From my lengthy “do as I say, not as I do” file comes this item–keeping a journal. I decided to blog about this topic to kick-start myself into restarting this important habit. So read on if you like, but this entry is meant to persuade me.
Steve, I know you’ve kept journals in the past, but you’ve fallen out of the habit and out of practice. You’re also now denying yourself a journal’s many benefits. Yes, you kept secret “event”-type journals about each of your children’s activities as they grew, and gave the journals to them when they became adults. Yes, you’ve kept “log”-type journals of writing progress, including daily word counts and submission status. Yes, you still keep a computer file of story plot ideas that occur to you. And yes, you write this blog.
But you’re not doing the type of journaling that could improve your writing. You should keep a private writer’s journal, Steve, and in David Letterman style, here are the Top Ten reasons why:
10. If you keep your journal in your computer it can be multimedia, including video clips and digital images.
9. A journal can be a handy place to track your writing progress, by noting word-count per day, and by noting what stories you submitted to which markets, and what the response was. This particular journal use is so important, I’ll devote a future blog post to it.
8. You’ll remember things better. The brain stores stuff in one place when you sense it, another place when you talk about it, and another place when you write it. That “wet computer” between your ears is pretty good about cross-linking such storage places, so writing a journal will improve memory, whether or not you review previous entries.
7. It’s a place to note things you may use in your writing — bits of dialogue, descriptions of people, gestures, facial expressions, descriptions of settings, and interesting words. When you encounter anything of interest during the day, note it in your own words. If you like the way some other writer phrased things, write that in quotes and note the source; you can paraphrase, but not plagiarize.
6. Within the journal, you can find out which ideas don’t work. Admit it, some ideas only seem wonderful when you first think of them in the shower. Once you write them down, these great-sounding thoughts about plots, characters, settings, and scenes have now picked up some unsightly warts. Good thing you found that out before going too far with a dumb idea.
5. You can use the journal to solve story problems with such aspects as plot, character, motivation, hook, and the “so-what? problem.” In the private idea space of your journal, you can clarify the problem, brainstorm possible solutions, and examine each potential solution until best one emerges. You can use mind maps in your journal to do this. (I promise to write a blog entry about the use of mind maps to help your writing.)
4. The act of keeping a journal instills a measure of self-discipline about writing. Every time you walk into the room where the journal is (if you use the book-type handwritten journal) you’ll feel guilty if you haven’t written in it that day. Once the habit forms, it will nag your conscience until you make your daily entry.
3. The journal is a safe place to write, a “word sanctuary” where there are no criticisms, no nasty reviews. There you are free to roam with your muse discovering and charting regions of thought not suitable (yet) for public commentary.
2. Journal-writing helps hone the process of capturing thoughts into words. And that’s what a writer is all about. You might learn to write with greater clarity and focus. After all, it’s a private journal; there’s no need to write in a fancy, confusing, or euphemistic way.
And, Steve, the number 1 reason you should keep a writer’s journal is…
1. By exploring your inner feelings in a private journal, you might increase your self-awareness. It’s said that Gnôthi Seauton was inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, meaning “Know Thyself.” If you probe deeper into yourself and combine that knowledge with a better ability to convert thoughts to words, it should make you a better writer.
Perhaps you readers of this blog can comment on other reasons for keeping a writer’s journal, or about your experiences with journaling. Excuse me now while I go make a journal entry. Signing off here, I’m–