I’ve written in the past about the value of keeping a creative journal: a place where you can reflect upon your current project while you are creating it, but this post is different. This post is about journaling in general and how this practice can help your writing.
Perhaps you’ve kept a diary or a journal in the past; a place where you could record activities, events, meetings, or appointments. But have you ever kept a journal that recorded your observations, thoughts and feelings?
If you can become an observer to your own thoughts and feelings, then you will be able to articulate certain experiences and sensations better than a writer who doesn’t take the time to analyse or reflect upon their life.
By recording and critically evaluating your behaviour, feelings and thoughts, you will begin to clarify what your core values and beliefs are. As a writer, you need to know where you stand on particular issues so that you can write about them from a conscious and informed stand-point.
Do not get hung up on the ‘proper’ way to keep a journal. There is no right way to record or reflect upon your day. To begin with, you might like to keep a bullet-point journal where you list the day’s events in bullet form followed by a brief (1-2 sentence) description of your thoughts or feelings. Maybe you’d prefer to write a paragraph about one event. If you lean towards the spiritual/mindfulness side of things, you might like to keep a gratitude journal where you list all the people, experiences and objects you are grateful for. If you’re more of a pessimist, you could always rename this exercise as a what’s not wrong right now list.
Writing cannot be separated from living.
If our writing becomes too detached from lived experience or from the world, then our stories will fail to connect with readers. Our words will become flat, our characters dull and our plots predictable.
If truth is stranger than fiction, then what better inspiration can there be than the content of our own lives, community and world?
Inspiration is ‘out there,’ but it’s through our internal processing that we can turn the messy, perplexing, beautiful, scary, dramatic and reverent event into gripping stories.
Writing is not a purely intellectual activity. It is a combination of imagination and intellect. As Virginia Woolf said, it is the result of “discipline and the creative fire.”
All brain and no heart leads to unremarkable writing.
Journals are loose, unpredictable and creative. You can write about the weather, reflect upon the day’s events, record your sleep patterns and dreams, your goals, your disappointments, that shitty thing you did to X and all the ways you were incredibly generous to Y. You can riff on a topic that’s gotten you all fired up or write about how a certain book or movie made you feel. What did the storyteller do right? What would you change about it?
You don’t have to write in your journal every day, but taking the time to regularly reflect on your life is a good practice. Not only for your craft but also the development of you as a human being. You needn’t write for hours. Fifteen minutes is good; three pages is enough to satisfy Julia Cameron.
Keeping a journal may seem self-indulgent or juvenile, but that’s simply a matter of perspective. Learning to meaningfully reflect on your life, behaviours and thought processes isn’t childish. If anything, it is the mark of a person who is brave enough to examine the beautiful and the disfigured facets within their own character.
Writing will make you a better writing. Keeping a journal will make you better still. And I can think of no better time to start than right now.