If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

August Interviews

8/5 Lucy Burdette, The Key Lime Crime

8/12 Maggie Toussaint, All Done With It

8/19 Julie Mulhern, Killer Queen

8/26 Debra Goldstein, Three Treats Too Many

August Guest Bloggers

8/8 Leslie Wheeler

8/15 Jean Rabe

August Interviews

8/22 Kait Carson

8/29 WWK Authors--What We're Reading Now


Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Monday, February 23, 2015

Keeping a Writer’s Journal

I have kept journals for many decades. Even before my creative writing professors encouraged me to keep them, I kept writer’s journals after reading that writers I respected, such as Virginia Woolf and Madeleine L’Engle, had kept writer’s journals. I have stacks and stacks of them, and periodically I wade through years of them, reading and mining for ideas and memories.

You will notice I did not say I’ve kept diaries. A diary is an account of your day-to-day activities. A writer’s journal is the artist’s sketchbook of a writer. It holds the raw material, the thinking on paper, that goes into learning how to write better and into creating minor and major projects.

A writer’s journal may have accounts of daily activities in it, along with discussions of current events, descriptions of the striking woman seen at the coffee shop, the idea for a new novel, the first few paragraphs of a short story, lines or whole stanzas of a poem, descriptions of the sound water makes dripping from trees into a fountain at the park, pages of location or historical research, a scary near-miss turned by what-if into the germ of a story or novel, lists of words I love, scenes recaptured from my childhood or other past moments, and much, much more. Writing exercises. Lists of possible titles. The initial sketches of characters. Accounts of dreams. Rants and complaints and a good bit of whining, as well.

Now, I also keep computer journals as I write each novel. This is where I go deeper into character, work out plotting difficulties, set myself goals for the next chapter or section of the book, and keep track of things that impinge on the writing of the book. Older versions of this are what I turn to when I need to find out how long I think it will take me to complete some phase of the new book. Also, it’s where I look for encouragement when going through tough times on a book. I almost always find I’ve made it through something similar before. I keep my journals in bound books between novels and in addition to the novel journals kept on the computer.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found ideas or characters or settings for stories, poems, and books while going back through these journals—or found ideas that connect with other ideas I have to complete the concept for a novel or poem. Also, as I look through them, I can see on the page how my writing has improved over the years. I consider these journals necessities for my continuing growth as a writer. Just as a musician continues practicing the scales and more ambitious exercises daily, just as a painter continues sketching constantly, I keep opening my journal and writing down a description or an idea or a question I’m wrestling with or a character I’m exploring. Madeleine L’Engle called her journal work her “five-finger exercises.”

I often tell young students to keep journals, even if they don’t want to become writers. I believe it will help them navigate the fraught waters of adolescence. I know it helped me come to terms with a damaging, abusive childhood and write my way out of the anger, pain, fear, and shame it engendered in me. I’ve used journaling as an effective therapeutic technique with incarcerated youth, and I believe it’s something anyone can do to help them work their way through emotional pain and problems.

I have plain spiral notebooks, composition books, three-ring binders, and an assortment of bound books of many sizes and appearances. I have heard some people say they could never write in a really beautiful bound book because it would intimidate them, but I write even in the gorgeous handmade ones friends and family give me as luscious gifts. The act of writing is what keeps me from becoming too intimidated to write.

What about you? If you’re a writer, do you keep journals? In notebooks or on the computer or both? Have you found it useful?  And if you’re not a writer, have you used a journal before to work through thorny issues?


Jim Jackson said...

I have periodically kept journals in the past, but do not do it as a regular practice. It is not that I don’t value the practice, but a decision of how to allocate time. Were I a full-time writer I think it would be an important process.

However, my writing time shares cramped time and space with playing and teaching bridge and living a life deferred when I was working 60-70 hours a week, the journal is a casualty of priorities.

~ Jim

KM Rockwood said...

I don't keep a journal. I think part of it is that I prefer my rose-colored memories to what actually happened. I don't tend to take or keep photographs for the same reason.

