Posted in Journals, Writing, Writing craft

5 tips to make better use of your journals and notebooks

You have journals, right? Writers have journals.

The authors of an interesting article in The Guardian newspaper in 2018 about the inner workings of writers’ journals said this: “Note-taking is not just a method for remembering. It is a way a writer tells himself, or herself, a story―and this becomes a process of life, a mode of being.”[1]

But this story-to-self is unpublishable. And that’s where we begin.

Your notebooks and journals serve several purposes, but one of them is NOT to be published. Ever. They are for your eyes only. That’s the beauty of them. They are probably also the only time you write long-hand these days. I know a few writers write without a computer, but that’s not who I’m talking to here. I believe that a writer needs a pen-and-paper journal or two (or three).

I have five tips to help you make better use of your notebooks and journals. (Skip to the bottom to see me talk about these tips).

1 – Choose your writing instrument carefully.

Your pen (or pencil if you prefer) should glide across the paper. If it doesn’t, you won’t write as much or as often. There should be no scratching at all.

2 – Use it every day.

I mean it. Every day. Without fail. (well, almost veery day) Write something. Try Natalie Goldberg’s approach from her wonderful book Writing Down the Bones for writing practice. Start with “I remember…” and keep your hand moving for 10 minutes.

3 – Turn it into your artistic ritual.

Twyla Tharp’s book The Creative Habit (which I’ve mentioner before) has a wonderful section on artist’s rituals. For example, composer Igor Stravinsky had to sit at his piano and play a Bach fugue every morning before he began work. Julia Cameron, author of the now-classic The Artist’s Way, talks about “morning pages” for writers: a ritual that gets the creative mind in the mood. Make your daily journal writing your own personal ritual.  

4 – Have more than one.

This is my approach. I have one for gathering snippets. One for each project I’m working on or thinking about. A “big-idea” book. I reach for one or the other several times of day as I sit at my computer when I see, hear or think of ideas don’t belong in that particular manuscript.

5 – Regularly review your journals to mine them for inspiration.

Your jotted notes that capture your thoughts and observations are a treasure trove of ideas. Think of them as a treasure chest you can open whenever you want, whenever you’re suffering from writer’s block, whenever you’re looking for new ideas. Remember that you were impressed enough by the thought to write it down. Why did it impress you? Go back and figure it out.

Is your notebook a diary? It can be, but for most writers, it doesn’t seem to be. Use it to try things and remember things. But just never publish it. And remember, it is the one piece of writing you’ll do that is unhackable!


[1]

‘Messy attics of the mind’: what’s inside a writer’s notebook? https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/06/tales-masters-notebooks-stories-henry-james

Posted in Publishing, Writing craft

Don’t publish all your writing! Please!

booksThere’s an old, well-worn maxim that is often quoted in ethics discussions; it applies equally well to us writers: Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

The problem that faces writers and would- be writers in the 21st century is that it is actually possible to publish every bit of genius and garbage that we produce.  And it needs to be said that we all produce some garbage, but only a few produce works of genius.  Most of us inhabit that place somewhere between those two extremes in our usual writing.  So we need to make some decisions.  How do we decide what to publish (since writers no longer need anyone’s permission: read publisher), and what should been seen by our eyes only?

After almost a quarter of a century of publishing experience – most via traditional publishers, recent indie experience topped up by more the one unsuccessful partnership with an agent – here I offer you my five sad truths:

1.  Not everything you write is or even should be publishable. Discerning the difference between the publishable and the unpublishable takes honest  and active scrutiny and a capacity to self-censor so to speak.

2.  It is very liberating to know that what you are writing may be for your eyes only. Think about it: you have the luxury of time to write, and maybe it will be something that you’ll share with the world.  Knowing that it doesn’t have to be shared can free you up to write either better or worse than your norm.  It doesn’t matter.

3.  Writing what writing teacher Natalie Goldberg refers to as the worst rubbish can actually act as writing practice.  Just as a concert pianist does not normally have an audience for a practice session, you don’t need (nor should you have) an audience for every word that makes it onto paper or computer screen.

4.  If you absolutely need someone to read everything you write, get yourself a beta reader group. Their feedback will almost certainly tame your desire to publish every word, but only if you choose readers who are not personal friends.

5.  If you insist on publishing every word that comes into your head, start a blog. And take pity on the rest of the world by keeping it private.

Get a funky journal, use it and never let anyone read it!
Get a funky journal, use it and never let anyone read it!

The truth is that there are far too many poorly written indie books out there, and this makes it harder for the fantastic indie writers to find their legitimate voice.  At the very least, vow to never publish anything that is not edited by someone other than you!  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve argued with editors, but in the end their input has invariably improved the writing. And this goes for both my traditionally and independently published books.

And just like dancers need to warm up before a performance, make sure that you have some kind of a writing journal – for your eyes only – that is the repository for those warm-up bits.

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