Showing posts with label diary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label diary. Show all posts

Friday, December 4

7 Tips for Keeping a Journal

7 tips for keeping a journal

I have started journaling again. I kept a diary when I was a teenager, but then my diary mysteriously disappeared and I lost interest in the artform. A friend and pen pal got me started again and I’ve found it helpful, both in my personal life and my writing.

I wish I'd never stopped. I wouldn’t have to puzzle over, “What day did that happen?” Also, it keeps me honest about how I’m doing emotionally. It can be easy to think, “Oh, sure, my mood has been pretty good this week,” but then I review the record of my days and see, yeah, not so much. But it has also helped me spot patterns and that has been useful because it lets me know what has helped improve my mood.

Journaling has made writing easier. I’ve found that the more I write the easier it is to write.

For me, journaling is closer to fiction writing than to non-fiction. For example, here is a sentence I wrote a couple of days ago, “The sun had tucked itself under the horizon.” It’s playful. I was trying to describe something and that image popped into my head. Journaling has given me permission to play because it's informal and completely private. Like a first draft, no one else will see it. Well, except that they will, since I mine the record of my daily life for story nuggets that could amuse. 

If you don’t journal and would like to begin but are finding that difficult I suggest writing to a pen pal. You will find yourself running out of material quickly and will soon begin to mine your daily life for anecdotes. Journaling has made my daily walks much more fun because now I look for events that could blossom into a story the way a hungry crow looks for worms. A random interaction with a stranger on a sidewalk can turn into a mini-adventure. 

But like just about everything worthwhile there is more than one way to do it. If I could go back and whisper tips into the ear of my former self, here’s what I would say:

7 tips for keeping a journal:

1. Pick a time of day to journal.

I tend to review my journal in the morning. I read over the last entry in it and try to remember more details, or I try to express a thought more clearly. When I've gotten to about ten pages--this takes me about two weeks--I'll read the whole thing over and think about turning it into a letter or essay.

2. Nothing is too minor.

Throughout the day, I jot down anything that was interesting or made me smile. It can be something as simple as a funny thing that happened in line at a supermarket, a cute thing a cat did or a joke that popped into my mind. 

3. Memories.

After I had been journaling for a couple of weeks certain memories would bubble up to the surface and hang out. I’ve begun turning these errant strands of memory into journal entries. Maybe one day I can turn one of them into an essay. For instance, I wrote something about the advantages of being organized. BTW, I am not at all organized and have pretty funny anticodes because of it. Now if I could only find where I put them… ;)

4. Be kind to yourself.

Don’t stress if you don’t make a journal entry every single day. I often skip days because nothing happened, just a lot of time whooshing by while I did mundane things. And other days I’ll write two pages. It’s all good.

5. Experiment.

I don’t know if I’ll keep this up but I’ve been keeping a record of my running. This is more for my own personal motivation. For years I jogged 5k a day but I stopped around the beginning of this worldwide virus thing. I’m getting back into it again but I know it's easy to quit. I find that if I do something each and every day for about two weeks it becomes a habit and I start to feel odd if I DON’T do whatever it is. So, for the next two weeks I’m committing to recording my runs in the hope that this will help keep me on track.

6. Give yourself permission to write drivel.

I hope that doesn’t sound harsh, but as anyone who writes regularly knows, sometimes you’ll have a day (or two, or three, or …) where you feel that words are not your friend. They assemble on the page in ugly ways and refuse to say what you would like. I find that when this happens I just have to write ugly. Usually I'll come back to my scribblings days later and conclude that it wasn't too bad. Besides, if I don't write even if what I write is ghastly, then there will be nothing to revise.

7. Protect your journal.

You probably don’t want anyone else reading what you’ve written without your permission. I don’t have a lot of recommendations here except, if you can, password lock the file and change the password often. Failing that, you could keep your diary on a thumb drive and keep the drive someplace safe. Sometimes lockets have places inside them to put things. If you had a tiny thumb drive and a large locket, it might fit.

Thanks for reading! 


Here are some articles I consulted while writing this article:

Friday, September 5

Keeping A Writing Journal

Keeping A Writing Journal

“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.