On Writing

The Writer’s Journal

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted! Things got hectic those last couple days of the week! But good news! It’s spring break, and I hope to get at least three posts out this week. Maybe.

So anyway, my last post I talked about the Ideal Reader and how they are the best people to work with. Well today’s post is going to be about the writer’s best friend: the journal.

Now when I say journal, I’m not talking about your “Today the dog got sick on the rug” journal, I’m talking about a journal in which contains full blown drafting sessions, drawings, questions, character sketches, lists, notes–pretty much everything that makes up the foundation of every novel.

When my writing professor first introduced the concept of writer’s journals, I honestly didn’t agree with the idea. Internally, I fought against it because I believed that the manifested itself in a whole, unbroken shape, and that if I wrote anything outside the text as it came to me, it would compromise the integrity of the story.

How wrong I was.

At first it was really hard for me to journalize my writing. My entries started out as writing down names I liked, situations that would make great scenes, and I started taping things I would find in people’s pockets at the dry cleaners I worked at like ticket stubs and business cards in my notebook, hoping to finding something to write about. I thought the exercise was pointless, and I didn’t feel like it was doing anything for me at all.

It didn’t change until my first creative writing workshop of my college career. At the time, I had started a story idea about a weather mage that I was quite proud of, but come to find out my group felt like the characters were flat and had no motivation and substance. The suggestion was given by one of my classmates to sit down and have an interview with my characters in my journal. Feeling quite attached to the piece I had written I decided to try it with absolutely amazing results.

The interview ended up being only one page front and back, but what I discovered about my character changed the course of not only the story, but also the way in which I journaled. All of the entries that followed had substance and made my writing so much better than it ever had been! I couldn’t believe it! I was able to make my writing more succinct, to the point, and have my characters fleshed out better by the time I was ready to write the story. I was able to improve the quality of my writing by almost 100%! I was able to take long verbose descriptions and dialouge like this:

“Swiftly, I catch up and cut in front of him a second time. He turns to walk around me in a different direction, but I grab his sleeve, preventing him from getting any further away from me. ‘Alright, listen kid. There is something about you, something strange about you that I cannot explain. This moment our lives have crossed has really left me wondering about you, and I intend to find out why you are so different from everyone else. You may as well answer me straight.’

This caused the boy to stop, mainly due to my grip on his sleeve. ‘I can’t tell you anything.’ He shakes my hand off his arm and continues walking, very cold, very closed. I am determined not to give in to the temptation to just walk away.

I catch pace with him, this time standing exactly in his way. ‘What’s your name? Who are you? Where are you going?’ I demand again. He stops short, his face working as he tries to control his emotions. I notice the sky has suddenly become darker and rainclouds are beginning to collect. This was strange, seeing as the day had started out almost ethereal.

‘Looks like it’s going to rain. Do us both a favor and answer my questions before that storm hits.’  His eyes widen in panic, and we both look up to the forming black mass. Immediately, his head drops to his chest, and I can see him heaving deep measured breaths. His long fingers clench into fists, and for a moment, it is as though the air shifts because a slight shimmer appears all around him, like heat rising off of sun-baked asphalt. The air seems to get heavier. The sensation passes quickly and the aura around the boy dissipates, leaving me to believe it a figment of my imagination.

Slowly, he lifts his head, his eyes clenched tightly shut. ‘Listen girlie,’ he says through clenched teeth ‘I am in danger. You don’t want to get to know me. I can’t let you know me. Everyone  close to me gets hurt. I don’t know what you think you are on to, but trying to ‘figure me out’ and discover what makes me so ‘special’ could cost you your life. I can promise you my ‘special-ness’ isn’t worth that steep of price. It’s certainly one I am not willing to pay.’”

and transform it into much stronger dialouge and descriptions like this:

“‘Abigail Jayne! My favorite girl!’ Vinny Morano’s large belly fills my vision, held back only by one straining button of a bombastically colored suit. I blink, dizzy from the busyness of the jacket. Trapped.

Slowly, I back up, fearing for the safety of my eyeball and my pocket book.

‘Oh. Hello Vinny. Funny meeting you here. Look, can’t chat—left something important at home—’

‘Awh, come on now Abigail Jayne. You don’t come visit us poor lonely Moranos for months and expect me to just let you go without a nice chat?’

He places a large arm around my shoulders, smashing me to his side. He steers me toward the end of the street where his perpetual yard sale sprawls across his lawn.

‘No really Vinny. I can’t. And it’s A.J. I don’t know how many times I’ve told you that.’

‘Paw,’ he snorts beneath his greasy black mustache. ‘As I always say, always call something by its true name and it will forever be your friend.’”

Huge transformation right? I never would have dreamed journaling before composing would effect my quality so much, and I wonder how I could ever have gone on writing without one. It’s kinda funny because at my first turn in date in class for my journal, I found myself having an anxiety attack because I was so attached and dependent on it, and I literally limped away from class that day. My writing journal is now a part of me that goes everywhere I do (just ask my friends; they’ll tell you).

Now keep in mind you can do your journaling any way you would like. I personally write in the margins, I use sticky notes, I print and paste pictures in my journal, I have stickynotes with commentary or corrections on my writing if there is no room to make any on the page, and I draw maps. I also have an additional commonplace book that I keep the small things like one-liner ideas and names I like to help my journals keep focused on the story at hand. Another hint with journaling before I end this post is that you need to go out and find a journal that you know you’d enjoy writing in. My first journal was quite creatively decorated, if I do say so myself, to help keep myself interested in writing in it. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m stressing again and again doing the little things to help keep your writing interesting to you. It can be work, but if writing is something that you have a passion for and would like to do it for the rest of your life, you cannot allow it to feel so.

Alright guys! Enough of this talk. Time to do some journaling of your own! 🙂


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