Writing Exercises: "Journal Keeping, Writing, and Committing"

I got excited when I read that this was what the next chapter in Greaney's book was going to be about for several reasons; the first of which being this is wisdom I can eagerly pass on to other writers. The interesting thing about Greaney's take on the importance of journal writing, is how one can tell who is a journal writer and who is not.

She describes a boldness that exists in the students she has encountered who boast a boldness of confidence in their writing regardless of whether or not they possessed an extensive vocabulary. These students were simply stronger writers because they had spent as much time as they had playing with their own words to the point where the blank page on the screen does not scare them.

Many writers (for the sake of making a point we'll say more "experienced writers") will tell you having a journal to write in is a must. Not having a journal is like trying to row up river without a paddle. Its storage for your ideas, scratch paper for your scratches, doodle paper for your little masterpieces. Greaney cleverly refers to a writer's journal as a writer's sandbox. You can play safely with ideas in these little pages without having to commit to them.

For me, journal writing is an extensively important item for every writer to have because it is a training tool. It has been my training tool as a writer. The confidence and familiarity I gained from scratching laundry-list like sentences between doodles of castles and monsters reflected in the essays I had to write in high school and the fanfictions I wrote for others to read. To this day people who read my writing often compliment me on a boldness I convey through characters and plot twists that many others would not do themselves. I assign this success in my writing entirely to my journal writing.

Personally I feel this is yet another of those finer points of wisdom every young writer needs to hear: buy yourself a composition notebook or browse the book store's journal section and take your pick because a journal to write in is practically your blank bible. It needs to be filled and your writing needs you to fill it. There are also plenty of other benefits to filling your "blank bible" since we all have come to know that writing for one's self is therapeutic. Its your business what you write in your journal, characters that will make it or break it into your story, the day's events that you were stressed over (later to turn into a wonderful scene for the latest project), or simply getting random creativity off your chest and onto paper (or free online word processing if that's your fancy, I'll include a list at the bottom of the ones I'm familiar with because there are hundreds). Its your leather-bound sandbox, do what you want but most importantly get yourself writing and train your brain to trust in the practice of constantly writing things down!

In fact, let's begin by discussing ways of getting into the practice itself, because it is so important for your writing future to do so.

Prewriting: Journals are (no you won't escape me using Greaney's metaphor any time soon) your sandbox, you get to play around with your ideas here before they make it to the word processor on your computer. Here you can strike out the possibilities you thought were going to work, only to find they now won't. Great, toss 'em out and continue to weed out what's not working. Your daily journal writing makes you much more sure about your decision making because you get to date each idea here and sort through the options until you get what you're looking for.

Meet and great your characters: Confession time, I interview my characters in my journals. I speed date them too. We also discuss philosophy or opinion-spit on current issues. The best part is, as the author, I don't have to know-all here. No one knows I'm on these dates with my characters. I get to pick their brains for whatever I want (like what's in their fridge, what they're scared of, what's their favorite color, etc) and there's no need to regret. Point is, journal writing can help you arrive at a deeper understanding of your characters without having to constantly click the backspace button.

Record faces and places: It probably goes without saying but I'll do it anyway: yes, your journal has to go with you on vacation. A travel journal is great though for the avid memoir and nonfiction writer. You can record what you see and have it for later. For the fiction writer, we can record how we see different cultures functioning and how we react to interesting languages occurring in earshot. Or we can doodle a cool statue, park area or forest trees off the freeway, etc. Maybe you see a gorgeous woman next to one of the Aztec pyramids in Mexico city weaving a basket by hand and becoming overly curious about what her life must have been like living off selling things made by hand. Then you wonder how probably 90% of the world cannot do what this one, gorgeous woman who is a mother of three scampering children is capable of in one afternoon. Bet you could guess this was a personal experience but my point is made. Travel journal writing is only more of a benefit.

Write your way back to you: This is one of my favorite parts of the journey that is journal writing. In every doodle, chicken scratch list of ideas and quotes you jot down, you're celebrating your own take on the world around you. You do this so much that you suddenly realize one day, that you've met yourself. Unexpectedly. One day you finally realize how you feel about justice, about what is truly important, about how you choose to see pressing issues, or not. Its uncovering that deeper sense of yourself and letting it flow into your writing.

Make journal writing your transition between work and time: Ah-ha! Back to the day job thing. Yes, thirty minutes of jotting down ideas on your journal before going to that next chapter or short story can really help get things flowing again.

The ultimate honesty check: This is a great time to break away from that chapter your stuck on or step away from the short story you just can't finish. Sometimes as writers (or all the time really) we get so caught up on finishing a project, we forget what we're really trying to say. Sometimes we death-stare the screen because our writing feels so pretentious, we don't even recognize ourselves in the narrative. At this time, get away from your project and flop open your journal, its time to have an honesty check with ourselves. Sometimes we're on that vanity train so much that its simply time to step off and take a breath.

A tool for wellness and stress release: Yup, we mentioned this before but its a good idea to revisit this topic because it is massively important. Greaney quotes author Anna Quindlen here who writes:

Ms. G, as the kids called her, embraced a concept that has been lost in modern life: Writing can make a pain tolerable, confision clearer, and the self stronger.

This praise for Greaney marks the importance of journal writing on all points. This benefit of journal writing is as important as it is because you don't have to be a writer to take advantage of this benefit. As a writer, this benefit is a plus because you really need to start journal writing. I'm totally jaded about journal writing if that has not been made clear yet.

Truth be told, I'm not satisfied with how much has gone into discussing the importance of journal writing (so get the tissues for those bleeding eyes viewers) and will be going deeper into this topic in next week's blog post. For now however, I will provide links to various websites that have online journals for free. Be prepared to log in though as these are all user name and password required websites.

1) Penzu (Most popular, must create log in and password but its accessable to all your devices.)

2) Journalate (Probably not as well known but also has accessibility to more devices than just your computer)

3) GoodNightJournal (Less known still but be warned, exclusive to computer)

4) monkkee (Not a hugely popular one but does have accessibility on multiple devices)

5) LDSjournal (Beta, meaning its still a tester but on the rise. I'm currently unsure of whether or not it has accessibility to multiple devices)

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