For as long as I can remember, I’ve kept a journal. Whether it was a book with a lock and key, a marble composition notebook, or an old sketch pad, I’ve never been without a source of paper to act as a haven for my thoughts. As a writer, it feels natural to express how I feel in written form, and as life becomes stressful and I think I only have a toehold on sanity, my journal is a place to rest and find relief.
For me, life and writing fiction are like two vines twisting around one another; I wouldn’t even know where to begin if I had to pull them apart. For this reason, I count journaling as having one of the biggest impacts on my writing life. At first, it gave me a place to secretly admit I wanted to write fiction (and talk myself out of it, then talk myself into it). But from those first wobbly words of a newbie, to my beginner struggles with birthing a novel, to understanding the query process, it has become a home for my fears about writing and life. It’s a space for story ideas and a great line of dialogue. It’s somewhere private to give up, but not really give up, and change my mind and be weak and then find my source of strength all over again. Even when I don’t feel like my fiction is flowing, I can still journal, because there are no rules or boundaries. Like the song says, “Writing prose. Anything goes.”
The idea of sitting down to a blank page and talking about yourself might be paralyzing if you’re not used to it. It may feel indulgent and scary. And because there are no limitations, it can be difficult to know where to start. Below are five different journaling methods to spark your thoughts and get them flowing:
- Morning Pages: Developed by spirituality guru Julia Cameron, morning pages are a daily technique to empty your brain of whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as it’s three pages of longhand writing completed as soon as you wake up. It can be three pages of synonyms for the word “tired” or your grocery list if that’s what’s on your mind. The point is to stop judging and just write whatever. If you want to read more about morning pages, they are detailed in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, or you can go to Julia Cameron’s web site to watch this short video: http://juliacameronlive.com/basic-tools/morning-pages/
- List Making: Lists are quick, easy, and a great way to categorize your thoughts during confusing times. You might consider the pros and cons to a decision, or list out character traits, or list ways you want to commit to your writing or another goal. You can even list the things you want to list about. If you need some guidance on topics, List Your Self: Listmaking as the Way to Self-Discovery (http://www.amazon.com/List-Your-Self-Listmaking-Self-Discovery/dp/0836221796) is a great book to get you started. Or, you can sign up for a free (and private) online listing challenge (http://30daysoflists.com/about/) through 30 Days of Lists. The challenge is held in March and September of every year.
- Dialogue: Whether it’s between characters or a conversation with yourself, dialogue journaling cuts out all the touchy-feely stuff and gets answers. You might ask yourself about a problem you’re dealing with, whether in real life or in your fiction, and then listen for the answer. Write it down. Use quotations. You might be surprised what comes out.
- Letters: Writing unsent letters has long been used in the process of healing, and that’s because our thoughts tend to flow easier when we’re in the familiar pattern of writing to another person. Journal letters allow us to confront a negative person, or to explore a character’s voice. They can be to anyone about anything, even to yourself at a younger or future age. Letters don’t have to be formal either; if you’d rather write a stream of conscious jumble similar to what you used to send your best friend who was away at band camp, then go for it.
- Pictures: In addition to my writing journal, I also have a picture journal. It holds images that I’ve torn out of magazines, such as illustrations or photos of flowers I’d want in the garden I’m likely never going to plant. I also paste collage items as well, like the paper wrapper from a gourmet bar of soap that was too pretty to throw away, or greeting cards I received and kept because I liked the design. Visual inspiration can be just as powerful as words, so if you just aren’t up to writing, then get your scissors and glue stick and some magazines, and get journaling.
Journaling is a tool to empty your mind of all the struggles we have on a daily basis. It’s an opportunity to be silly or daring or angry; it’s a safe place to dream or make a plan for the practical and creative parts of your life. After trying it out for a while, you may begin to see it as a secret weapon in your writer’s arsenal.