Journal love

Journal love

I love my journals. I find I often get jealous of ‘crafty’ or more traditionally ‘arty’ people who have big stashes of materials and half-finished work to show their creativity and interest. As a writer my “materials” mostly aren’t tangible. I have a very large dropbox, a series of folders and stray documents across several computers, a few USBs, shelves full of books I’ve read or plan on reading, a bundle of pens in the bottom of my bag, And my journals. Writing doesn’t exactly involve much physical stuff.

But it does involve journals.

It took me a while to learn to have a journal on me. I used to write in the margins of other notebooks, or in the back of my day planner, or in bits and bobs at the back various exercise books. It was messy. And annoying1All in one very large box in a back room full of stray pages of handwritten pages I’m equally sure are useless and priceless and in need of more permanent transcription somewhere “one day”.. I eventually got the hang of having one notebook on me for writing and I haven’t stopped using one since.

I’ve been working on my current novel for almost three years2Not “solid”, but consistently. I know, because I’ve kept journals through the whole process. The first pages of the first journal is the (now scrapped) opening scene I wrote long hand in a lunch break in the park because I was sick of having this story idea in my head and not working on it.

All of these journals are full of doodles of me working out the mechanics of something, or pages of rambling thinking as I try to figure out a stuck point of characterisation or plot or world building. Like this:

Working journals

And this:

Plot thinking

And this:

Action sequence

In the back I jot down story ideas, writing prompts, concepts to look up later, and sometimes the start of shorter pieces I’ve wanted to start when I wasn’t near a keyboard.

I love other peoples’ journals, too. I love seeing how other people think through things, and scribble out their ideas. I like seeing “working” journals. It makes writing seem a lot more manageable knowing other people have messy behind the scenes scribblings as well as polished, wrapped in an official cover and blurbed writing.

Here’s a few of my favourite examples:

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace

JK Rowling

JK Rowling

I know I’m not alone in this practice either. Lots of writers have been quoted talking about the importance of their diaries in their writing practice, or of having a journal on hand to catch ideas before they leave. Brainpickings has an excellent article collecting quotes of a lot of famous writers reflecting on their handwriting practices. Austin Kleon also regularly posts pictures of working journals and related articles on his tumblr. I also found a delightful blog devoted to reviewing journals and showcasing a variety of journal users. Check it out at Notebook Stories!

There’s a fair bit of interesting science around the differences between writing longhand and typing. Writing long hand activates a unique neural circuit and has been linked to better idea generation and better use of working memory. And, while I haven’t done the science, through experience I’ve found I need to handwrite my way through problems. I need to brainstorm with a pen in hand. Typing just doesn’t activate the same thinking process, I need to be able to physically move and link sections of text, and scribble things out and circle them. My journals, more so than my typewritten texts, show my work. The writing itself is the end product; the journaling is the brain cycles that led to it.

There are downsides, though. My journals aren’t searchable like computer files are, and it can take me a while to find notes I know I wrote and need to refer to or, worse, I’ll redo the work because I can’t find the original and therefore suspect I haven’t done it. I’ve taken to transcribing a lot of my key notes into Scrivener and Word, but that takes time. There’s also a fairly strong fear of either losing or accidentally destroying my journals. I’m considering testing out the Evernote or Livescribe journals by Moleskine for my next journal so that I’m able to more easily digitise my notes and mitigate the problems raised by losing or destroying my physical journals. Though, I’m sceptical about how well my admittedly terrible handwriting will translate to digital scans.

What about you guys? Do you use journals or diaries, or are you dedicated to technological solutions?

Notes   [ + ]

2 Comments for “Journal love”

says:

I write random stuff in my journals, like about my life, political thoughts that I don’t want to post online because then people will get into arguments, etc. I also have a dedicated notebook for writing. I call it (rather uncreatively) my “writing notebook.” It has so many notes for my current novel series and I love it. I love brainstorming with pen and paper!

chaptersinflux

says:

I used to have journals like that that were more diary-like that I used to work through ideas and political thoughts and things. I fell off the wagon with it a few years ago and I sort of miss it 🙁

Brainstorming with pen and paper is the best for writing, though! I know people who do it on screen and I can’t really understand it.

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