Category Archives: Journaling

Plain Jane to Pretty Parisienne

Notebook Facelift

Notebook Facelift

Dear Reader:

Since becoming a blogger, my journal-keeping (in an actual journal) activities have degenerated into difficult conceptions, failures to thrive, and sad rippings of pages from notebooks and crumplings of paper thrown into the waste-bin of my office.

Journaling was once a mainstay of my emotional life, an anchor, a place to throw difficulties from my mind onto paper and tuck them away where I never had to look at them again unless by choice. Mostly I want to vomit whenever I re-read my old journals. I recognize their former necessity, but I dislike the results. My journals are not pretty little recaps of my daily life. I call the writing in them emotional diarrhea. Not pretty. Sorry to offend.

I tried other kinds of journaling for different purposes. “I’m going to write for half and hour every day in a journal and use the notebooks for writing fodder,” I declared to myself ala Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Yeah, not so much. Once I started blogging (web-based journal fit for public consumption) and began this thing called Localista (once called Outside the Box) I never looked back.

Until now.

Recent upheaval in my personal life has me hauling down my old journals and searching through them for clues to help make sense of present problems. While reading them, I realize their old familiar raison d’etre might serve me again. I want to keep a personal journal. I want to start today. And I want something pretty on the cover.

may 8 2013 021

I had nothing appropriate, just a stack of plain black and white composition books I picked up for cheap a few years ago at The Store Which Shall Not Be Named while school supply shopping for the Teen. Okay, 33 cents. I caved. This morning I looked at them and shuddered. Ick. Ugly black and white. How did I ever think that would inspire me? I remember having some vision of these notebooks lined up on my shelf, filled with raw material for “real” writing.

Ughh, I thought. I cannot start out with this today. I will go to the store and buy a journal with a pretty cover.
Which will take an hour. And I’m enjoying the peaceful sunny morning with Vivaldi playing on Pandora web radio. And I want to write now. And I’m really not in the mood for delayed gratification. What can I do?

Inspiration struck. I remembered seeing some redecorated composition notebooks at a farmer’s market table last summer. Rummaging through the family art supplies, I found just what I needed. Voila! Parisian-themed craft paper and glue sticks. I love pretty paper in the same way I love pretty fabric and pretty art. I just don’t usually have much actual use for them. This morning, however, I had both the need and the means to create something unique and beautiful. A little gluing, a little folding, a little cutting and here is a pretty and pink Parisienne of a journal, ready for my journaling pleasure.

Inside Cover

Inside Cover

And the craft project was fun, too, appealing visually and physically while the classical music flowed from the computer and the sun shone through the windows and a very large bluejay landed on the window feeder. Ahhh, bliss.

If I ever find a bunch of ugly comp notebooks at a local store like Mardens, I will pick up another bunch. Even for an non-craft person like me, this was fun and a great way to use those pretty papers I’ve had tucked away for years. I’m not sure how the journaling will go. I’m not expected much on the inside. Emotional dysentery and all that. But the cover will be pretty.

Do you keep a journal? What inspires you to write in it?

Writing With The Teen

The Teen artwork

Inspired by writers Bill Roorbach and Dave Gessner who publish a writerly blog called Bill & Dave’s Cocktail Hour, I’ve decided to “give something back” as they suggested in a post entitled Bad Advice Wednesdays: Do Something For Someone Else (30 Ideas for Writers).

From the post, which I highly recommend you read, is the following:

What I’m proposing today is forgetting about our own careers (or lack) and thinking about what we can do for others, what we can do to make the world a more hospitable place for art, and for artists, which is to say for writing and writers. Doing for others may be your key to success, and is certainly the key to happiness. Herewith, 30 suggestions for writers. Karma, anyone?

This past fall, I drove the Teen and three friends once a week to Portland, Maine to attend a teen writing workshop at The Telling Room. This place is awesome! A non-profit organization dedicated to mentoring young people as they learn to express themselves through story–oral storytelling, cartooning, poetry, fiction, personal narrative, new media, film, etc., The Telling Room provides a cozy space on Portland’s waterfront, guest teachers, and a wonderful staff both paid and volunteer.

The girls were attending a writing/cartooning class once a week. Driving to Portland and back after school, on a weeknight, was tiring for all of us, though. I kept thinking, “I wish we had writing workshops offered close to home.”

Well, when you want something to happen, often the solution is to do it yourself. I dredged up all my old high-school English teacher training and created a syllabus for a five-week teen writing workshop. I’m calling it Dreaming On Paper. Retro, perhaps, since most of us writers use computers now. However, I decided the focus of the class will be the keeping of a daily writing journal . . . paper and pen. Basic. Portable. Inexpensive. Not intimidating. The idea is to take a set amount of time, start your timer, and write until the alarm goes off. Writing with intention but freedom to let your mind stray, hopping from topic to topic, recording even the strangest images and connections that pop up from who-knows-where in the subconscious.

Natalie Goldberg in WRITING DOWN THE BONES describes the process in detail, and my hope is that teenage writers will find timed journal entries both fun and productive–a treasure trove of ideas for future writing projects.

