“I have advice for people who want to write. I don’t care whether they’re 5 or 500. [...] [I]f you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you. Where you just put down what you think about life, what you think about things, what you think is fair and what you think is unfair.”
— Madeleine L’Engle
Today I want to talk about something a bit different: writing journals and whether writers should keep one.
I keep a writing journal and it has helped me enormously. That said, I suspect if you saw it my journal wouldn’t look like anything you’d classify as a writing journal.
For the last few years I have scribbled, daily, in a book I keep ready-to-hand when I’m in the house. (When I go out I keep a pad of paper in my purse and transfer anything I write there into my daily journal.)
While this journal may contain the odd (and I do mean odd ;) insight into life, the world and everything, what mostly fills its pages are bits of writing that in years past I used to commit to random pieces of paper, pieces that would drift around my office. Inevitably, they would disappear and I would be left with the vague feeling that I’d written something important on one of them.
I think what happened is that I’d grab a piece of paper and use the reverse side for a shopping list, or to take a message, or to dash off a to-do list, and then I’d forget there was writing on the back and recycle it.
After years of this I hit on the notion of keeping a notebook as a kind of—this is how I think of it at least—RAM. The book is, essentially, an extension of my memory. I write in it all the things I would like to remember a hour, or a day, or a year from now but absolutely won’t unless I record them.
And it’s much more difficult to misplace a book than unattached slips of paper!
My writing journal is also the place where I doodle, do math, sketch out cover ideas, program code, and first drafts of blog posts and stories.
Yes, it is a bit of a hodgepodge, a dogs breakfast (for some obscure and likely bizarre reason I love that phrase, “dogs breakfast”) but being-difficult-to-find is a step up from lost. To mitigate this problem I’ve developed a system of labeling that involves multi-colored highlighters and yellow post-it notes. My goal is to make it obvious what information each page contains, especially when that information is the first draft of a story.
After writing that I feel a bit naked! I’ve never discussed my writing journal before.
Anyway, there it is. I wish I had developed this system years ago, less of my writing would be lost and a (crude, confused) record would exist of what I’d written on a day to day basis.
You might wonder: Would keeping this sort of life-in-a-bucket journal be of help to you? Maybe! If you regularly lament that you can’t find a short little note, or a writing sketch, you jotted down then, perhaps, an everything-in-a-tin journal might be helpful.
One thing I can guarantee you: after a year or two, seeing a couple dozen journals snuggled up beside each other on your bookcase will make you feel like a writer—because you are!
Either that or it’ll remind you of the movie, “Se7en.” Whichever. ;)Photo credit: "Stargazin" by Zach Dischner under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.