Every once in a while I will jot down a scene, a person, a thought that might be useful in a story, but since I usually have many more ideas & stories bubbling around in my head than I can possibly use, I don't worry about it too much.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

I keep a hard-backed spiral bound notebook next to the kitchen computer, filled with ideas, lists,character names,and gardening details. I'll try keeping a computer log with my second novel. Right now I'm writing short stories about places I visited last year, and have extensive photo files to use as memory prompts.

Kait said...

I've kept journals throughout my life. Although I've only retained the past 20 year of them. I tossed the first batch in a cleaning fit years ago. Wish I still had them. I'm not a regular keeper though. Not anymore. I used to color code information for writing use. Then I transcribed all that data into a dos based computer on a 5.5 inch floppy. Yep, gone. I tried keeping a journal on the computer, but it's not the same and I'm an infrequent journalist. I do buy a new composition book for each novel and I keep notes, goals, etc. in those. They have helped me tremendously.

E. B. Davis said...

I keep folders on my computer for story ideas, titles with a short paragraph on premise. The idea of a journal sounds wonderful, but like Jim, I don't have time on an every day basis to keep such a journal. I have days that I write, and I have days that I think about what I'm writing. Some writers think that to be a writer you must write every day. I'm not of that camp. Aimless writing doesn't do anything for me. Perhaps if I expanded my ideas folder it would read more like a journal. I've learned so much from other writers, it might be a good way to keep track of what I've learned. But I try to incorporate those lessons in my writing. Perhaps improvements in my writing are my journal.

Shari Randall said...

That is one luscious journal, Linda! I like nothing better than shopping for stationery - a paper addiction I've passed to my daughter - and buying beautiful journals. Then, I think, this journal is way too nice for scribbling in, so I end up writing character sketches, dialogue, ideas on scraps of paper that I stick into the journal. Weird, I know. I call it the Emily Dickinson method, but we all know what happened to her scraps of paper (burned by her family after her death). The physical act of writing - pen on paper, not on keyboard - really sparks creativity, yes?
After seeing this post, I think I'm going to finally use that nice green leather journal my girls gave me.

Gloria Alden said...

Linda, I keep a daily journal and have for years, although I stopped writing in a daily journal after graduating from high school and didn't start it up again until 25 years ago. I only recently started a writing journal in addition to my daily journal, but it's not as complete as yours. Instead, I keep ideas for poems, short stories and my latest books on sheets of paper stuck in a folder for that purpose. As for finding time for it, I shut down the computer around 8:00 each evening to settle into my nesting chair to read. But before I pick up a book, I write about what happened that day, plus thoughts about many things. On the occasional evenings I'm not home, the next morning I pick it up and write with my morning cup of coffee.

Warren Bull said...

What a good idea.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Jim and Elaine, I think everyone has to decide how to allot her/his time best, and it's going to be a different decision for everybody. But I'm not talking of a daily diary. I'm talking of notebooks, some purse or pocket size, in which to scribble a bit of dialogue overheard or the description of some stranger walking by. It's where I practice those skills of using the senses and selecting the telling detail.

Linda Rodriguez said...

KM and Gloria, this is not a daily diary but a working notebook in which you keep notes on your reading and study of writing, ideas for poems/stories/essays/books, character descriptions, snatches of dialogue, detailed observation of a setting you want to use, freewriting exercises, etc.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Yes, Margaret and Kait, those are the kinds of professional journals I'm talking about. Kait, I had to laugh at your DOS file. I did something similar, and it was so useful until the hardware changed and I didn't get it changed over in time to the new and lost all of it. Someday when I have time, I'd like to do it again, but know I'll never have that time. Maybe I need to make enough money to hire a secretary or virtual assistant to do things like that? I do still use different inks and highlighters to let me know what I've got in what category--and lots of little Post-It tabs.

Linda Rodriguez said...

So use that lovely leather journal, Shari. Once you get used to writing in it, you will love it. And remember, 9/10ths of what we write will never see the light of day and won't be much good, but it will feed our books tremendously nonetheless, so don't undervalue your notes. If you read the notebooks of famous writers, you'll see lots of verbal gems amid lots of verbal junk. That's the nature of the game.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Thanks, Warren!

