Showing posts with label journal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label journal. 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:

Thursday, August 28

Six Ways To Rekindle Your Enthusiasm For Your Work In Progress

Six Ways To Rekindle Your Enthusiasm For Your Work In Progress

Enthusiasm. Passion. Inspiration.

These words are pale descriptions, gestures toward the drive that causes us to bury ourselves in basement offices and spend hours writing (and then hours more reading). 

I feel as though I’ve just come off a bender. For a week I’ve had that white hot passion of creation living inside me, almost like a drunkenness burning me up inside, driving me on.

It was wonderful!

And yes, I let everything else in my life slide and for that my apologies. I was programming, something I haven’t done in years, and it felt wonderful to flex those old muscles. 

Now, though, that the program is done the passion has bled away and I woke up today feeling decidedly uninspired.

How To Rekindle Your Enthusiasm

My renewed passion for programming made me think about my WIP and how dispassionate I feel toward it. I was looking for a topic to blog about. I don’t want to saturate you with news about my program and all the cool things I’m discovering, I’ll blog about that often enough in the days and weeks and months to come. But then I thought, well, that’s what I’ll write about, getting one’s enthusiasm back. (And, yes, I do this often; write the blog post I need to read.)

The Great Swampy Middle of Despair

At the moment I’m slogging through the middle bits of a first draft. I’ve adopted Jim Butcher’s terminology for the middle section of a novel: the great swampy middle of despair. (I added the part about despair, but I think it fits.)

You saw or read Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” right? Remember the part where Frodo picks his way through the Dead Marshes. That, right there. That’s the great swampy middle.

So, today, I thought I’d write about how to rekindle one’s enthusiasm, how to fall back in love with your WIP.

1. Don’t get out of bed right away.

Close your eyes. Imagine. What story are you working on? If you’re writing a first draft, or are at the index card/outline stage, the first few moments of consciousness can be pure gold.

Keep your eyes closed. Don’t think about all the meddlesome, anxiety provoking minutia of the day ahead (the day crouching before you like a starving tiger). Don’t think about all the boring things, all the tedious tasks, you have to do. Think instead about the story you’re in equal measures discovering and creating.

Where did you leave off? What is the viewpoint character doing? (Or, alternatively, what is the narrator experiencing?) What do they want? Why don’t they get it?

Use this time of creative semi-consciousness to rev up your muse.

(Yes, you may fall back to sleep but that’s what the snooze button is for!)

2. Keep a writing journal ready to hand.

I never know when inspiration will pounce. I’ll be thinking about a problem, trying to solve it, then as I’m walking to my car with my arms full of groceries, bam! My unconscious births a creative solution.

If you’re anything like me you need to write this down. I can’t tell you how many times I had a revelation, one I was sure to remember it was so staggeringly obvious—and then I forgot!

The journal doesn’t have to be fancy. I have two, and both are plain. One is a simple lined book with a spiral binding. I keep the cover closed with an elastic band—but it works! The book is small enough to live comfortably in my purse. Now when I have an idea I have a place to write it down. I keep another journal with me during the day—I think of it as my RAM. I write everything in there, lists, little reminders, story ideas. It’s where I scribble out rough drafts for these blog posts! I leave it on my bedside table before I go to sleep just in case I have a story idea during the night.

3. Have a support network.

I have people in my life who know me well enough and like me well enough to badger me, to be the two year old in the backseat: Are you done yet? Are you done yet? Are you ...

Yes, you don’t want too much of that but I can’t tell you how many times just knowing there were people who would realize I was slacking off, how much that motivated me to shake off the blahs, the negative thoughts, and keep going. And not only to keep going, it helped fan the fading ember of enthusiasm, of passionate affection, back to life.

4. Have a system.

I almost entitled this point “outline” but decided against it because, while I think everyone would benefit from having some sort of system I don’t think everyone would benefit from outlining. Different strokes and all that.

Take where I’m at right now. As I mentioned, I’m slogging through the middle of my story, poised right between, right on the cusp, of my kick-ass protagonist confronting the Big Bad.

I think what was bothering me about the scene was that she was too passive. But anyway. I turned away from my slog to do something (for me) infinitely more pleasurable—write a simple VB program in an attempt to find an objective measure for whether (given my tastes and predilections) a book is well written.

That has taken me away from my WIP for almost a week, but I’m able to go back and reengage with my material because I made an outline.

Yes, things in the story have changed, have deviated in small and large ways from the outline. And that’s fine. That’s as it should be. A story is a living, breathing, entity that has a will and a trajectory of its own.

Still, though, my outline keeps me tethered to the main themes, it helps me keep in mind the major beats and why they’re there. It tells me where I’m headed.

So, that’s my advice: Have a system. It doesn’t have to be a detailed system. Your system may be to collect images of what your characters look like from the many interesting recesses of the internet and pin them to various boards using Pinterest. Or you may scout the internet for exotic photos that may become the various locations in your novel. Perhaps you even have it worked out that this location, these people, come onstage in the beginning, then we shift to this board of pictures over here for the middle and then ... and so on.

The important thing is to have something that will help you get back into the groove if life calls you away, interrupts your progress, and steals the momentum you’ve build up.

5. Do something you love.

Do something that feeds your soul. Something that, when you hold the image of it in your mind, makes you smile.

6. Imagine something wonderful.

Writing is imagining. Use your imagination to experience how you will feel, not just once you’ve completed the first draft, but once you’ve done the last edit, once you’ve received your manuscript back from your copy editor and, by god, you’re done! Finished.

It’s quite the feeling, quite the high to have not only birthed a story but shared that story with the world.

Our stories are potentially immortal. They carry with them a bit of who we are, a bit of our souls, ensuring that a part of us will live on. If that’s not something to get excited about, I don’t know what is.

Photo credit: "Canon EOS 1N and Kodak Ultramax 400 - Cat shot" by Kevin Dooley under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.