Thursday, March 19, 2009

Journey with Journaling

How Well-Known Writers Used Their Journals: And You, Too, Can Keep a Journal to Write Better
By Ruth Folit

"Don't get it right the first time," James Thurber advised. "Just get it written." The journal is the perfect place to let your ideas pour out—to have the space to work that allows you full freedom to write just for yourself. In this writing environment—where there is no audience to please—you can let your words flow. Keep a journal to stay loose, invent fresh material, and find your voice.

Virginia Woolf used her diaries to sort out her feelings about the writing process. She reported her doubts as well as her confidences about her books, and also detailed her worries about how the reviewers would respond. Expressing how you feel about your writing process may free you to write with greater ease.

Notebooks that Dostoevsky kept while writing Crime and Punishment are notes to himself about how to write more convincingly. For example, he wrote "in giving it artistic form, don't forget that he is 23 years old." You may want to use your journal to coach yourself about guiding principles to remember when writing a piece.

Graham Greene used his journal to store all kinds of information that he might later include in his writing: the big picture of a plot, anecdotes, and minute details. About how he utilizes this information, he remarked in a footnote in one of his journals: “The economy of a novelist is a little like that of a careful housewife, who is unwilling to throw away anything that might perhaps serve its turn. Or perhaps the comparison is closer to the Chinese cook who leaves hardly any part of a duck unserved.” Use your journal to capture overheard conversations; observations of details of everyday life; and fresh perspectives when traveling.

Allan Ginsburg re-worked the prose he had written in his journal and changed where he broke the lines and then created poems. Re-read journal entries and find the gold. A unique phrase/idea written in one venue can be used more than once.

Writers as diverse as Robert Louis Stevenson, Amy Tan, and Spaulding Gray credit their dreams as inspiration for their stories. Keep a notebook by the side of your bed so you can write notes about your dreams before you fully wake up and the dreams have evaporated.

Eavesdrop shamelessly. Maeve Binchy, author of Circle of Friends, describes in an essay in The Writer magazine how she purposefully goes to particular places to overhear dialogues that overlap with what she is writing. If, for example, you are writing a conversation between eight year old boys, spend time in a nearby park or school playground. Listen astutely and you'll learn not only what people are saying, but also speech patterns, slang phrases, and the rhythm of the conversation. Use your journal to record what you hear.

F. Scott Fitzgerald used a special notebook exclusively to write possible titles for his works.

Create a journal entry called "Possible Titles" and add to it whenever an idea surfaces. You'll have a plethora of possibilities handy next time you are looking for a title and/or an idea for a piece

Ruth Folit, a longtime journal writer, is the creator of LifeJournal for Writers.(, journal software. LifeJournal is unique, innovative, and interactive journal software that provides both a structure and flexibility for writers’ journals. Download a free demo at

Click here

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