Can taking the time to journal really help boost your creativity, help you be more productive, and find contentment in your life? Find out on today’s show.
Prefer to watch?
Clark: Welcome to the Book Editor Show brought to you today by “Punch Him in the Gut — Writing Fiction with Emotional Impact” This course will show the power of story and teach you how to engage your reader for maximum impact. Use the code in the show notes to get 90% off but act fast because it expires July 1st and will no longer be available there on Udemy.com.
Today on the show we are discussing journaling for writers. I’m Clark Chamberlain, and in the years following the end of World War II, the English Crown created a secret program with one goal in mind — to create a Super Editor. After decades of failure, they finally found success, creating an editor with wisdom, wit and the voice of an angel, that man is my friend and co-host Peter Turley. Peter how are you doing today?
Peter: I’m awesome. That’s a great idea for a story you know. I think we could take some of these intros, compile them and use them to write in exercises and they have to be written into a story, kind of like that journal you were showing me off air. I think that would be a great idea.
Clark: That would; that would be a perfect thing; we could have the journal. I actually do; I want to go back through all of the shows and at least compile these together because they’re a lot of fun and I know that it’s… Once I get done with the intro, most people just turn the show off but…
Peter: Well I know I stop listening.
Clark: Yes, I know you do.
Peter: I’m good; I’ve had a really good week. How are you doing Clark?
Clark: I’m doing better today. This last week has been really hectic as I’ve been trying to get ready to leave for my two weeks of military service. Take off tomorrow of course. I guess you’ll be listening to this live when I’m taking off but, two weeks of fun in the sun —
Peter: Yes, you look a little like you’re going on holiday, although obviously you’re not actually going anywhere relaxing.
Clark: Yes, I know. That’s what it really is. It’s a secret club, kind of. We complain about it. Oh, it’s terrible but we actually wear Hawaiian camo shirts and barbecue and drink a lot.
But I’m doing a lot better today. One of the cool things I’ve been working on is… This new series of course, is for Udemy and they’re all about writing fundamentals, which means that each of the courses will only cover one subject. It’s been a lot of fun. I recorded the one on point of view, and it’s like an hour’s worth of stuff talking about point of view.
So instead of buying a writing course and going through two, three hours trying to find one little nugget of information, you can just grab the course that you need on the skill you want to learn. So that’s been a lot of fun.
Peter: It’s kind of like when you read a book and you’ve only really bought the book for one chapter.
Peter: Nonfiction, of course. But that’s a really good idea.
Clark: Well except for… They certainly have some like Harry Potter; I only read one chapter in that book.
Peter: I just flip to the end, read the last line.
Clark: That’s what my son does. My son Jonah — he beta read for me for Hank Hudson. “Beta read” — I put that in quotations because it took him like two months to do it and I was already past that point when he got it back to me. But he eventually said he liked the book, so I gave him the second book, because he was like, “can I beta read that one?” and I’m like, “sure” and I find out at the end of it all he did was just read the last chapter and that was it.
Peter: Maybe he was just seeing how that chapter stood on its own.
Clark: Yes, examining each individual chapter for story arc.
Peter: Didn’t want his mind to be influenced by the chapters before.
Clark: Could be, could be.
I’m looking forward… This show has been a lot of fun because it’s been a lot of great prep work. It’s given me a new skill. I’ve journaled in the past, but never have been able to continue doing it.
I went through my shelf —
Peter: That was like, “Dear Diary” was in it.
Clark: Yes, It really was. It was like “so today, I did this.”
Approaching this with a different idea in mind. Actually it was one that our friend Gregory Norris who we’ve had on the show — fantastic writer. He was talking to me one day about how he writes for 30 minutes of just free-form fiction writing, just getting the ideas out of his head.
I’ve been taking some of that with this journaling and just writing and it’s been really good; it’s been a very fun experience. So I’m excited to talk about this today.
Peter: So you’ve kept it up for the last 30 days?
Clark: When did we decide to do this show? It was in May, right? So I think that I started the second week of May, so it’s been almost a full month.
