The Business of Writing

Simon Whaley's Resource For Writers

Dear Journal …

 We’ve slipped into June and already people are thinking Where’s the year going? Time seems to be flying by and I haven’t done achieved anything yet! It’s not helped by the fact that, here in the northern hemisphere, in a couple of weeks, the nights start drawing in. (The countdown to Christmas has begun!)

I, though, can simply flick back through the pages of my journal for this year to remind myself of what I’ve been doing with my time. That’s because, this year, one of my projects was to journal every day. (Last year’s project was to experience a mindful moment every day and create a ten-second video capturing that moment. (You can see some of them here: http://www.simonwhaley.co.uk/category/mm/)

What is Journalling?

Some people think it’s about keeping a diary. Others think it’s a collection of thoughts and observations. The truth is, journalling is whatever you want it to be. It works better for me if it’s not a diary of everything I did that day, because that becomes a boring repetitive recounting of the day’s activities, which is not the point of this exercise. That’s not what I want to get out of my journalling project.

Some of you may have come across Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages technique, something I’ve written about in Writers Forum magazine many years ago. In her book The Artist’s Way she extols the virtues of waking up and writing three pages to clear the mind of everything that has accumulated overnight. Getting all of the clutter out of your brain leaves it clear to think and be creative for the rest of the day. We writers also have some good dreams that can inspire stories, and the best time for catching them is when we first wake up.

Sometimes I use this technique for my journalling. But my journal entries also comprise other thoughts and observations. While I was in the Lake District last month I sat down on a rock, with an amazing view in front of me, and penned my thoughts and observations. I also did this while sat on an open top bus. (People watching from a different height – now that was interesting!) Sometimes, a journal entry can be the sights, smells and sounds of the location where I happen to be at the time. You never know when something like this might come in useful.

There are other times when my journal entries are a written map of how I’ve clarified thoughts: free writing, essentially. If I get stuck on anything, perhaps with the opening of an article, or how to resolve a conflict in a story, I’ll open my journal and start writing. It’s interesting to see how writing down these problems often leads to a resolution.

Although I’ve always done this as a writer, it’s been rather haphazard. It’s not been a daily exercise. If I didn’t encounter any difficulties, or problems, then I didn’t journal. This year’s challenge has been to change that. To make myself journal every day, and so far I have achieved this. (Well, if it takes 30 days to create a habit, then this one is definitely there!)

The amount I write varies too, and I don’t force myself to write a set word count. (I don’t want this to be a chore.) Flicking back through my journals (yes, I’ve already filled one notebook this year, just with journal entries) I see that some days I may only scribble 200 words, but on other days I write more – sometimes more than ten times this amount will (somehow) arrive. It really is a case of going with the flow.

Why Journal?

For me, it’s about capturing thoughts, feelings, and information, and then clarifying it all in my head. The physical act of putting it down on paper helps, and I find that writing it out by hand makes a difference. The slowness of the handwriting process gives me the time to think.

Journalling assists and develops my creativity. I have star letters in June’s MacFormat and BBC Countryfile magazines – the kernels of these ideas I can trace back to initial thoughts in my journal. I’ve been struggling to create a story for a magazine based upon a picture they sent me, but journalling (over several days) has created a plot that I can now flesh out.

Time Travel

Although I’ve always written something every day, often that piece of writing might have been part of an article to another project. So this year’s project of journalling every day has also given me the opportunity to time travel.

At the end of every month I go back and read through my journal entries for that month. It’s amazing what you forget! And that simple act can generate more ideas. Despite writing things down and capturing them, the mind forgets so much, but because they’ve been captured on paper, they are there to be found again. It’s possible to time travel and relive those thoughts. (Sometimes I type up journal entries so I have an electronic copy too, which is easier to search for keywords.)

There’s a great article in this month’s Writing Magazine by Lynne Hackles, called Status Update, where she chats to writers about how they’re getting on with their New Year resolutions, now that we’re half way through the year (remember, the July issue is out now, so in the magazine world we are half way through the year). You might spot a face you recognise in the article too.

But it’s also a reminder that you don’t have to start New Year Resolutions on New Year’s Day. You can start a new idea at any time of year.

So why not start journalling today? There’s no right or wrong way of doing it. Just pick up a pen (or tap away on the keyboard) and see what happens. See where it takes you. I personally prefer a notebook because I also stick other things into it, like tickets and receipts of important things done that day, but you can still do something similar with photos on an electronic journalling system. (And there are numerous journalling apps out there for those of you who like your gadgets.)

When it comes to the business of writing, ideas are our lifeblood, and journalling can increase the flow of those ideas.

And if you like the idea, but can’t think of anything to write, that’s fine. It’s quite simple. Just pick up a pen and start writing: I can’t think of anything to write. My mind has gone completely blank. You might surprise yourself where it leads.

Good luck.

PS: And, yes, in case you’re wondering, this post began life as one of my journalling thoughts the other day.

3 Comments

  1. I do my journalling by putting down what I learn from the Bible on a daily basis. Once I’ve penned down something, am able to meditate upon it throughout the day. This is where I find ideas for the inspirational writing that I do.

  2. This is something that you’re encouraged (and sometimes , required) to do as part of the OU Diploma in Creative Writing (which sadly, I don,t think you can do anymore).
    It’s a habit I’ve fallen out of since then and this month certainly isn’t the right one to start anything new. But I often find my summer holiday is a good time to start something new – so perhaps I’ll give it a try when I disappear off to Scotland and the Lakes! 🙂

What are your thoughts?

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