The weekly question on a writer’s list prompted today’s blog entry. The question was about journaling and whether the writers on the list kept a journal and if so why? Additional questions dealt with the type of journal, the information recorded and whether it informed their writing, and if so, in what ways? Since I have a history with the process, I immediately began writing a response. Since we were limited to 250 words, I had quite a bit to trim. So I thought I would share my entire response here as we’re moving into the gift-giving season and many writers receive blank books and some may wonder what to do with the things.
Journaling is a definite arrow in my quiver. As a kid I spent time writing in a diary. During a dark season I turned to journal writing as a more therapeutic tool, a way to release a lot of negative feelings that needed expression. As a young writer I chronicled my efforts in a series of journals that began with more internal-directed, reflective writing that gradually became more external-oriented with ideas for projects and notes. At the end of each journal I would review and index the entries so that even now, years later, when I remember an idea and the time it first came to me I can easily find the entries. In the late 90s I facilitated Artist’s Way groups and the journals were more of Cameron’s morning pages type. I then studied with Kay Adams and became a certified instructor of her method of teaching journal writing. For several years I studied journal writing and read many books and a number of articles by writers who used journals in their creative process. Over the years I’ve developed classes that have dealt with journal writing and have included various ways writers can use the process to further their writing projects.
I’ve found journal writing to be a good tool for a variety of purposes ranging from personal growth to project development. I don’t look at journal writing as a prerequisite necessary to produce good writing but as something many writers have found useful for their type of writing or their personal writing process. Journaling has proven successful for scientists, naturalists, and therapists but is not the domain of writing or psychotherapy. Usually people that give journaling a fair trial tend to find it has positive effects. Whether they continue and practice journaling daily or tend to use it only during certain times or for specific reasons, most have reported it to be a valuable tool.
My journals have been made of loose leaf papers in notebooks as well as bound gift books. They’ve ranged in style from highly decorative to the simple composition books picked up at the local drugstore. I’ve bought journals in obvious series and have come to call those the "cat years" or the "flower years" or the "working in a science lab years." It makes them easy to find. I’ve reviewed and highlighted entries; I’ve gone back and added additional notations; I’ve indexed them. There’s no specific rhyme or reason to my use or process other than what seems to be working for me at the moment.
Journal entries have helped me understand characters in books, provided scenes or snippets of dialogue or aided my understanding of the plot, theme or meaning of a piece of writing. Sometimes the entries have produced the kernel of a work that doesn’t come for a year or two or even more and seems to lie fallow in the pages of long ago. Entries have consisted of workshop notes, book review thoughts, random musings and scattered ideas. In recent years I’ve combined some of my photography efforts and begun to produce more visual journals.
Overall I would have to say that my journaling efforts have proved helpful in my writing, but I would also have to say that they’ve helped me understand myself more as a writer and provided me with a reflection of how my creative process works. As I look at doing more creative nonfiction writing, I find I’m gravitating again to journals as a preliminary recording of events and first drafts of memories and reflections. I find my view of journal writing to be as solid as sand with shifting usage and slippery recollections but always fruitful whether used in the actual development of formal writing or simply as a way to comb through my mind.
Below are a few of the books that discuss the value of journal writing that you might find useful either for yourself or as a gift for a fellow writer or aspiring memorist. If you’ve done some journaling, please share your experience.