How Writers Used Their Journals:
And Thoughts about How to Use Your Journal
by Ruth Folit, June 2003
- "Don't get it right the first time," James Thurber admonished. "Just
get it written." The journal is the perfect place to get it written the
first time--to have the space to work within the bounds of imperfection.
Writing within an environment where there is no audience to please helps
most writers loosen up.
- Allen Ginsberg took the prose he had written in his journal and changed
where he broke the lines and created poems. Re-read journal passages with
this thought in mind. You may also consider going back to a list (see List
Journal Technique in Help Menu) that you have created and see if it has
potential as a poem.
- Notebooks that Dostoevsky kept while writing *Crime and Punishment* are
notes to himself about how to write more convincingly. For example, he wrote
"in giving it artistic form, don't forget that he is 23 years old." You may
want to use your journal to coach yourself about guiding principles you want
to remember when writing a piece.
- Virginia Woolf used her diaries to sort out her feelings about the
writing process. She reported her doubts as well as her confidences about
her books, as well as her worries about how the reviewers would respond.
Expressing how you feel about your writing process may free you to write
with greater ease.
- Graham Greene used his journal to store all kinds of information that
he might later include in his writing: the big picture of a plot, anecdotes,
and minute details. About how he utilizes this information, he remarked in a
footnote in one of his journals: "The economy of a novelist is a little like
that of a careful housewife, who is unwilling to throw away anything that
might perhaps serve its turn. Or perhaps the comparison is closer to the
Chinese cook who leaves hardly any part of a duck unserved."
- Writers as diverse as Robert Louis Stevenson, Amy Tan, and Spaulding
Gray credit their dreams as inspiration for their stories. Keep a notebook
by the side of your bed so you can write down a few notes about the dream
before you get out of bed. Then, go directly to your computer (which you may
want tokeep on overnight so you don't have to wait while it boots up), open
a Dream Journal entry, and write as much of the dream details as you can
- Eavesdrop shamelessly. Maeve Binchy, author of *Circle of Friends*,
describes in an essay in *The Writer* magazine how she purposefully goes
to particular places to overhear dialogues that overlap with what she is
writing. If, for example, you are writing a conversation between eight year
old boys, spend time in a nearby playground or video arcade. Listen astutely
and you'll learn more than just what people are saying, but how they say it:
speech patterns, slang phrases, and the rhythm of the conversation.(Keep
these overheard conversations in your LifeJournal, under a Topic such as
"Conversations." You may want to also create a Topic called "Characters" to
include the cast of characters on which you are working.)
- F. Scott Fitzgerald used a special notebook exclusively to write
possible titles for his works. Create a Topic or a journal entry called
"Possible Titles" and add to it whenever an idea surfaces. You'll have a
plethora of possibilities handy next time you look for a title.
©2003 Ruth Folit