While getting ready for the Southern California Writers Conference, thought I’d share the Cliff Notes version of one of my favorite workshops to teach, which I will present Sunday afternoon in San Diego: Your Journal, Your Goldmine. Because, for working writers, people trying to heal or recover, and those recording their lives, it truly is one of the most vital working assets we have.
Your Journal should be your constant writing companion, along with your creative mind and computer. The journal can be a reflection of the internal feelings, emotions and thoughts surrounding the writing life – and be filled with notes, new words, sketches, drawings, directional lines, ideas started and stopped, figure of speech experiments, character sketches, potential through lines and plot lines, notes on places traveled and events experienced, and much more.
There are countless ways to use a journal as a complement to your writing practice. A few easy-to-implement ideas are listed below:
• Write down the “news”: new observations, new sounds, new experiences, new words learned, new feelings, new dialogue or dialect;
• Write down new types of writing: something you saw in a book, a genre you like, new words/phrases, how those words/phrases were used, new uses of old words, new lingo;
• Write on writing: How the author of the book, story or article you couldn’t put down put his or her words together, how they sustained voice and reader interest, techniques/word skills they used, figures of speech. Watch especially for how he or she seized your senses with their dramatic narrative, the images they used. Aim for a takeaway: How can you bring this new knowledge into your own work, your own experience, and write in your voice?
• Cook up ideas: Brainstorm ideas; spin off ideas or ways to approach; experiment with approaches to idea; experiment with genres; use journal to see how far idea will go. ALWAYS write down ideas; come back to them later. Date them. Let your daily writing produce a new idea for you.
• Write at the speed of life: Practice writing at the speed of life – your life, friends’ lives, subjects’ lives, characters’ lives. Write narrative reflective of speed of events or world. Long sentences — explanatory, cerebral, contemplative, detached. Short sentences — dramatic, emotional, immediate. Write at the speed people talk; capture the speed and rhythm of their movements in words; practice writing descriptions that show speed until you’re good enough to bring them into a story, article or book.
• Research notes: Bring into your journal research notes you really want to incorporate into your work. Write and experiment in the journal until you master the research, until it flows smoothly within your narrative and you have “owned” the material.
• Draw, sketch, blog, cut out articles — multimedia: Make the journal a chemistry lab; use whatever it takes to firmly paint the picture of your writing in your mind, then try out descriptions and phrases in journal.
• Figure of speech practice: My favorite. Practice developing and writing metaphors, similes, alliteration and other figures of speech. Also practice using action verbs instead of passive verbs.
• Revisit old ideas and writings: This is the long-term benefit of the journal, especially for those fishing for ideas or working through personal healing and/or recovery issues. Keep writing ideas – no matter how silly they seem – and you can revisit them and incorporate them in many ways. And your old writings will always serve you for a memoir, article or character for a novel.
• Cut loose and have fun: Sometimes, we just need to cut loose and write pages and pages about whatever strikes us, even if it’s totally nonsensical. I do this every two weeks, though I would love to have the time to free write daily. This is real diamonds-in-the-rough writing: If you hit your creative stride and put up no inner censors or fences to what you write, then these free sessions will produce a garden of ideas and continued strengthening of your writing voice.
NEXT: Almost Real-Time Blogging Coverage of the Southern California Writers Conference