Once upon a time, long, long ago, and far, far away, I decided to keep a diary. I was young. My friends at school were writing in diaries and making a big deal of it. If you were going to giggle over boys and sigh over the handsome actors in your favorite TV shows, then you needed a diary.
First problem: they were either white or pink, with heart-shaped keys. Too girly!
Second problem: they were expensive. How do you explain to your mom that you NEED an official diary, complete with lock, when you’re already supplied with alternate forms of paper and notebooks? How do you get across the concept that spiral notebooks are for writing THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, not scribbling about secret pinings for a senior boy named Dale? And if you explained about Dale, how was he going to be kept a secret?
Ah, the long-ago problems of adolescence.
When I reached college, my writing professor Jack Bickham recommended keeping a journal while writing a novel.
Eagerly, I secured a notebook and tried. And failed.
I found diary entries to be the most boring writing I’d ever tried to do. I couldn’t sustain it, day after day. After all, what was I going to say? Dear Diary, today I wrote a bad story. It was 10 pages long, with two characters.
Of course, I had misunderstood what Jack was getting at. For him, it was a production log. How many pages a day he produced. Whether his attempt to try a new writing technique worked or needed rethinking. The date he started the manuscript. The date he finished the rough draft. His notes for revision, etc.
Jack was all about writing to the highest standard of craftsmanship he could achieve. He was all about producing a viable manuscript as quickly and as efficiently as possible. No excuses.
The production log worked for him. It was part of his process in creating stories.
I’m not that left-brained. The discipline of writing daily in a diary or journal just doesn’t appeal to me.
Instead, I’ve found merit in keeping an emotional journal. I don’t have to write in it daily. I don’t have to fill it with dry, boring little bits of mundane information. Instead, I go to my journal when I’m stuck, frustrated, stymied, angry, or triumphant.
I use it to plot out what’s going to happen in the next scene. Or I use it to trace my satisfaction with how a challenging day at the keyboard went. Or I use it to moan over when a book signing is botched, misscheduled, or unattended. I use it to gloat when I get good reviews. I use it when I’m full of doubts and feel certain I’ll never meet my deadline.
Often, my journal entries aren’t about writing at all and deal instead with other emotional aspects of my life. That’s okay. I don’t have to force the journal in any direction. I am a writer. I live and breathe story. And I know that whatever I encounter in my day–even if it’s only making a perfect loaf of bread–will be reflected somehow in my written work. Maybe not in the current project, but somehow, somewhere, someday.
As writers, we need an outlet–not just for the stories that spill from our hearts–but for what’s happening to us as we create those stories.
It’s a different way to express ourselves. And by providing that means of expression, we validate and encourage our muse yet again.