Adapted from and Inspired by the following publications:
Adler, Mortimer J. and Van Doren, Charles. How to Read a Book: the Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading. New York: Touchstone, 1972 (1940).
Baig, Barbara. How to Be a Writer: Building Your Creative Skills Through Practice and Play. Cincinnati: Writer's Digest Books, 2010.
Brande, Dorothea. Becoming a Writer. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 1981 (Harcourt, Brace, 1934).
Jones, Danell. The Virginia Woolf Writers' Workshop: Seven Lessons to Inspire Great Writing. New York: Bantam Books, 2007.
A good friend of mine, her husband, and their twelve-year-old daughter are going to Germany and Northern Europe this summer. My friend and I spoke of the possibility that she might give her daughter a travel journal for the trip, as a tool to make the event more memorable for the girl. Journal-keeping is also a good habit for young people to develop. It would delight me if something I put together helped awaken the intellectual excursions of this young girl and her parents. I decided I would some "Guidelines for Keeping a Journal" that both they (and I) might use in our own “journeys” on the printed page. I thought it might be good practice for me to synthesize what I have read about journaling and also that it might rouse my sleeping muse and help me to rededicate my own efforts at writing.
In this spirit I offered the following advice:
First, go to your favorite book or stationery store or online merchant and obtain a journal/diary that delights you by the way it feels, how it looks and the way it smells, its heft, lined or unlined (according to your preference), its size and the number of its pages, as well as the way you feel when you actually write in it. You may not be able to grasp all of these parameters consciously when you first purchase your journal, but they will register at some level. Alternatively, your journal may be a gift bought on your behalf but with someone else's parameters in mind. Embrace it as your own. As a token of affection and admiration, it will remind you of the person who gave it to you and the esteem in which you are held.
Many of those who consider what ought to go into a journal point to the date as an essential component of each entry. In general, this is a good rule of thumb, but it is not absolutely necessary. It is true, however, that dates enable more ready organization once your journals have started to accumulate. Also, dates can help fix in your own mind a sequence of events in your life and in your journal as a reflection of the same.
Remember, no eyes but yours will see your journal, unless you permit the disclosure. You should not feel hampered by other people's expectations or demands regarding what should be put into your journal and what should be kept out. Be aware, however, that nothing is more inviting to unwelcome casual investigation than a journal left out in the open. Your journal belongs in a space designated as private, unavailable for public perusal, unless that is your intent. Keeping a journal is fundamentally an exercise in discretion; even if you decide to put "everything" into it, your journal is a document you are encouraged to reread, reconsider and rearrange again and again as the years pass. A journal is also recursive and circular in that you will always be returning to the same ground, to the same physical pages in their successive versions, and to the same ideas that will permeate your intellectual life. Selection will occur of its own accord because time, space, and attention are all limited, as well as the fact that written language is material in nature and therefore also finite.
A technique for beginning one's journal writing is to do what is commonly referred to as "freewriting". When freewriting, you open your journal to a blank page and begin jotting down whatever comes to mind, remembering only to keep your pen moving across the page, iterating "I don't know what to write," if that becomes the case, until the flow of words, if not ideas, resumes. Do this uninterrupted for 10-15 minutes at a time. This can be very difficult, but it is a skill that can be practiced and learned. It is also handy to be able to write something in your journal at just a moment's notice. Later on, you may reconsider such entries and try to organize them, or you can just keep generating more and more text.
You can also begin an installment in your journal by freewriting and then, in the same entry, transition toward more structured/directed forms of writing. When freewriting, do not be concerned if the entries are not grammatical, or well-structured, or even coherent—you are simply opening the floodgates and recording what pours out. The point of writing in a journal is not to come up with something finished… at least not right away. You must allow yourself the freedom to explore your own ideas in a non-judgmental setting. Give yourself permission to do this, and try to accomplish writing in your journal several times a week, at different hours of the day, until you find a pattern that suits you.
Another way to get started is to aspire to write 100 words every day. That is, you might manage a session by giving yourself that easily attained goal. You’ll find yourself routinely exceeding the word count. (The point here is to launch each session and let it develop as it will.) What tomes could ultimately be accomplished if a person would set aside the time to write 100 words every day? The pages would add up before you knew it, and you'd be well on your way with whatever project you conceive.
Inspiration for a journal can also be found through reading. Your journal is an ideal place to air thoughts about subject matter that is everywhere available to our minds' inspection. The effort to write about other written pages is a primary method by which to understand and assimilate what is read as well as make sense of experience. Let your world be a literate one. That this phenomenon occurs is magical, but it also has distinct steps that can be mapped out in your journal. (The process of reading a book mindfully has been delineated by Adler and Van Doren in How to Read a Book, cited above.) Some of the best writing advice I have encountered, on more than one occasion, is to read widely, everything you can get your hands on, and follow your own tastes. There is much we are obligated to read and write in our daily lives, and the journal can help with those assignments, but think of it also as a tool for self-exploration, pages wide open for discovering what it is you most enjoy thinking about, doing and speaking of.
We must find room in life for the expression of what is close to our hearts, and our journals are a place in which to practice the attitudes that we wear (more or less convincingly) during our interactions with the rest of the world.
Copyright ©Joe Sophy, March 26, 2015. All rights reserved. No part of this blog may be used or produced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, email the author: email@example.com