We hear about them all the time, but what is a writer’s journal and why should you keep one?
Well, first I’d like to say two things; it’s not just writers who will benefit from keeping a journal, but editors too. Also, it’s 2016 and many people might prefer to go down the digital path. However, for the purpose of this article, I’m going to be talking about the good old-fashioned sort because I’m a stickler for tradition and I believe it has some benefits that electronic devices are missing.
Okay, with that said, let’s get straight to the reasons why you should keep a journal!
This just had to be up at the top of the list. As a creative person, there’s no doubt a million things going through your head or sitting on your to-do list at any one time. Getting some of those thoughts onto the page allows you to move on with your day safe in the knowledge that your idea will be there when you need it.
The seed of inspiration
Writing something down in a journal, whether it’s a thought, an observation or a line from a song, is like poking a seed into the soil and covering it up so that it might grow into something magnificent. When I write something into my phone or onto my computer, nine times out of ten it’s lost forever. There’s just too much that can go wrong. Whether it’s device failure or just bad organisation on my part, notes kept on a device generally stay there. My phone is where ideas go to die.
That last point moves us nicely onto number three. Looking back through your journals can be an amazing way to spark new ideas. You might flick back through to find they’ve blossomed within the dark confines of the pages without you even realizing. But conversely, if you’ve ever forgotten to write an idea down, I’m sure you spent the next few days convincing yourself it was the best idea you’ve ever had … if only you could remember what it was, right? Well more often than we’d care to admit, those 3 am ideas where actually pretty rubbish, and if you’ve scribbled it down, at least you can put your mind to rest and move on.
It’s more personal
This is related to the act of putting pen to paper. There’s something magical about scratching the nib across the page and seeing your own thought brought to life in your own handwriting. It’s undisputed your own creation. It’s cathartic and somehow, I believe, the act of writing something down helps solidify its place in your mind even further. If you’re the digital sort, give it a try for a week and see for yourself.
The journal itself can also be an extension of your personality. You can choose the size, style and paper type that you most prefer. It belongs to you and exists solely to house your creative gems.
Become more creative
With a journal you have a little more freedom than you do on your device. You can write on any side of the page, upside down, draw something, use different pens, glue things in that you might like such as articles or pictures. The list is endless. Make it your own and use it however you like. I think this sort of creativity gets the mind moving far more than tapping away on a screen or keyboard.
Kill the muse
The more you write, the easier ideas will start to flow. By building the habit of journaling, you’ll not only have a backlog of ideas, but you’ll get used to putting imperfect things down onto a blank page. Muse? Who needs one of those? To kill the muse, we must be allowed to fail. Janet Burroway suggests, in her textbook Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, you must give yourself permission to fail. “The best place for permission is a private place.” She adds, “and for that reason a writer’s journal is an essential, likely to be the source of originality, ideas, experimentation, and growth.”
Journal writing is a different kind of writing to what you may already be doing. To improve in the craft of writing and editing, it’s important to try out different formats. Journal writing is unique. The more styles we practice, the more we improve creatively.
There you have it, seven reasons why you should start keeping a journal today! So what are you still doing here? Give it a try and let us know what you think! Until next week…
Peter Turley is a writer, editor, blogger and podcaster living in the North West of England where he grew up. He reads, writes and edits fantasy fiction and co-hosts www.thebookeditorshow.com with Clark Chamberlain. Follow him on Twitter @PDTurley