Explore and Inspire Yourself with Word Clouds

Have you ever noticed the cluster of words that sit in the sidebar of some websites, some of them bigger, some smaller, sometimes in multiple colors?

Tag cloud for Creative Energy Journaling blog.
The tag cloud for this blog. (You can find it in the right sidebar, or maybe at the bottom if you are viewing this on a mobile device.)

Bloggers often “tag” articles with keywords to help readers search for topics of interest. The bigger the word in this “tag cloud”, the more often the author has used that tag. You can see at a glance what themes the author has been thinking and writing about.

Even though you probably don’t “tag” your everyday thoughts (unless maybe you’re a Twitter addict who’s started to think in hashtags), you probably do have certain themes that figure prominently in your thoughts.  Things you tell yourself frequently, things that guide your behavior, consciously or not. Certain words or phrases that carry enormous emotional power for you.

Avid journal-keeper Beth Brennan describes how she begins each new year setting down a few words as touchstones for the coming year:

“Then, I list my guiding principles which change ever so slightly from year to year.  This year they were:  APPRECIATE – BECOME – CONNECT – CREATE – EXPLORE – LEARN – PLAY. . . . This book will take this year’s journey with me – my navigator to keep me on course and only be distracted by things that really matter.”

When I start a new journal (not necessarily at the new year), I also review my old journals for meaningful themes. Making a “word cloud” of meaningful words and phrases helps me renew my intentions and remind myself of what matters.

Ink drawing with the words "breathe", "dream" and "wonder".
A word cloud I’ve been working on lately. I usually work in ink for a while until I get more words positioned, and then add color.

Although I sometimes use single words or very short phrases, I also make “word clouds” of longer phrases.

Phrases about why I create, surrounded and connected by doodles.
Just a small piece of a larger word cloud about my motivations for creating art. (Really helps on those days when I’m feeling that pressure to get a “real job”!)

When I’m feeling frustrated, discouraged or off course, these journal pages are often the ones I find most soothing and inspiring.

You can also create “word clouds” to inspire yourself towards particular goals or keep yourself focused on the right things in a big project.

Word cloud on the ways drawing helps my journaling practice.
This word cloud reminds me how using images helps me in my journaling process. Notice how the words are sometimes reinforced with images or are incorporated into images.

Or to explore your feelings when you are troubled, confused or discouraged.

Image of stretched figure suspended by hooks and lines, with phrases about how I was feeling "stretched" by many demands.
Exploring my feelings in short phrases, coupled with an image, forced me to slow down and gave me time to regain perspective.

Why not just make a list or write a short paragraph?

Of course you could do that, but for me there’s something magical about writing in this nonlinear way, embellishing with shape, color and line.  There is time to linger over each word and really absorb its significance.

Working  slowly,with both words and images also gives my feelings an opportunity to slowly evolve. Instead of driving repetitive thoughts, my feelings of agitation were expended in the repetitive motion of shading the figure.

Instead of getting stuck, I gradually moved from feeling harried, anxious and resentful to reminding myself of the need to rest, withdraw and heal. I was able to escape the oppressive sense of “so much to do!” and regain a sense of perspective.

Word clouds also open up the possibility for multiple connections between ideas. Writing in a linear way—a list or paragraph—reinforces a sense of “this, and then that, and therefore that“.

But feelings and motivations and aspirations are more complex than that.

We each contain complex web of values and feelings that drive us. Making a word cloud is one way to explore, honor and harness these intertwined motivations to sustain us in crafting the lives we choose.