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Have you ever thought about how keeping a journal might enhance your writing? Here are some thoughts and tips from one writer who also been journaling for many years…well, maybe decades! Mary Cash is a teacher, journal keeper and writer (to name just a few things) who lives in Colorado and, along with her husband, shares life with John Snow (the cat) and Shadow (the dog.) More about her here.
One Writer’s Journaling Journey
by Mary Harris Cash
Do you journal? I’m curious what you journal about. Do you keep track of everyday events? Vent about someone in your family who makes you angry? Plan for the future? Talk yourself through a big change happening in your life? Perhaps you write about the birds that show up at your bird feeder. I do. The nifty thing about keeping a journal is that there are no limits to what you can write about. You can find blogs, books and research studies that offer suggestions on journaling techniques, but in the end, it’s your journal, and you’re in control of what you write in your journal. I wonder though, when it comes to journaling, do we tend to forget we can use our journal to help us with our writing projects?
Me? I’ve kept a journal since my mid-20s. Of course, I’ve had some down time. When I had twins, I didn’t pick up my journal until the girls were well into toddlerhood. And, this past November, when I got a new puppy, my journaling went out the window for a few months, and it took quite a bit of effort and schedule juggling to get back to it. Overall, however, my journal has been my constant companion through the adventures of graduate school, relationship ups and downs, parenting tribulations, the joys and stresses of several new jobs, the sadness of my girls going off to college at the same time, the uncertainties of a couple of scary medical diagnoses and more.
Doing it my way
These days when I journal, I like to do my version of Morning Pages, complete with a daily weather report (it’s 7:45 am and 10 degrees on March 27 – will winter ever end?), bird report (Crow! Stellar Jay! A cute woodpecker!), and my tarot card pull for the day. I fill my three pages with whatever concerns I have for that morning, and I find that I can write about anything that pops in my head, including my latest writing project. This morning I used my journal to brainstorm for this guest blog post.
However, I’ve not always thought to use my journal for my writing projects. For some reason, when I decided to try my hand at writing fiction several years ago, I had this idea that I needed to keep my journal and my fiction separate. I bought a spiffy 3 subject spiral notebook and diligently used that for my brainstorming and for drafting scenes for my cozy mystery. I carefully made sure not to write about my cozy in my journal. I had to keep the spiral notebook next to my journal so I could hop over there if I had some grand idea in the middle of journaling about my day.
A place to capture my brilliant ideas!
Eventually, because I’m one of those people who has brilliant ideas either in the shower, or right after while I’m getting ready, I found myself putting down ideas for the latest scene or questions to ask my main character as I was writing my morning pages. That way, I got my ideas out of my head, and on paper so I wouldn’t forget them. At the same time, the instructor I was working with for an independent study class through the Story Circle Network gave me suggestions for dialoguing with my characters or brainstorming about the setting or some other aspect of my mystery and she always suggested I journal about it. Sooner than later, my journal and the spiral notebook bled together. I would bring both to my desk so I could work on my scenes on the computer.
To be honest, I’m not sure where the idea of not using my journal to help with my cozy mystery project came from. When I took time to think about it, I realized in the past, when I was working on research papers and even course updates for the college English classes I teach, I always used my journal to write about some aspect of those projects. I can’t say books on fiction writing told me to not use my journal because some actively encourage using one. I guess it must have been a brain glitch at the time.
The safety and freedom of your journal
From my experience, if you plan on using your journal to help with a writing project, it’s best to consider your journal as a safe place where you can write anything. It’s important to ban that critic when journaling, especially when you’re focusing on your writing. Start out your journaling session by telling your inner critic to go wash the dishes, do the laundry, or better yet, get busy vacuuming. And if they threaten to pop into your journaling session, just push them out the door with another task to complete. Also, don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar, or format. Find some engaging tasks for the Grammar Queen to do when you’re journaling, or better yet, get her to help your inner critic clean out the downstairs closet.
Now that I’m back to using my journal for my writing projects, I got curious about how others might be using their journals to facilitate their writing, so I did some research. While there’s not as much information available on journaling for writers as there is on the benefits of journaling on mental health and learning, there are some great suggestions out there.
Now your turn
Here’s are three ideas to encourage you to use your journal to boost your writing.
- You can use your journal to grow a daily writing practice. No matter what you write about, remember, the more you practice your writing, the better it will be.
- Use your journal to clear your head – if you’ve got lots of ideas or perhaps something is going on in your life that’s blocking your writing – do a brain dump write and get all that muck out of your head so you can move on to do some great writing.
- Capture life around you. Write about people, places, events in your life. You can go back and pull out juicy tidbits and use them in your novel/short story or even your non-fiction.
How do you incorporate your journal into your writing practice and projects? I’d love to hear from you.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to learn more about journaling? Sign up here for my newsletter.