‘Tuesday, 10th September 2019. Today……’ Look familiar? I’m pretty sure most of us have, at one time or another, engaged in a little self-expression through journaling (or as I like to call it, the opportunity to whinge about my problems all I want without anyone judging me). It doesn’t matter who we are or where we come from, all of us crave an outlet, and journaling just happens to be one of those. Used to help us clarify our thoughts, reflect on previous actions and to decide future goals; journaling can also be a form of therapy which prompts awareness and improves mental health. That’s not all. Journaling is not just something private to be kept to ourselves, nor a way to be our own agony aunt- no, it is actually pretty useful for an aspiring writer, which is what we will be exploring below. Here are five ways aspiring writers can use journals in improving their craft.
I’ve been keeping a diary for 33 years…… every so often there’ll be something I can use later: a joke, a description, a quote.– David Sedaris
Musings and inspiration.
Firstly, a journal can be a place to record or brainstorm characters and plot lines. If you are anything like me, story ideas come to mind in the most unexpected places, and unexpected times. Inspiration is a fickle mistress, and we slave to her whims. Much of my musings and thoughts have been lost in the time that it took me to get somewhere I could pen it down, which grieves me because it could have been so easily avoided. Not to mention the possibilities of inspiration stemming from an overheard, intriguing remark. It doesn’t matter whether your journaling is in written or electronic form, I’d suggest just having a fixed place to put everything in your head down. For those who don’t write in a linear, chronological order, it makes connecting your ideas to form a cohesive whole easier too.
How about the benefit of being in touch with your emotions? Think about it. What are writers but thieves? We steal the words lying deep in your soul, the emotions wrung from your very core. To do that, writers must know how to describe the highs and lows of human nature, reflect on their reaction to events. What better way to do this than by journaling, whose express function is exactly that? In fact, journaling does not just have to be a catalogue of only your experiences, as is more traditional, but also a collection of our thoughts by putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, or a place to record the feelings of others.
Research for your first book?
Yet another point: journals can also be used as a place to put all the research gained for a book or story setting. Of course, not all writers work in this manner, but I think it would be beneficial for our writing if we not only did research into the setting we base our stories in, but collated it somewhere we could find it easily. In this case, I’m merely suggesting a journal as fit for the job. (Speaking of which, if JK Rowling ever revealed a journal containing all her notes on the Harry Potter universe, I would totally freak out. In a good way. I mean, the amount of detail that would be in it could keep me stunned for days.)
One could even say that the journal way of writing is now just another template for writing a book. Just look at the ‘Princess Diaries’ series by New York Times bestselling author Meg Cabot. All the works are written in the style of a diary kept by the protagonist interspersed with hilarious to-do lists, or notes between her and her friends, besides the other things her diary is used for. I’m sure you’ve also heard of the ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ series by Jeff Kinney, or ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ by Helen Fielding- all interesting books written in more or less the same format (with some key differentiators). With all these examples appearing in a wide variety of genres, it would be logical to conclude that keeping a journal could be practice for if one wanted to write a journal-style book.
Besides, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I love quotes. I really do. They’re like mini golden nuggets of information, designed to provoke epiphanies or remind us of something we had forgotten ourselves. Recording a few inspirational writing quotes in a journal may sound too Pinterest-y and mainstream for you, but I don’t see the problem in it. If it actually helps you in writing, don’t shoot it just because it’s typical. On one hand, there’s probably a reason it’s so widely used- it works; on the other, isn’t being concerned about what other people think the very thing you’re trying to avoid in the first place, and wouldn’t you be being affected by said people’s opinions if you changed your actions because of it? In the same vein, somewhere to write a reminder of your weaknesses and strengths would help remind you on what to focus on improving in your writing, editing or any other activities related to it.
A writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, or because everything she does is golden. A writer is a writer because, even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.– Junot Diaz, Professor of Writing, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2008
If all that does not convince you of the handiness of journaling, maybe this will. Writers write. It’s what they do, breathe, are. If someday, sometime, you find yourself lost, without a single idea or spark of creativity, look around you. Find the details of a place, the exact shade of meaning in a phrase, the tone of voice in the person next to you. In yourself. Record all this, because if you don’t, you’ll have nothing- but if you do, you might have everything.
Written by Yoo Min Jie