Peter: Are you a convert now? Are you, “Hi, my name’s Clark and I keep a journal?”
Clark: Just about. I mean, I do have a scheduled appointment with a tattoo artist to put that on my shoulder when I get back.
Peter: Not to start permanently journaling on yourself?
Clark: No. Yes, that’s what I mean. Day by day by day.
Peter: It would be — have you seen that film, Memento?
Clark: Memento, such a great film. Yes, exactly. I put those little notes on myself. My mind is almost at that point.
Peter: I’m going to get all your intros all over my body.
You know, you can journal any way you want, whether you want to do it in a tattoo form or you want to actually do it on paper or on a computer.
Peter: We advise the less permanent option of pen and paper.
Clark: Yes, it is a much better one, so…
You suggested this idea, Peter. What was the inspiration for wanting to do a show on journaling?
Peter: The fact that I’ve got an absolute stack of them. I have them everywhere. It’s something I’ve always done; I just think it’s so beneficial. I think it needs talking about. Because I think the thought of it can be more daunting than it is. It can seem a little like a chore, you know, one more writing thing that I have to do.
Whereas really, it’s a really powerful tool that — not just as writers, but as editors or any kind of creative professional can really benefit from keeping a journal, particularly a physical one. I’m definitely a fan of the physical one over the digital, because of how creative you can be in it. You don’t have to follow the same format every day. Maybe you want to free-write in it, and clear your mind in the morning, or maybe you have a structure to it. But I think we needed to do a show on it because it’s right there at the core of any kind of creative writer or editor, really.
Clark: I was taking a look from Leslie Watts from Writership. She does the column for The Book Editor Show called “Editing In Practice.” This week her course is on journaling. I was really interested when I was reading this, that she spends 30 minutes and she finds it to be very valuable because the unstructured writing stimulates her creativity, but also problem solving.
That’s I think a really big part of editing, is that we’re solving problems, and we’re coming up with ideas.
I know we’ve talked about it once before. Maybe it was just an article we put up on the website, where one of the ideas of being able to turn off the inner editor is having that journaling pad beside you to write down the things that are bugging you to get them off of your mind, so that you can be clear while you’re doing your work.
Peter: Yes. I think it really gets you out of the habit of sitting around and waiting for inspiration to strike, because you’ve got a private space that you can write whatever you want, and it doesn’t have to be good. You’re never going to show it to anyone. It’s your place, and I think it really does allow you to work through problems because you can do it in any way you want. You don’t even have to actually solve the problem. You can open your journal and do whatever you want.
Clark: These journals… Like we were saying, the Dear Diary — that’s the kind of thing that a lot of people think when they think “journal.” You’re going to sit down and you’re going to write an account of your life on a day-by-day basis. That’s not what this is necessarily about at all. You could do that, if that’s what you want.
Peter: “My really interesting life.”
Clark: Yes, exactly, I actually was a little —
Peter: “Did a bit of writing, and that’s about it.”
Clark: “Oh, Nick is coming into work today, so I had to take a shower.”
Yes. That would not be so interesting. That is why fiction is always better. [laughs]
But this will give you an opportunity. I love that idea about being able to solve problems that you can write down in that free-thought. That is why we always suggest that you put the book away for a little while, so that your mind, your sub-conscious, can start working on it and that’s what this free-writing can do and this journaling, is give you that opportunity just to put something down on paper. Your mind has been working on ideas and it might come up with something, and you’re just like, — wow yes, that what I need to do is “x.”
Peter: Once you get in the habit of it anyway. Because a fresh journal can be perhaps just as daunting as the blank page on a computer or whatever, but I think once you get into it, it just becomes so useful. I will write stuff in a journal that can be completely separate. I like to see it as a place where I can write something different to what I am writing in the day and kind of take a bit of a break from what I am working on in the daytime.
I will look back at things that I have written and be like “oh wow, actually that would make a really good collection of stories,” and you’ve kind of had an idea without even realizing that you had an idea, because you’re not necessarily sitting down and saying you’ve got to come up with an idea today. Because you are writing freely sometimes it comes a little easier.
