Monday, August 2, 2010

On Not Keeping a Writing Journal

As a kid, I took flute lessons for many years.  I was supposed to practice nightly.  I think once or twice per week was the best I ever managed.  The part I dreaded most was always the scales -- chromatics, thirds, "long tones."  I always hurried through to get to the "real music." 

As an adult, I play only for fun.  My competence level is probably about what it was when I was in seventh grade.  I haven't attempted scales since, and I can't say I've missed them.

I think of keeping a writing journal as the writer's equivalent of a musician's disciplined practice routine.  Unfortunately, "discipline" and "routine" are problematic concepts for me and have been all my life.  Right now, I am teaching an online class; I have an article due on Monday; I have a full-time job; I have two kids whose favorite word most days seems to be "Mommy." Writing time is precious. Some days I fall into bed too tired to brush my teeth.  (Thus, I'm sure, my long chronicle of dental woes.) 

I know that disciplined writing practice outside of my current projects is simply not going to occur.  Unlike flute-playing, at least I do write all day long.  If my writing "muscles" aren't well limbered by emails, thank-you notes, and the 20-page outline (or two) that I write weekly, then spilling out words in a rough draft can count as my morning (or, more likely, late-night) pages.

In high school English, we were required to keep daily writing journals for two years.  While sometimes the process was therapeutic, I was never moved to voluntarily continue the practice.  I was not a child who had a diary, who enjoyed corresponding with pen pals, or who did a good job of keeping in touch with my farflung fellow military brats.

Now I keep an open idea file on my computer filled with vaguely indecipherable notes, scraps of character descriptions and plot outlines for about a dozen different projects.  Such is my "system."  Could it be better?  Surely.  But as I tell my students, the process is highly individualized -- do what feels comfortable and refine as you go along.  I'm hanging in there, and that's about the best I can do.

Speaking of writing journals, don't forget about TeachingAuthors’ latest book giveaway for Karen Romano Young’s intriguing graphic novel about a girl who keeps a doodles-and-writing journal, Doodlebug: A Novel in Doodles. Entry deadline is 11 pm (CST) Wednesday, August 4, 2010. If I did keep a writing journal, I know it would be full of doodles (and I can't draw!). And if I could enter this contest, I so would. I can't wait to read this book! 



Doraine said...

Thanks for this post. I am so glad to know someone else struggles with the "keep a journal" concept. There was a time in my life that I kept a journal, but even with no children at home to demand mommy time, I still am having trouble with it these days. Glad to know I'm in good company. And I hated scales, too. On the piano.

Carmela Martino said...

You bring up a great point--emails, blogging, and Facebook posts are definitely alternatives to more traditional forms of journalling. And I believe they all count as "writing practice."
It sounds as though you do much more writing on a daily basis than I do in my journal!

Michelle Sussman said...

I used to journal regularly during a rocky time in my life. But now, not at all.

If Facebook and Twitter and emails count...hahaha...then I am quite prolific. ;)

JM - I play flute also. We'll have to play a duet sometime!

Beth Mithen said...

I am right there with you! I write all day long and therefore do NOT journal in the traditional sense. I played piano, clarinet and oboe--all rather poorly, and also hated playing scales.

Unknown said...

I feel better knowing that not all writers are capable of keeping a journal.I don't keep a daily journal either. But when I read, I like to write down similes, metaphors,active verbs or anything else that will give me ideas for my book. Someday, I'd like to organize all of it. I've got it written in notebooks, scrap paper, napkins,and deposit slips.

Jeanne Marie Grunwell Ford said...

Scrap paper, napkins, and deposit slips -- are we related?

Thanks to all of you for assuring me that I am in good company. I also love hearing how many writers took music lessons in childhood. Interesting!