Keeping a Journal

At the writing conference, I went to a session led by Morgan Grayce Willow on keeping a Writer’s Journal. I have plenty of journals, of all types and sizes, but I wanted to learn how journals can be used to improve my writing.

Morgan emphasized that you don’t have to write in your journal every day or at a certain time of day or a certain number of pages. Journals are way to help you records and explore whatever you want to record and explore. They should not be another chore.

Morgan showed us an example of a project journal she kept for a book she was working on. Within its pages she had mind maps; pages tracking her progress; a section to work through spots where she got stuck; research notes, etc.

The typical journal (if there is such a thing) is a dumping ground for what’s going on in your life externally and internally. That kind of journal is a good place for writers to practice noticing and describing details. For example, instead of saying “I had a great cup of coffee today” I could say something more descriptive like “My hands encircled the warmth of the cup as I brought it to my expectant lips and took my first hit of caffeine. Liquid darkness touched my tongue, bitter and sweet, much like love.”

Okay, a bit of overkill but you get my meaning…

Then there’s the idea journal where I can jot down those snippets of story that come to me on my commute to work or during a meeting. I like to record conversations I find intriguing that I can use as a writing prompt that could turn into a story. And field notes on my walks if I see, smell or hear something that I want to remember in detail.

Someone asked Morgan how to deal with not having the right notebook or your computer with you (if you keep information there) when an idea comes to mind, or a story begins to formulate, or a to do must be added to your list, or you find a site with the research information you were looking for. How do you keep track of all these things?

This encapsulates one of my biggest problems. The idea of pulling together all the notes scattered to the wind, has been freezing my brain. I can’t get past wanting to collect and organize the mass volume of what I’ve already put so much work into. But that is just so dang overwhelming!

Morgan recommended that you record notes in whatever journal or notebook or napkin you have handy. I’m already doing that, which is what created the problem in the first place. So here’s the piece I’m missing: At the end of the day, take all the things you’ve recorded in various places and glue them into the journal they belong in or enter them into your computer file(s). She also recommended creating an index if you have volumes of writing like I do.

That sounds really great except that I already have a hard time at the end of the day fitting everything in, and now there is one more thing to do. Still, I’m going to try this method and see if I can avoid continuing to add to my ten years of note spread.

I remember reading an article somewhere about how to organize the mass of photos that accumulate on a person’s computer. The article said to start using the organization system you devise with the next group of photos you download to your computer. Do not start by trying to tackle the whole schmear of everything that is already in disarray. You can do that when you have time to devote to the old stuff, but the most important thing is to not let the mess continue growing.

So I will start today to keep all my daily notes compiled into the place they belong. And to do the other thing that was recommended — make two backups of my computer (I do one now) and also print out what I create on a day by day basis, not worrying whether it is the final draft or not. That’s a tough one for a paper miser like me, and I can see my printer cartridge expenses going through the roof, and I worry about then having to organize all those print outs. But I’ll try it because I do regret not doing this with blog posts from the very beginning and with all the stories that I’ve written.

What about you? Do you keep a journal? Do you have a weapon to fight the information and paper monsters?

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One Comment

  1. I’ve written in journals for as long as I can remember, but rarely went back and read them. One day I ran out of room to store them. I flipped through a few of them to assess the value of keeping them and decided that there was no point. The benefit, for me, was the act of writing in them and since I had already done that, there was no point in keeping them. So, I ran every page through a paper shredder. It took weeks to do that, but now I have room for other things.

    Since then I only journal on my computer, which allows me to search for information and doesn’t take up anymore space than the size of the computer. The downside of using a computer is that if you don’t have a screen that prevents glare, you can’t really sit outside and journal. You also have to back up your work often. And, of course, you can’t carry a laptop with you everywhere you go. An iPad is a better option.

    I bought a tiny voice recorder years ago to keep in my purse to record writing ideas while driving. That didn’t work out, because someone was always around and I felt silly talking to myself in a voice recorder. Most mobile phones now have voice recorders as well as a way to record notes on memos. It’s really just about stopping old habits and starting new habits, which is easier said than done.

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