Friday, August 19, 2011

Journal Writing: The Real Deal

Journal Writing: Valuable Resource for Writers

by Jacqueline Seewald

When I taught creative writing both at the university and high school, one of the course requirements for students was to keep a journal. I feel it’s an excellent source of inspiration as well as a resource for writers.

What exactly is a journal? It’s a record, an entry-book, kept regularly, though maybe not everyday. These entries are dated and honest. We can use journals to describe things, increasing our powers of observation. For example, we can describe places: houses, sidewalks, backyards and streets, cities. Consider your journal as a travelogue. Describe people, interesting or unusual, the ordinary too.

Jot down snatches of conversation. Think of your journal as a treasure trove or jewel box in which to place gems (quotes, pithy ideas, epigrams, insights, puns, nutshell wisdom). Write a little; think a lot.

Consider your journal as a laboratory for experiment. View your journal as a new wardrobe. Try on different styles. See what suits you, what fits and what doesn't. Think of your journal as a psychoanalyst's couch or a confessional. Explore your depths, dreams, fantasies, truths, sins. Regard your journal as a tape recorder attached to your brain. Record your thought associations, stream-of-consciousness. Consider your journal as a confidante. Much of your journal can provide fine raw material for future writing.

When I was teaching English at the high school level, I wrote in my journal regularly. A lot of those thoughts, comments, and description came into play when I wrote THE TRUTH SLEUTH. Many readers have commented that this romantic mystery novel has the vivid ring of veracity about it. Not surprising since the book is the real deal.

Do you keep a journal at present? If so, does it prove helpful? If not, is it something you might wish to do in the future?


Anonymous said...

This is such a great reminder, Jacqueline, for writers to get back to basics. In THE ARTIST'S WAY, Julia Cameron urges writers to write "morning pages", three or more pages every day of observations, thoughts, story ideas--whatever comes to mind. I've been trying to make it habit to get up a half-hour early every morning, make a cup of coffee and sit down in the quiet house to do this. I like the feeling of contentment and accomplishment it gives me every day.
Thanks for a great post.

Anonymous said...

I guess there's a mini-journal in each novel file!? I just made a note in two of them that they were turned down by Worldwide because their readers (have a low tolerance for paranoral) - noted, in both files and a list of books in my documents with this (bad) news bit so I won't send anymore of those.

Joyce Elson Moore said...

Hi Jackie: I've kept a journal for years--decades, really. Mine is more like, as you say, a psychoanalyst's couch or confessional, because I put thoughts in there that are private--for now. It's like a travelogue of my life--my ups and downs, the disappointing or wonderful days of my life. It's practical, too, because I can refer back to it, and have, for practical things, like Where was that nice campground? What was the date of--? Thanks for reminding us how we can use those thoughts in our stories.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Rebbie,

Julia Cameron's suggestion is really a good one. My mind is at its best early in the morning too.
It's a great time to write. The wonderful thing about journaling is its immediacy. Memory changes things, but in journaling we're writing things as they occur, fresh and vivid.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Anonymous, (Jackie G.?)

I got the same letter from Worldwide. I don't agree, but we're not the editors so we don't have any say in the matter.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Joyce,

I think what we write in our journals can be valuable in our novel writing. Sometimes when I've hit a lull, I'll go back to these notes and something will strike me.
As you observe in your own experience, it really can be a valuable resource if maintained faithfully as you obviously do.

Heather Cashman said...

I have done this on and off for years, but appreciate this reminder. I've never had the desire to go back and read anything though. Not sure why, but I am going to start and use this for inspiration. Loved the post!

Betty Gordon said...

Jacqueline, good information on journaling. I used to keep one and can't even remember why I stopped. I'll begin a new journal and see where it leads.

Pauline said...

