Do your journal? I do, and it’s something I’m doing more regularly. Is there a business case for journalling? I think so, because it’s an opportunity to mine your brain for ideas and thoughts. Sometimes journalling helps me to identify a theme, or a connection between ideas, and hone them into shape.
Fellow writer and friend Stephen Wade is celebrating the publication of his latest book: Write Your Self. It’s a guide to making the most of journalling, and explores various themes and techniques for exploring your self, through journalling. By asking the right questions, we can learn more about ourselves generally, as well as ourselves as writers. The contents of those journals then become a huge resource for our creativity.
So this week, I thought I’d offer Stephen an opportunity to tell you more about his book:
Q: Where did the idea for this book come from?
“The idea came from my marking a heap of first-year undergraduate scripts when I was a full-time lecturer in English. 99% of these were about misery and suffering, and I saw how hard it was to write humour, to write lightly, and of course to look on the cheery side of things. So I discovered the writings of some Californian writing gurus who were developing journaling.”
Q: What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
“I’d like to think that readers, whether they want to be published or not, would find that revisiting their past and their social identity will revise opinions, maybe reconfigure notions of who they are and what they want etc. In other words, my hope is that they rethink if they need to, and come out with fresh, usable knowledge of themselves.”
Q: Why do you think journalling is so important?
“It is important because in a culture dominated by visual narratives, and in which letter-writing is a dying art, the habit of productive introspection dies away. That kind of reflection is crucially important to the maintenance of our accurate and truthful awareness of who we are and how our feelings work. There’s a great line in King Lear, when a comment is made on the sad king: ‘He hath ever but slenderly known himself.’ Shakespeare’s great play is partly about the tragic and painful consequences of never honestly seeing what looks back from that mirror which we look into to see the person we are.”
Q: How regularly do you think writers need to journal, in order to experience a creative benefit?
“I think a weekly journal entry is about right. Too much self-searching may cramp the style, as it were. I think an average week brings with it a cluster of potential insights into how we exist and act. In between journal entries, I would recommend a small pocket notebook, for logging the core statements or thought which crop up while our minds are in a state of relaxation. ‘The mind is like a bow, the better for being unbent,’ as Ben Jonson wrote.”
Q: Do you have a favourite time of day for journalling? If so, when? Do you think the time of day can affect what/how you journal?
“Regarding times in which to write, I think that all writers create a routine that suits them. Personally, for journals, the end of the day is a sensible time, because the events of an average day will be fresh, and if a week’s notes have accumulated, then Friday or a weekend evening is a good time to reflect. I recommend a place away from any office or desk: an armchair with feet up and a glass of something will make the right atmosphere, and the right pen for a ritual is important. My favourite is a fountain pen made by Faber-castell (German) and I write very slowly and carefully, making each sentence important, with no padding or digressions. I have to add that, personally, I also use chaotic notebooks every week, which have nothing to do with journal discipline! These are where I pour the wild and random notes on what has been seen and thought.”
For me, one of the most interesting exercises in this book was Stephen’s idea to end each journal entry with a haiku (a 17-syllable poem) encapsulating the day’s events. I was lucky enough to see a copy of Stephen’s book before it was published, so I’ve been doing this for over a month now. Looking back, I’m amazed at how these 17-syllable pieces trigger off a flood of memories. I have over 30 of these now, so they’re also developing into a sizeable collection in their own right. (I’m not saying they’re any good as haikus but from a memory-prompt perspective they’re working a treat.)
So, if you want to explore your own journalling efforts further, and are seeking ways to understand your inner-self better, then Write Your Self might just be what you’re looking for.