The Dreaming On Paper writing workshop syllabus can be viewed by clicking here. Feel free to use it. Offer a writing workshop in your hometown. Follow the instructions to start your own writing journal/journey. Use your imagination.

When the workshop actually starts in March, I will be posting about it here, sharing tips and stories and maybe some segments from our notebooks (with permission of the authors, of course). My hope is that teens in my community will be inspired to put their dreams, observations, and ideas onto paper, discover the joy that writing brings (along with some frustration, because, let’s face it, writing isn’t always easy!), and find a micro-community of other young writers with whom they can share their interest, craft, and passion for the written word. While my Reiki instructor friend, Laura, explains that there is a difference between “expression” and “communication” (more on this topic at a later date, plus a link to her new blog!), here we can combine the concepts. . . expressing on paper in a private journal, rewriting for clarity and meaning, and then communicating to others. This is how it works. This is writing.

It’s so fabulous!

Your Soul On Paper

In her classic book about the scribbler’s craft, WRITING DOWN THE BONES, Natalie Goldberg shares her philosophy of writing and the practical applications she’s developed over the years for getting words on the page, ideas into sentences, life into print. “This book is about writing. It is also about using writing as your practice, as a way to help you penetrate your life and become sane” (3).

Sane? Is she serious? Some days I think true sanity would be giving up writing altogether. I know from past experience, however, that no sooner do I officially “quit” writing than I am hit with the irresistible urge to begin again.

A word to the wise. If you ever think, “I could write a book. I have this great story idea . . .” then squash that thought immediately or you, too, may find yourself hopelessly addicted to this drug we call writing. Obviously, it is too late for me. I’m already hooked. While I can’t cure myself of my addiction, I can attempt to manage it. Enter, Natalie Goldberg and timed writing exercises.

Since this is January, the month we’ve designated as National Unreachable Goal-Setting Month, I went ahead and resolved to commit to daily timed writing practice, i.e. setting the timer on the stove and writing crap, er, thoughts in a journal for ten minutes every day.

Excuse me for being initially skeptical about the efficacy of this exercise. I’ve been a diarist since sixth grade, the year I filled a red, hard-bound book with adolescent gushings about one Patrick Tardy (not his real name). That particular journal went up in flames, literally, on New Year’s Day 1981 when I symbolically annihilated my love for dear Patrick by throwing the book into Dad’s Ashley wood stove down in the cellar and waiting for the pages to turn to ash. Unfortunately, I hadn’t learned my lesson and was already showing classic signs of writing-addiction (not to mention romance-addiction). That same day, I began writing in another diary, this one blue with a gold clasp and a key. This artifact from days-gone-by now sits on the top shelf here in my office along with its myriad companions–assorted spiral-bound notebooks, black and white marbled essay books, pretty padded cloth-covered journals, and even one hunk of white, lined loose pages stuck into a manila envelope from the year I decided I couldn’t be hemmed in by bindings of any sort.

As if that made any difference.

Thirty years of daily writing practice, and all I have to show for it is a collection of truly horrible entries. No, really. Some writers may sit down with their beautiful Cross pens and their leather-bound journals and compose the most wondrous prose. Not me. My journaling is the equivalent of psychological diarrhea. All my angst. All my anger. All my frustrations and illogical worry and obsessions. Endless probing of emotional baggage. Repetitive questioning of motives. Tiresome analysis of relationships past and present, punctuated occasionally with some recording of actual events like what I ate that morning, how much I weighed the night before, and what I plan on cooking for dinner later on. My journals make BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY look like a deep and insightful literary masterpiece rather than the delightful, campy chick-lit novel that it is.

(Need I mention my increasing paranoia that I will unexpectedly die and someone–my husband, a parent, my daughter–might actually decide to read my journals? Shudder. I may have to look into buying a safe and instructing my lawyer that the contents are to be destroyed immediately in the event of my departure from this earthly plane.)

I have to ask myself: If journaling hasn’t helped me become a better writer yet, why do I think it will help me become a better writer in the future?

Journaling can be used as a warm-up exercise, a way to get those words and sentences flowing. Daily journaling means showing up with your writer’s mind on a regular basis, not just when you feeling “inspired.” Journaling is a mining exercise, spelunking both near the surface and down in the depths of the writer’s psyche. It provides raw material for future projects. It is also a record of the writer’s journey, regardless of where the writer ends up. It is a place to try on various voices without someone overhearing. It is a place to explore ideas, paste observations, create a mood, or paint a scene to use in a later piece of writing. In most cases, a journal of this type isn’t for public viewing. A journal is private. A journal is your mind, your heart, your soul . . . on paper.

The journal is what we make of it. At least, that’s what I’m gonna tell my students when I start up a teen writing workshop next month. First assignment? Find a journal and a pen you like. Set the timer for ten minutes. Write until the buzzer goes off.

If writing is an addiction, does this mean I’m a drug pusher?

Stay tuned for next time when Yours Truly goes spelunking in her new journal for writing material . . . Outside the Box.