Clark: There’s a lot of great products out on the market for journaling. I wanted to show a couple here if you are watching online. For my own, I just went and picked up an empty notepad that had five sections in it, but I am only using three of them. I do toss in some things that were important in the day on one of the sections if there was something important. Then the other ones are just for my thoughts that I’ve been having and then also writing stories, like where I sit down and do a little bit of writing. That is a way you could do it.
But this one here — I bought this for my son at the beginning of the year and I went into his room to grab it, expecting to see lots of stuff filled out, and of course there was nothing filled out at all. This one is called, “Complete the Story,” and so if you’re daunted by the whole blank page idea, this is a really cool way to have a writing exercise, a writing journal, that gives you a little prompt.
What this does is, it gives you a page to fill out to finish a story. So it starts a story. Like this one here is, “The doctors had never seen anything like it. She was a perfectly healthy little girl who just happened to have two hearts. The only explanation they could offer was…” and then it starts with blank lines, and you write the little story that’s in there.
Peter: That’s a great idea. Especially when you’re using one for writing practice, or as a place to do your writing exercises, then that’s just great to have the two together, have your writing exercises in your journal already. I think that’s just a great idea.
I find as well that I do use different ones for different purposes. So for example, I have a traditional moleskin. That will generally involve a lot of fiction ideas. I don’t know why, I’m just drawn to that whenever that’s what I want to write down. But then I always find the bigger ones in like the A4, and the binders and things like that, I use for organization and making lists. I don’t know why that is. I don’t know why I go to different ones for different things, but that’s why you need to have as many as you can get your hands on.
Clark: And just pile them around. [crosstalk]
Peter: Do you really need to buy another journal? “Well, I’ve not got this one; this one’s got a pen attached to the side, look at that.” [laughs]
Clark: Well you see? You need to have all these. You might want to actually write in them once in a while, too. But if you just like collecting the journals, that’s pretty cool.
Peter: This one’s pretty cool; it fits in your pocket. I thought that was a really great idea, but then writing in something that small you can’t actually really get that much on it, or nothing legible, anyway. So maybe stick to something a little bigger than that.
Clark: I used to do my story ideas that way. It was when I just barely had turned 17; moved away; had this job; work in this kind of curious place selling stuff to tourists that are coming through Yellowstone National Park. But I carried a little tiny spiral notepad that could fit in my back pocket and I would pull it out when I had a little short break and would just write down ideas.
I was trying to create this really big space opera story, so I’d constantly be writing down ideas or doing little drawings of ships on the side, or characters and things like that.
So having a small one can work. It really just depends on what you’re using it for. A small one would be great for when you’re somewhere else that you can’t have access to your nice one.
Another idea with that is that I carried one in the military with me. I carry that in my pocket. Granted that one is a lot for organization. Like this stuff needs to be done or go to a meeting you’re jotting down notes. But also, it’s funny, like when we remove ourselves from things like our cell phones that we have internet access on, it’s amazing how much more I write. Like tossing down ideas that I’m coming up with or story ideas to kind of just play around with. Instead of distracting myself in another way, using my mind to make some creative choices.
Peter: Yes, that’s so true. They’re distraction free aren’t they? That’s the great benefit of them. And the little ones as well if you carry that. If I’m keeping notes in my phone or say I’m not carrying anything with me, if something comes to mind and I want to write it down, they’re generally gone forever I find when they go into the phone. Then also I end up doing all kinds of other stuff on the phone.
Whereas I’m a bit more selective about what I put down in the actual journal. So I tend to find, I have less, I don’t end up with like 500 notes that I need to then go and sort through at a later date. So I guess it’s useful to keep you away from the phone. If that works for you, that’s great. I know a lot of people use things like Evernote and programs like that. I’ve just never really got the hang of that stuff, I’ve never really took the time to pick it up.
