Carol Brennan King February 9. 2022
This week in our library writing class, we talked about journaling, how to do it and why.
I bet you’d never imagine how many kinds of journaling there are to do, nor how very valuable journaling as a practice might be. And if you can’t remember all those ideas, here’s a cheat sheet.
First off, every time you repeat a bit of information or think about it, you are deepening the neural traces carrying and hanging on to that bit of information. That means writing something down helps you remember it. Even if you only write the words that will prompt the rest of the story.
I have a journal I call Stolen Moments. It’s for those times an idea comes to me that might not fit in any other place right then, but it is too good to lose. My stolen moments look many times like a poem – a few words on each line, and maybe six or eight lines, but those few words have meaning for me. They carry a thought I do not want to lose.
I have another journal or little notebook, my night-time idea journal, beside my bed. That way, when those great ideas come to me just as I get settled for the night or nap, I have a place to put them. You and I both know, by the time we get up, all we will remember is that we had this really great idea. Right?
Then, there’s that little idea or inspiration journal we women carry around in our purses. You men probably use the note function on your phone, and maybe all you women do. I don’t. I carry one of those pocket-sized notebooks just big enough to jot down ideas for writing. Think about standing in the line at the grocery store, or sitting in the doctor’s office, or maybe at the post office or the hardware store. Now, think about all of those stories whirling around you. Maybe a fragment of conversation finds its way into your ears. Pull out that little notebook or your phone and jot down enough that will bring back to your mind the story idea that just wants to be told.
You might keep a dream journal, if you dream often. I don’t anymore. I’m not sure what that says about me. Mostly, I think my dreams come when I am awake, but they are good to write down as well. You are keeping these “fragments” as ideas, prompts for stories you could write.
Some people benefit from a writing prompt journal. You can find lots of lists of prompts online or in books. This kind of writing is not about writing the kind of things you might send off to some publisher. This is where you exercise your writing muscles. Kind of a literary gym. Think first lines or last lines or even developing a paragraph – any paragraph on any topic. Think about how to make it draw that reader right into your piece.
Others really benefit from a “Morning Pages” journal. Julia Cameron originated this practice of writing three pages of hand-written thoughts, first thing in the morning. Think of this as a way to warm up as a writer for the day. Some practitioners call it a brain-dump exercise where you get rid of all the distractions up there and are ready for the real writing to follow.
Some people depend on the Gratitude Journal to keep them from turning into complainers or “Debby” or “Donny downers.” Usually, they write in it at night, but you could do it in the morning if you are a morning person. The point is jot down these blessings as something to help your mental or spiritual health, but you may also to see them as one more place for story ideas. After all, who wants to read a book that is just filled with one bad moment after another. Few readers do. Those sweet moments can ease the tension of a story, giving the reader a couple minutes of rest before the protagonist hits the wall again.
Journaling Benefits, besides things to write about:
- They show you how far you have come, so keep them. Your writing is more vivid than it used to be. Conversation between characters sounds like real people talking. ( a journal is great place to practice dialogue)
- Journals do give you a place to download, to put on paper burdens you are carrying around, thinking about, but haven’t come up with a solution. So write it down, with the understanding you will look at it later. Maybe you will write it into a character and see how they solve the problem. BUT, just getting it out does offer you some relief.
- Journals provide you a home gym, a place to practice writing, to try out new genre, new voices, new styles. And bottom line, the more you write, the easier it gets, and the better it can get, if you are combining the writing with some learning about writing, even better, if you have some coaching. That is not to say that anyone arrives as a great writer just by journaling, and having arrived, they don’t need to do it anymore. I have known the best and most successful writers who keep up the journal practice – to avoid what happens when athletes see the whole body go south when they start skipping the gym.
- A journal gives you a place to explore new ideas in the safety of your own pages. Your journal gives you a space to be more creative, to try out new ideas, to play.
- P.S. You can even draw or use color in there. Maybe paste some story-starter photos or clippings in there.
It’s the place for you to try new things, like telling a story using only one side of conversation. How about telling a story as imagined, but seen only through binoculars? Or get really adventurous: tell a story in emails, or facebook messages, or letters between people who have never met in person. Or, tell a story from the perspective of someone who doesn’t understand the local language but which is based one what they hear. Or think about sitting down to your computer and seeing a message which appears to be typing itself to you on your computer. Then what?
So are you convinced that journaling just might be of value to you in your growth as a writer…even if right now, you are only writing for yourself?
Here’s a download that might help you: file:///C:/Users/carol/Downloads/12615988_159889407495770_Writing_Prompts_For_Growth-Ideas-Productivity.pdf
Class prompts if you still want one:
- Tell the story of your elbow, the scar on your knee, or any other body part
2. Start a piece with this phrase: “I hadn’t been there long before I began to feel I was in danger.”
3. I hope you read this one today: it is a glorious morning with the sun streaming across my desk. Here’s the prompt: Go someplace where you can see the sky. Look at the edges where it bumps against nearby hills, or buildings. What do you see when you scan from one side to the next? Write it down, maybe as a list of observations. Then write about where it makes you want to go or what you think might be happening somewhere else under it.