stuff, and foffer for future e-letters and blog posts.

    I like Schaefer fountain pens myself. The kind that make the big black splats on your paper—those big fat luscious letters. Okay, I’m getting a little carried away here.

    I keep my notebooks, all of them. I’ve found lost of gems there when I go back and reread.

    Outstanding post, Sonia.

  30. Very Evolved says:

    I tend to think of personal blogs as a kind of journaling – though the editing aspect tends to destroy the spontaneity.

    I’ve been using my iPhone to jot down most journaling worthy thoughts – not because it’s a good medium, but because it’s always there, ready to go.

    Follow the Herd

    Very Evolveds last blog post..Follow the Herd. How behavior and stories spread through online crowds

  31. mark says:

    Niiiice. High Five.

  32. Andrea says:

    I’m ADD and I do this. Coil notebook, whatever pen I can find. it;s less journalling and more “get thoughts out of my head”.

    Make an appointment for kids? Write it down.
    Need to work on client site this week? Write it down.
    Good idea for a new WP theme? Write it down.

    Sometimes just the *act* of writing it down helps me to remember. and yes, I sometimes write down the same thing multiple times.

    New day, new page.

    Sometimes less of a to-do and more of a did-do or a should-do.

    Andreas last blog post..Anatomy of a home page:

  33. First off, that ninja rabbit pic still has me still laughing my butt off, and secondly the “I wish a nuclear bomb would destroy all life on earth so my assbag neighbor would melt and die” comment reaches closer to my home life then you have any business knowing lol.

    My Mom once gave me The Artist’s Way when I decided to rush off and be a musician long ago. This post reminds me of that book. I’m off to re-read it thanks to you Sonia. Cheers from a fellow Kazillionaire :( )

    harley warrens last blog post..Top 4 Design and Decorating Trends

  34. Best line in blog post ever:

    “Beatrix Kiddo’s Five Point Exploding Palm Technique. “

    Awesome :)

  35. Marissa says:

    My journaling history consists of some elementary school “dear diary” moments, writing down my day-to-day activities while traveling, and making to-do lists. I still continue the to-do lists, but your posts helped me realize that what I need to organize is my thoughts, not my tasks. Thanks for all of the tips!

    Marissas last blog post..January Wrap-Up

  36. Ruth says:

    I’m so glad that you wrote this!! For the longest time I absolutely had to have my daily (if not hourly) bout to logorrhea. I’d have a specific pen that I’d select (it’s how I became completely OCD about office supplies), and I’d literally spend an hour at a time going through Office Depot and Borders trying to find the perfect “writing journal” to spew my thoughts into.

    @Chas I couldn’t agree more and I’m SO glad that you pointed that out!! I can’t even tell you the disaster that resulted when my significant other found my writing/rant journal. That was almost a year ago, and I’ve been too scared to write since =/

  37. Melissa Erb says:

    I am in love with this blog post. Everything from the title (AMAZING) to the content… it’s all wonderful. I am in the process of writing a response to it on my blog right now. I have been journaling almost every day since I was 14 (about 8 years now) and I could not imagine life without it. It’s an outlet for everything and keeps me sane. I would argue that it’s the best medicine for stress because writing someone down has magical powers. Really. The second it’s on paper and not smooshed in-between a million thoughts in your head, it’s solid, it’s clear, it has its own place. I also agree with the fact that writing in an Live Journal or anything on-line does not serve even close to the same function. I blog and I journal. Two COMPLETELY separate functions. Pen and Paper. Pen and Paper. That is very important. Anyways, thank you for this blog and check out my response to it if you wish at

    Melissa Erbs last blog post..Social Media Web Sites: The Ultimate Time Suckage Mechanisms?

  38. Apple says:

    I write down my thoughts constantly. I keep a little journal in my purse and anytime I have something to say or remember then I just write it down. I think it helps me to get the many thoughts I have out of my head so it isn’t so cluttered.

  39. I don’t journal, but I really did enjoy your essay about journaling. And I’ll do just about anything that gets me closer to the title


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