Clark: I haven’t either. I’m the same way with notepads. I buy the legal sized notepads and I have one for everything. I’ve got one for the work that I do for my copy writing. I’ve got one for the work that I do on classes for the college. I’ve got one for story ideas and I’ve got them just shelved on there and I grab the one that I need. I don’t know what it is about that, like what you were saying with the phone, everything kind of gets lost and jumbled. But it’s my way of organizing it. I have a better time not editing myself when I just have a pen and paper. Because I can’t read my handwriting so I have no idea what I’m putting down anyway.
Peter: Yes, and you can’t exactly go back and delete it. Your only option is to scratch it all out. You won’t do that because then you mess up the page right?
Clark: Yes, you can’t do that.
Peter: When it’s down it’s down, isn’t it. You’re not really worrying about sentence structure or grammar or punctuation. You can write in shorthand if you want or like you say, draw pictures of spaceships. Whatever it is you want to put in there.
Clark: Exactly. I think that’s one of the great things because it really unlocks your creativity. It really unlocks your ability to do things.
Now, again, I showed you that’s complete the story, that’s kind of a journal. Here’s another one that I just started two weeks ago. This is by Honoree Corder. She wrote “Prosperity for Writers.” It’s a productivity journal.
These kind of journals are great when you’re trying to find a way to work through something. So let’s say you’re trying to get rid of the day job and go full time with your writing. This will have a chapter and it will go through a bunch of questions. She does interviews with people who have successfully made transitions to their dream jobs and such. She asks you questions. What was it in this story that resonated with you? What was your biggest take away from the story? What do you commit to doing based on the advice? Then giving affirmations and writing affirmations to yourself.
So sometimes we do need to have someone who’s helping direct us. That can be a really good way to unlock the answers that we’ve held back in our mind.
Peter: Yes. Kind of provide you that necessary structure to get you going. Maybe save the blank ones for a little but later. I know I had a pretty cool one; I don’t actually have it to hand because it’s last year’s. But it was a diary. Then each day would have a challenge; so it would be something for you to either do or to write for each day, and, I didn’t do it every day, but it was great to kind of open it up and when I’d be making a note or writing something in. If there was nothing that I specifically wanted to do I could be like “Oh, I’ll take this exercise” or I’ll go and do this activity and then I’ll write about that.
So it is nice to kind of have that little nudge sometimes, or that structure for what you are actually going to write about.
Clark: I want to circle back around to a comment that you made earlier in the show about having more freedom to sit down and write away from, maybe, from what you’re working on. So, let’s say for instance, last year all I was doing was writing the Hank Hudson books, and I kind of got into that mindset — well, I’m getting paid to write now; someone is paying me to write this stuff and it felt more like a job; I’ve got to put in the hours to do this and it kind of lost some of the fun
This is a way to bring it back. So if you are writing and you’re like, “I don’t even want to sit down and write today, I’ve got to get this thing done.” Maybe these are the ways, this journaling is the way to bring back the fun, to bring back the just pure enjoyment of writing.
Peter: Yes. It’s practice, too. I think that whatever you’re writing, whether a letter, or even texts, whenever you’re writing you’re still exercising some of the same muscles. I think it’s really good to write in different forms sometimes. Maybe you practice a different genre or something like that where you try your hand at writing a nonfiction article or something. I think journal writing it’s something else for you to add to your toolbox and get practice writing in a different and perhaps more refreshing way.
Clark: And it can also be another way to… I’ve been doing it at the end of the day, to kind of just release my thoughts for the day, putting down ideas that I had, things that I might want to revisit later, and granted I’m not going back and reading this very often. But it gives my mind a break, it says OK, I’ve got this stuff down; now I don’t have to be constantly worried about it and thinking about it.
When do you find that you like best? Do you have a schedule in place, Peter, for writing in your journal?
Peter: Personally it’s nighttime, it’s the last thing of the day, because I find it useful to get everything out my head that might stop me from going to sleep. So like any problem that you are working on or anything. So like that’s the… Because I’m quite one for I’m a bit of a night owl I’ll stay up pretty late, so they are the quiet hours for me, and that’s the time when I get probably get quite reflective anyway, and it’s a really good time for me to journal. Then it means that I’ve got it on hand kind of like nearby.
