Here We Go!
Since blogging has become the preferred form of open-faced journaling for so many, I will open this blog by sharing some of the ways writers can use their journals to further their skills, ideas and works.
I’ll start with an admission: About 200 of the exercises in my new book, The Write Time: 366 Exercises to Fulfill Your Writing Life, began as seeds in my journal. I jotted down a few words, let them germinate, then worked them into exercises that I later presented to students in workshops. But they began in the safe, quiet environment of my journal.
I teach a workshop called, “Your Journal, Your Goldmine.” The premise is pretty simple: every writer should consider his or her journal not a diary or rote recitation of events, but a chemistry lab of sorts. Only in this lab, you don’t put on the protective white smock; you take it off. Use your journal to practice various forms of writing, test out techniques or character voices, and grow the ideas that you have germinated. I find that writers who test out their countless ideas through journaling sessions avoid much of the later frustration of starting a book or essay, only to see it wither halfway through when the initial emotional steam is gone.
Seven ways in which you can make your journal work for you:
1) Experiment with character voices and dialogue. This includes dialects, colloquialisms, slang and accents particular to your character’s locale.
2) Experiment with words, phrases, similes and metaphors. Similes and metaphors are all about painting visual connections through language.
3) Flesh out your ideas; see if they go somewhere. If they do, write them out!
4) Explore your deepest feelings and observations, and don’t stop if it gets uncomfortable or intense. Go all the way; reveal, reveal, reveal. The deeper you go, the deeper you write – in your point of view, as well as your characters’.
5) Write about something new every day.
6) Experiment with genres. Try writing a poem instead of a short story, or a memoir-like vignette instead of an essay. The more pliable you become with genres, the more you can shape the form your pieces take.
7) People-watch, especially when traveling. Capture their faces, movements, feelings you have when watching them.
You can also use your journal as a way to heal from physical or emotional injury or trauma. Though it was originally written to address survivors of traumatic brain injury, a fine new book by my friend, Barbara Stahura, really captures this mode of journaling: After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story ($30)
Journal every day, if possible. I’ve been journaling in my journal, “A Day In The Life,” almost daily since 1977; it’s now up to about 70 notebooks in size. But that doesn’t matter; what matters is the collection of life, observations, experiences, adventures, riffs on other authors and poets and their works, unfinished stories and poems, people, discovering new means of expression, word experiments, notes from writer’s conferences and workshops, and all the hours of practice that lie within. Once you’ve journaled for awhile – say, a year or two – you will be able to look back and find ideas, or writing “riffs,” that went nowhere at the time … but “hit the mark” for something you seek to write.