Joyce Ann Brown said...

Shari,I have your same proclivity for writing--my ideas, observations, lovely use of words--on whatever scrap of paper is available. I rarely use the gorgeous journals people have given me over the years.
Thank you, Linda, for making it okay to use those precious books. This is the day I begin to carry one with me just as I take whatever book I'm reading everywhere I go.

Ramona said...

I keep a daily writing journal. I've never been able to sustain a diary for more than a week, but this journal has seen me through this entire novel MS. It's very helpful and works as warm-up. My entries are very short and instructional: Write boat scene. Change MC's dress. I have a journal for this novel, and another for short stories when I work on those, so they act as book bibles too. I hand write--that's the warm up part.

My mother, who is older and in iffy health, was given a 5-year diary by a niece for Christmas. She said that was optimistic for her life span, but now she feels obligated to live 5 more years so she won't put the gift to waste!

Linda Rodriguez said...

Hurray, Joyce. I think you'll wind up swearing by it.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Ramona, I love your mother's attitude!

I like to write in my journal before starting to work on the book, as well. I think the longhand writing does loosen things up inside my brain. When I encounter problems that leave me stuck in the book, I'll pull out the journal and freewrite about the problem, where the book went wrong, what I'd like to see happen with it, and anything else I think of. I always get unstuck and often end up typing out the last few paragraphs to restart my work on the book.

Kara Cerise said...

Your journals must be a tremendous resource, Linda. At one time I journaled in small notebooks but they took up valuable space in my small writing area. I flagged the important insights and ideas and entered them into the computer. Then I gently tossed the notebooks. Honestly, I felt a little melancholy when I threw them out.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Oh, Kara! I'm so sorry you had to discard your notebooks. But I do understand about space concerns. Fortunately, I live in a big, old house with lots of space (and drafts and always something expensive that has to be fixed--there are always trade-offs).

Mary Garrett said...

I don't regularly journal, but I like the idea.
I do keep random notes, and save blog and FB posts. I did journal my final year of teaching, putting it on my computer, because keyboarding is easier physically with my now-cranky digits. Latest Apple upgrade made those files not open . . . reinforcing concerns about digital files in the future.
I remember Howard Schwartz recommending keeping a notebook by the bed, for recording ideas from the unconscious presented in dreams.

Linda Rodriguez said...

Howard knows, Mary. He's a poet. All my poems begin in my journals. Often a journal entry turns into a poem. Then, of course, there are many drafts after that, but the first draft of my poems and usually of my essays are in my journals. Its interesting to watch things that are significant in my journals turn into poems, stories, and novels over time, each different and yet each an outgrowth of that original journal entry.

Jan said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. I didn't realize it, but I have been keeping traditional journals and also separate "writer's journals" for over 20 years now. It is a bit of a relief to read that I can keep these many, many notebooks and compiled papers that have any where from 5-minute to 2-hour reflections, practices, and exercises without feeling guilty for lack of continuity. After all, my journals are linear; these, um--not so much. I have not used them to write in a traditional way, but I use them for new ideas for lesson plans. In fact, many of the pages come from when I write along with my students during in-class writing reflections. More often than not, following the prompt I give to them is far different from my daily journaling. I may never write to publish, but I realize that that is not my ultimate goal with these. Thank you for sharing this! I always look forward to reading these!

Jan said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jan said...

oops! I'm still learning how to post on different sites. Pardons. . . .

Linda Rodriguez said...

That's okay, Jan. I deleted the duplicate comment. I'm glad you've now found another way to look at all those writer's journals and notebooks. I do think that all that writing is the compost from which come my books, poems, and other published writing. Keep it up!

Charlotte said...

Hello Linda. I am interested in tracking down the copyright owner of one of the images on your blog page. The image is the pen on an open book with a red ribbon bookmark. I want to request permission to use the image and am having difficulty finding the copyright holder. Where did you obtain permission? Thanks for your help.