But also like you just said, kind of made me think — a creative writing tutor once said to me, which I’ve always remembered because it is so true, that its worth having one just because whenever you get that idea in the middle of the night, and you’ve not written it down, you’ve kind of woken up half asleep and then you spend all the next day convincing yourself that you’ve just had this best selling idea. If only you could remember what it was, it would be brilliant. But you can’t remember it, whereas if you had written it down in your journal and you had a journal to hand, maybe you’d look back at it the next day and half that time you might be like what on earth was I thinking? That’s actually a really bad idea, or it makes no sense whatsoever. But at least you can put it to rest.
So just like you said, you can get stuff off your mind and you can move on from it. You can move on from ideas as well, you’re not chasing after old ideas that are kinda like hanging around in your head. You can either bring them to life on the page or you can put them to death on the page — one or the other.
Clark: Exactly. That actually reminds me. I used to have… So when you’ve got the journal there and you don’t want to turn a light on, I used to have — and I’m sure they still sell it — it was a pen that had a light on it, so that when you applied pressure to write it would light up so you could see what you are writing.
Peter: That’s pretty cool.
Clark: I’m still sure that they sell those; I had it when I used to do camping quite a bit. But let me ask you just a couple more questions Peter and we will wrap this up today.
If someone is just starting, they’re just thinking about starting this. What would the best advice that you would give them, so that they can get started on this and make it an effective daily habit?
Peter: I think, choose one that’s really personal and you really like and carry it around with you. Just get used to sort of having it with you. Having it in a bag or taking it out if you go for a coffee. I think, taking it out to dinner, wine and dine it. Playing a little music. Getting used to having it with you and it being sort of one of your belongings I think makes it less threatening of an object. Then start using it for everyday things. Use it to make a list if you need to pack for something or you need to go shopping. And then as you start using it for things like that, you might think, oh, I’m going to sort of sit down and write a paragraph about something. You’ll start to open up creatively. But I think, choose a nice one and spend some time with it. I think that’s a great way to kind of get started and to get used to being a person that carries a journal if that makes sense.
Clark: Being one of “those” people. No, I think that’s fantastic advice. Try this out. How much time do you think a person should commit to it before they decide — you know what, journaling is not for me.
Peter: I think, like any habit. How do you feel after doing it for a month?
Clark: A month is really good. A month gave me time to get into the practice, to miss it a couple of times, to be like — oh I really actually was enjoying that.
I’m going to commit, to keep doing it even while I’m gone, because I won’t have the phone, so I’ll have the journal with me.
Peter: I think it’s great if you can build a habit of journaling, a daily habit and it works for you. But you don’t have to. I think once you’ve done it for say 30 days and you kind of know how it can work for you, like any tool, you can then decide when you need to use it and when you don’t. It’s there, and you can pick it up whenever you want. If you don’t want to use it for a little while and you want to do something different, then that’s what you do.
I think 30 days is a good spell to kind of… Like you say, you get to see everything from each angle don’t you? You kind of know what time of day you want to do it, whether you feel like it some days or when you don’t feel like it and what kind of stuff you want to write in it. So, yes I’d say go for a month and give it a shot.
Clark: Sounds great. Good advice. Well that ends the show for today. I hope that we’ve given you some good insight on how journaling can help you be more productive, more creative and then also really honestly help you solve problems for your editing.
The next two weeks I’m going to be out but Leslie Watts from Writership podcast is going to step in to the mic and fill in in my absence. Definitely check out her articles she’s been doing. The column is Editing and Practice on the Book Editor Show. And Peter you had a really good column this week and yours as well. Definitely go to the show, check those out.
If you like the show please leave us a review on iTunes, a plus on Google or a like on YouTube and if you’re an editor who’d like to be a guest on the show, stop by thebookeditorshow.com and drop us an email. I’m Clark Chamberlain and for my co-host Peter Turley, keep writing, keep learning and build a better book.