Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Do you or don't you?

If you want to be a writer, keep a journal. 
Of all the pieces of advice I’ve been offered, this particular gem was the easiest to discard. Possibly because no one ever told me why it was so important. 
I’ve tried, off and on. 
I started journaling because I was told I could mine the depths of my imagination that way. 
Attempt #1. Morning notes. 
First thing in the morning, grab your preferred writing tools and jot down whatever comes to mind. 
What I learned was that, though I do not consider myself musical, rarely listen to the radio, and do not use a clock radio--I wake every morning with a song in my head. Mostly Top 40. Sometimes Broadway.
I stopped journaling because I bore me. 

* * *
I started journaling again because I’m supposed to. 
Attempt #2. Random writing. 
Sit down and write out your thoughts as a warm-up to the real work of writing a story. 
I write a pretty good rant. I can complain about my [redacted.] Before I’ve transitioned into the WIP of the day--oops. I’ve run out of time. 
I stopped journaling because I didn’t see any good in it.  

* * * 
I started journaling again--and maybe this time I’ll keep it up--because finally, I may have discovered a solid reason for it. 
Attempt #3. Data gathering. 
Record raw facts about the ordinary tedium of the day. 
I’ve already learned that navel-gazing is boring and that a rant is not and never will be a story. 
This time, I’m looking for life lessons. I can’t assign meaning to today’s crazy-making event. But in a year or ten, I hope to look at my notes and spot a character arc. 
I wonder, if I had a record of what I was thinking when I was 25, whether it would be easier now to create well-rounded characters. I remember some stuff, but I think we all revise history because things we do and say are reshaped by the filter of all that has happened since. I want the raw material. 
When I write a story, I need a character who starts out with set of one opinions, and through a course of challenging events, changes and grows. At the end of the story, I want my reader to understand what happened. I don’t think the reader will ever get it if I don’t. So for now, I’m journaling in a quest for the truth.
What about you? Did anyone ever advise you to journal? Did they say why? Did I miss the point because, once again, I was too stubborn to listen? 
Do you journal? Why or why not? Please share!

10 comments:

M.V.Freeman said...

Chris,
I started journeling as I began writing--it helped for awhile, but now, I find that it takes time away from what I need to do-write.

I may start again. It slowly helps clarify me, but at the same time, its one more task that if I don't get to I feel guilty.

I'm torn with this subject as well! ;)

Lexi said...

I don't journal. Never have. Know I'm supposed to, but no time and zero interest. So. There. I'd rather be working on a book or reading. Never even kept a diary when I was a girl. Both my girls do, though. They did not get the journaling gene from me!

Cari Hislop said...

I started keeping a journal as a personal record fairly regularly when I was about 13. I always wrote to my future children, but it turned out that I can't have any. For me my journal has become a back up memory. Along with entries I've saved drawings, cards, notes, grades, accomplishments etc. Even though I left out a lot of really private things, there's enough there to help me remember what did happen.

It's amazing how distorted our memory can be even after only a year. If you write it down you'll be able to go back and know what really happened, what you really thought and felt.

I'm not remotely as habitual as I used to be writing private entries, but I write lots of letters to friends and family as well as blog posts; all of which I count as part of my journal. A journal doesn't have to be a private record!

A journal provides us with a totem pole. We can look at it and know who we were and what we've done (both good and bad). Often in life we want to forget who we were and pretend we're the someone we are now, but to be authentic we need to be able to accept the whole totem pole; the whole story. As long as what you save is important to you it doesn't matter what it is you've written down. We have historical journals of people who wrote little more than their daily local weather...every day. It might not have been of use or interest to their children, but it's invaluable to us and future generations. Every ordinary becomes extraordinary after one hundred years.

Chris Bailey said...

Mary,
There's just never enough time. Especially when you're working on a contract with a deadline!

Chris Bailey said...

Lexi,
I don't know how children get to be their own people. But they sure do!

Chris Bailey said...

Cari,
I love the totem pole image. That's what I'm after--the whole story, even the parts that are quivering behind a locked door. A little fresh air and a hug might diminish the fears.

Granting permission to use all kinds of writing as a form of journaling is a kindness. Thanks for writing about your experience and your views.

Louisa Cornell said...

I don't journal. I really admire those who do. Leaving a record behind of who you were and what you thought for those who love you and want to remember you is a great thing to do. The world would have been a much darker place without the journal of Anne Frank. I think sometimes we feel if we don't have something profound to say - something as memorable as the words of Anne Frank - they aren't worth writing down. Sometimes it is the every day events that are the most memorable to those we love.

That being said, while I frequently do The Artist's Way's three morning pages I don't do it all the time. And it most definitely is NOT profound thoughts, but a detoxification of the bad stuff going on in my head. Once I put it on paper I find I don't think about it the rest of the day. It helps!

Carla Swafford said...

I tried keeping a prayer journal but ended up making stuff up (to make it more interesting) and stopped. :-)

Cari Hislop said...

Chris: I take my hat off to people who work, have kids and finish books! If they manage to write long rambling journals they're probably secretly aliens like superman! Keeping a record of your heart could be as simple as two or three daily sentences. Sometimes when life gets complicated everything seems to appear heavier than it needs to.

Louisa: I love morning pages too. I should do them more often, but rantings can be inspirational. I was recently ranting to myself (which thankfully doesn't get recorded) after watching something on tv. As I sat there I turned the rant upside down and there (as if under a slimy rock) was an idea for a funny Regency Romance.

Suzanne Johnson said...

I couldn't count the number of journals I've started and abandoned over the years. My latest: I began a journal in January, four months before my first book launched, keeping up with the ups and downs of publishing. I don't journal every day now, but I've found it's a good place to go and bitch because other than Lexi (sorry, Lexi), I haven't had anyone to bitch at lately. And, okay, to obsessively note Amazon sales ranks. *shakes head* sad.