I have made stabs at regular journal-writing throughout my life, with a singular lack of success. When I was a teenager, I had one of those five-year diaries with a key, in which I poured out my emotions filling the five lines allotted to each day. But I never sustained the habit (or perhaps the emotions). When I was a full-time working mother, I was lucky if I had time to write the times of the boys’ hockey games, music lessons, and birthday parties on the kitchen calendar. I kept them as reminders of what had happened throughout each busy year. When we went on holidays I kept a tiny notebook in my purse to record where we went, what we saw, and how much we spent. Sometimes I made notes about unusual people or events that drew our attention.
When I retired, I joyously abandoned anything that resembled an appointment book. Surely there would be no need for such a thing in my new-found freedom! Within a year, I had gone back to using the usual working-person type of book, with one page for each day, times between 7 am and 7:30 pm provided for meetings, and space for Important items. So what happened?
I discovered that little scraps of paper were not an efficient way to keep track of appointments or phone calls made to arrange such things as furnace duct cleaning. My retired status allowed me to volunteer for community projects, and I needed to keep better track of my commitments. I started to use my day book as a ‘diary’ in which I jotted down what happened each day, weather conditions, the jaunts I took out of town, and what books I was reading. I began to think of it as my journal.
What kind of journal, or journals, should a writer keep? In an interesting article on the topic in the December 2009 issue of The Writer, Ann Edwards Cannon writes about the benefits to writers of different kinds of journals worth keeping. “Stay on track with 6 types of journals” advises writers to free-write, to jot down ideas, quotations, dreams, and submissions, and keep notes on what you’ve written each day and how you feel about it – each type in a separate journal. This article was also noticed and discussed on the Writers-First-Aid blog.
Having now kept a daily record for more than eight years is somewhat of an achievement for me. What is hard to believe is how my various forms of journals have proliferated along the way. The daily book was too large to carry everywhere, so I acquired a pocket-sized book to always have with me. A writers’ organisation regularly gives me a lovely book where I keep track of my writing commitments (SRW meetings, conferences, retreats, contest entry deadlines, dates for submitting blogs, etc.). It has a generous section for notes at workshops and conferences. However, I wanted to keep a real journal, not just a log of daily routines. As 2009 wound down, I spent time in my favourite stationery store looking at other options.
Many people have influenced me on ways to journal to keep the writing juices flowing. I have tried and abandoned some ideas because they didn’t suit me. Some people recommend doing ‘morning pages’ as soon as you wake up, but I get up and walk first thing in the morning so it doesn’t fit my routine. I no longer keep a ‘nature journal’ though I did for a while as a consequence of my interest in writing poems about the natural world.
I learned about writing ‘free fall’ from W.O. Mitchell long ago. It is a technique of writing down whatever comes into your head. This often spills over into ideas relating to your works in progress. This is the purpose for my new journal – a book with an attractive cover, undated, with lined pages where I can write as much as I like without spilling over into another day’s space, or writing up and down the margins as I often did in my day book.
I’m not yet in the habit of writing in my free fall journal every day. A regular appointment book still serves as my master schedule, and I can’t stop writing a full page in it almost every day like a log. It now fits in the larger handbag I have taken to carrying about with me, so I no longer need the pocket size. I received the ‘writing schedule’ book again which is thin and easy to carry. And guess what! I was given a small ‘family events’ diary for Christmas, which I’m sure I’ll use. I don’t go anywhere without a little memo style notebook in my purse, and index cards with a pen attached to the sun visor in my vehicle. I guess you can tell that I don’t own a Blackberry!
Cannon’s article reminded me that I track everything I submit (including results) saved to an electronic file. I think it would also be a good idea to keep a journal on each individual novel I work on (a recommendation from another novelist).
Many of the blogs I read on a daily basis are in fact journals which the bloggers are sharing with the world. Check out the list of personal blogs of the Chicks provided on this page. Notice that Janet calls hers Janet’s Journal. Maybe one day I will also break out into a blog.
How do you handle all the information you need to track? When ideas come pouring out of your head, how do you corral them for future use? Have you always kept a journal? A diary or log of your daily happenings? What is the single most useful technique that helps you as a writer?