Friday, June 25, 2010

In Praise of a Writing Journal

I've never been a journal keeper. Maybe it's because, as a leftie, I could never manage to get my hand into those tiny little books with the metal clasps. And even if I could, the lines in those things were so infinitesimally spaced…well, let's just say I'm still a wide-ruled girl. Plus my personal idea of hell is to think that anyone can read my mind and, for me, a journal just seemed a doorway to that netherworld.

During the writing of Storyteller, however, I had so many story ideas and worries and enthusiasms bouncing around at once, I decided to break down and carry a composition notebook around with me. Who knew I would love it? Having all my ideas in one place? What is this "organization" thing you speak of? Unfortunately, many of the pages have lines like "no words today - boo" or cryptic messages like "Don't forget the Cheerios under the seat!" I kept it through Storyteller, its sequel The Reaches, a nonsensical NaNoWriMo project and the ill-fated mystery endeavor. I'm into my third notebook now just as I'm starting my newest project and have discovered the real beauty of the journals.

"I've been here before." You know that feeling at the start of a new, exciting writing project when it feels just like someone drops you in the middle of Kansas and says "Now get to the Grand Canyon! Pronto!" You're psyched! You love the Grand Canyon and you have a pretty good idea where it is from here. You get ready to take that first step… and all you see is wheat. Miles and miles of wheat. And that voice pops up and says "You can't get there from here."

Pull out the old journals. Writing periods I remember as effortless or story arcs that seemed to me now to have grown out organic and smooth are remembered quite differently up close in the notebooks. Days and weeks of anxiety and despair and false starts and weird go-nowhere ideas take up pages and pages of the journal. I see a million tangents that got weeded out after they had helped bridge difficult passages; I see periods of frustration that were just hammered through with brute force. I see moments of elation when things finally picked up steam. Mostly, though, I see that I made it. Again and again, I wrote my way from start to finish, each time convinced this would be my last time.

Like the journals themselves, the stories were messy and flawed and full of missteps. Unlike the journals, however, they have been edited and tweaked and cleaned up so nobody has to know their ugly childhoods. Their beauty comes from their polish. The journals' beauty comes from their rough ugliness, from the crazy and sometimes pathetic desperation scrawled through their pages. "I've been here before" and my journals have the scars to prove it. Consider me converted to the world of the writing journal.

Now if you'll just point me in a west/southwesterly direction, I've got a Grand Canyon to see.


Kari Anderson (KariAnnAlysis) said...

Great post! I've just started writing and don't have a journal specifically for the project I am working on. However, I do have a planner/journal that I use everyday. I do it week by week with my schedule and what not, but I have started keeping track of characters and days I write. I like looking back and seeing what days I have written, how much I got done, etc. I also write myself little notes on my weekly schedule that says "Write 3 times this week" and keep track and I do it! I'm a list person, so this is definitely up my alley :)

SG Redling said...

See, I'm more of a lost post-it note kind of organizer. The journal really opened my eyes to patterns and discipline breakers, too. Who knew hot weather made me write more? (I'll do anything to avoid going out in the heat!) Good luck with the writing!

Donna Cummings said...

I swear, if I were left-handed, I would think *I* wrote this post. LOL I never journaled because I didn't want the exposure, but I constantly carry notebooks around now, so I can write down stuff for blog ideas, and plots, and character notes. Unless I use the stuff on current WIPs or blogs, I don't go back and re-read my scribbles -- you're definitely braver than I am there!

I love post-its, and used to carry them around everywhere when I was at work, and I'd set them down, never to be seen again. LOL I was always having to buy more for that reason!

SG Redling said...

But who doesn't want to feed that office supply addiction all writers have? I mean, what wouldn't you give for a new pack of pens?

Monica R. said...

And remember, I'll burn the notebooks if something should happen to you.