While last week was a productive one, this week has been frustrating. Life stepped in to thwart my attempts to carve out time for fiction or even work on an essay. My journal writing suffered also, which triggered some reflection on the place journal writing has in my life as a writer.
Not all writers keep a journal. I know of some writers who keep a “notebook” in which they write notes, ideas, descriptions, insert photos, articles or stories or poems clipped from magazines, etc. It is a catch-all for prompts to creativity. Some writers follow the Anais Nin school of journal writing, i.e. record the activities of the day with in-depth descriptions of the people and places involved. This kind of journal writing reminds me more of an exercise book, using every opportunity to flex the writing muscles, while simultaneously recording the writer’s life. To me, this kind of journal writing takes an incredible amount of time and is an end in itself. Some writers refuse to keep a journal. They see it as a waste of time better spent working on their fiction or nonfiction writing, or poetry. They prefer to channel all their creative energy into something publishable rather than personal.
For a journal is a book of personal writing. My journal is a record of my days, issues I’m thinking about, current events, people I meet or observe, places I go, as well as a conversation with myself. When I first began keeping a journal at age eleven, after reading The Diary of Anne Frank, I followed Anne Frank’s lead and I named the journal so my writing in it always felt like I was talking with someone. After a couple of years, I tired of that and stopped naming it. I’ve gone through periods of time when I haven’t written in a journal at all, to my later regret. But now, I think of my journal as being a filter as well as an alter ego. And a repository for all the mental clutter that needs to be cleaned out so I can hear my imagination, a record of my actions and my feelings.
I try to write everyday in the journal. For quite some time now, I’ve written immediately after lunch, recording the previous 24 hours and how I felt about them, what I wrote that morning and what problems and challenges came out of it. Writing daily keeps my mind clear and my creative energy high. If I can’t write everyday, I begin to feel mentally sluggish. If too many days pass without a journal-writing session, my brain freezes up. I can’t concentrate. My mind mixes and tosses all the thoughts trapped there until I can begin writing.
My journal will not be published. I am not writing it for publication. For me, that’s the secret to productive and effective and liberating journal writing, the kind that is the most helpful for me.