Keeping a journal helps me be a better writer and storyteller. I confess I’ve not been a consistent diarist my whole life. There were times I filled notebook after notebook (I’m old enough to predate the internet age, ain’t that some shit, huh?). There were years I didn’t keep a journal. Not long after the moment I finally kept my promise to myself (and others) to become a writer and began writing my first novel, I began journaling again.
Journaling is deeply personal, not just because what you write is a big secret (it doesn’t necessarily have to be), but because my approach and technique are unique to me. Personal to me. Yours will be personal to you. But of course you can still direct your journaling.
A conversation with yourself
I tend to simply start writing about what’s on my mind. What’s usually on my mind is the story I’m currently writing, so my journaling becomes a conversation with myself. I jot down inspirations and then try to follow them through to their logical conclusions. I argue the pros and cons about ideas with myself.
If I’m mired in some difficulty with my manuscript, I’ll often begin my journaling by stream-of-consciousness bitching about it to myself. Soon enough, I’ll have thought of several possibilities through the difficulty. I list them and try to see where they go. I extrapolate on them, try to carry them out their ends. Which one is the most exciting? Which one makes the most sense?
This, for me, is an embodiment of the idea of E.M. Forster’s quote: “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” You can’t walk down a path until the path exists, and sometimes the path only exists if you build it as you go.
The first thing I try to do in the morning is write in my journal. Notice I said try. Life doesn’t always work out the way you want, nobody’s perfect. I would never pretend I do anything consistently all the time, I despise hypocrisy. Sometimes a dream is still fresh enough in my memory that I can capture some of it. I believe dream imagery can be strong inspiration for fiction. If nothing else, you can analyze yourself a bit (I go with the notion that dreams are our way of processing and working out issues and deeply learning).
Most of my dreams are about me crying as I eat my way through a tunnel of Twinkies and being chased by women who all tell me they have a boyfriend when I turn around to speak to them. Then I wake up with my pillow case over my head. I have no idea what it means.
If you’re a fan of The Artist’s Way then you know about “Morning Pages.” I don’t follow the morning pages formula blindly but I agree with why it works and that’s why I write first thing every morning. I don’t journal by hand, I type it into Evernote. I used to use Penzu but then I didn’t feel like paying for it anymore, AKA “being broke.”
Journaling helps with my entire life
Talking to myself helps me get through life. That’s not not specific to writing, but I think it’s worth mentioning because it’s something everyone can use. Writing about something helps me understand it and understanding it helps me figure out what to do. It helps me know how to explain myself clearly. I can give myself pep talks.
Journaling helps me cope with depression. Whenever I try to use journaling as a way to complain or feel sorry for myself or wallow in bittersweet nihilism, it ends up getting shorting itself out because once I get the words on the screen in black and white, they look clichéd and ridiculous. But if I had never got those exact words out into the light of day, the vague feelings behind them would’ve continued to grow and gain power in the dark. I’m not saying I don’t get depressed, I’m only saying it helps me cope.
Do you keep a journal? What’s your way of doing it? What does it do for you?