I used to write in my journal every day until I got a computer. Instead of writing in my journal i send email, write to family and friends. Need to rethink that. Thanks for good reminder. I did recently download a journaling app. lOL!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Heather,

I think you might be surprised when you read those journal entries back. There just might be some writer's gold waiting to be discovered. Thanks for commenting.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Betty,

You might find it helpful to start journaling again, especially because you travel to interesting and exotic places. It only take a moment to jot down something thought that strikes your fancy.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Pauline,

Sometimes it is good to write things down in a notebook you label "Journal" with the year attached. It's different from e-mailing or blogging because it is just for your own eyes.

D'Ann said...

I used to journal every day when my daughter was little, but quit after a few years. I had a mixture of daily stuff, dreams and wishes. I burned those journals a few years ago, and haven't gone back to it since.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, D'Ann,

I'm sorry to hear you burned those journals. But you can always start a new one!

Unknown said...

The only journaling I did was as a teenager writing in my diary. Thanks for the prompt, Jacquie. I can see how it could prove to be useful.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Christy,

It's good to consider the differences between keeping a diary vs. journaling. I'd say journaling is more inclusive.

Sharon Ervin said...

Reading back over Journals or Diaries I kept as a young woman intimidates me into never again wanting to record my most intimate thoughts. For example, I would discover a great truth, a life-altering one to live by. Several months later I would have another eureka moment discovering the SAME great truth. I've kept those writings, but made Bill promise: If I die first, he is to destroy those books immediately.

Sharon Ervin

jenny milchman said...

I haven't kept one since college. When a new book is coming together, though, I jot down everything that could end up part of it--snatches of plot, dialog, characters, scenes. Then I wind up with an unwieldy pile of scraps. Probably a journal would work better ;)

Lynda Lehmann said...

Ah, I wish I could fit journaling into my other creative pursuits, as it offers a way to capture those events and perceptions and details of daily life that we often forget. Thanks for the reminder. Even a few minutes a day, would be helpful...

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Sharon,

A lot of the intimate things we write when we're young can be embarrassing when we read them back. Probably helpful if we write YA novels.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Jenny,

I think it's a great idea to keep a separate "journal" for each novel. That way you keep your characters straight in your mind: names, descriptions, mannerisms, background, etc. Also great for plotting.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Lynda,

Thanks for dropping by! I think journaling would be helpful, especially to a creative individual. It helps us focus.

Alice Duncan said...

Interesting. I've never kept a journal-journal, but I used to keep a dream journal. That was way fun! Dreams are very strange sometimes :-)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Alice,

Dreams are another great resource for writers. I used to tell students to keep a pen and notebook on the nightstand so if they woke up from a particularly vivid dream, they'd be able to jot it down before it became vague.

Alice Duncan said...

I'll be darned! I thought my comment was lost forever. Not that it mattered much :-)

Patricia Stoltey said...

I've tried to keep a journal several times but usually give it up after a few weeks (or days). I'm not sure what the problem is...but I think I worry too much about who might read my inner thoughts if I suddenly drop dead. :)

Susan Oleksiw said...

A journal is a great discovery tool, and I keep a notebook of ideas, snatches of conversation, and queries for whatever book I'm working on.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Pat,

A journal unlike a diary isn't necessarily emotionally personal. It's more for grabbing snatches of thoughts, ideas, descriptions that you might lose otherwise. As I get older, I find myself needing it more than ever!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Susan,

Journaling is a good way to focus on a book or any work in progress.

Mary F. Schoenecker said...

Hi Jackie, I enjoyed the reminder refresher about journaling.I still have my "travel" Journals kept while doing a short stint as a travel agent (after retiring) It provides great memories and even some helpful scenes for my WIP.
Good Post!

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Thanks, Mary. I can't think of a better use for journaling than recording journeying.

Ellis Vidler said...

A trick I learned from a movie--keep a tape recorder with you for your own notes. I think it was Night Shift with Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler. Old movie but very funny. Nice post, Jacqueline.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Ellis,

Keeping a tape recorder handy is a great idea. It can also provide the basis for oral history. For various reasons, some people may want to tell their story but are unable to write it down. By talking their story, it's available for transcription. Some famous authors have actually worked this way.

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