Friday, January 13, 2012

Entry # 34 - "Love Your Friend, the Journal"

Photo Credit - Jan Bowman - October 2011
This week I’ve thought about useful advice for any writer who wants to start off the year with a renewed commitment to writing. If you want to write, you might consider beginning with a personal journal.  This is not the same as a diary, but it is a good place to nurture your daily writing habit.  Try to write for 10-20 minutes every day when possible, but don’t stress if you sometimes miss a day or two because of life’s requirements.   
Buy a small lined or blank page notebook that fits in a pocket or bag, and write in it.  Don’t worry about keeping it neat with perfect handwriting, spelling, grammar and punctuation. This journal is a place for your eyes only as you work out the patterns and find the central ideas that interest you.  These ideas are the acorns from which your mighty oak will grow.

Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones outlines a process that I’ve paraphrased or summarized here.  She offers six basic rules for journal writing practice. These “rules” are made to be broken but they’ve helped me and perhaps you will find them useful.

Rules for “Happy” Journal Writing Practice

1.  Keep your hand (pen) moving.  Keep your pen on the page and write whatever you can during the allotted writing time. If you’re stuck- just keep writing – “I don’t remember” or “what I do remember” until you find your writing moving on – going deeper into your writing prompt.  Don’t pause to reread lines you’ve just written. That is you stalling and trying to get control of what you’re saying. This is a first cut to see what lies deeper in your mind and memory.
2.  Don’t cross out.  Don’t edit as you write.  Even if you write something you didn’t mean to write.  Just leave it and keep going. Don’t worry about it. Editing at this point tends to strangle your creative efforts.  No one sees this material except you.  It’s too raw to share just yet – so don’t stress over it.
3.  Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar.  Again – you can deal with this later. But - not now.   Later.
4.  Lose control.    First thoughts have tremendous energy. The internal censor usually squelches them. Your aim here is to burn through to the first thoughts, to the place where energy and memory are unobstructed by social politeness or the internal censor. You’re writing to the place where your mind actually sees and feels, not to what you think it should see or feel.
5.  Don’t think.  Don’t get logical.    Not yet.   Initially you don’t need to analyze or be critical.  Just let your writing go into the subconscious storehouse of your knowledge and experiences.  That’s where the good stuff stays until you lay it on the journal page.
6.  Run Fast. Go deep down field.   Be fearless.  Be brave. If something comes up in your journal writing that is scary – dive right into it. It’s the good stuff. It probably has lots of energy.       ---from – Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones      (modified by Jan Bowman 2012)

Your journal is your private place to work out ideas that you probably didn’t know you had until you saw them in on the page.  So love your friend, the journal.  Care for it. Keep your ideas warm in it. A writer in a journal class I teach on Tuesday mornings knitted a tiny jacket for hers.  

Perhaps it helps to remember - Maxine Kumin said, “I learned how to write in the interstices of daily life.”

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