Friday, March 2, 2012

Entry # 42 - "Growing Words in Your Outside Journal Garden"

This week with spring hovering in the air, I’ve thought about how writers grow ideas in their journals, as they explore the interior and exterior worlds around them. It seems to me that writers, who explore both inner and outer worlds in their journals, develop insights that inform their creative efforts for fiction and nonfiction. The topsoil of journal entries helps compost materials for the wordsmith. So this week I’ll briefly write about journal entries that focus on the physical outer-world; next week, I’ll explore journals that focus on the inner-world.

Photo Credit:  Jan Bowman - October 2011
Travel Journals are among the most common of the outer world journals. Keeping a travel journal and recording the interesting differences in new places allows us to tap into our senses and explore sights, smells, and sounds.  For example: music or street noise, dialect/language patterns, food - in general and specifically - like the complex smell of spices and open flames from lamb kabobs cooked in an open market place are part of our external world.  When writers write journal entries about places, that is cities, like Chicago, New Orleans, Houston, Istanbul, New York City or Charleston, SC, (my birth city), think of all the vibrant colors, sounds, smells that come to the senses, giving each place its charm, vigor, and verisimilitude. Some writers include a food journal within their travel journal and explore foods and restaurants along the way.  Others keep a separate journal to catalog their restaurant experiences, both close-to-home, as well as those in more exotic places.  I’ve known a number of writers who rework these entries and submit them as magazine food reviews or to travel magazines, such as those found on planes.

I have written before about taking notes when I travel.  And I have a series of journal entries from my first trip to Istanbul – how awed I was upon hearing the calls to prayers from the minarets, and the waves of human voices chanting - an unforgettable sound, rising over the city. Amazing!  And while I am happy that I remember this - I am particularly pleased to have taken note of it in my travel journal.  And while I have not used this in a story yet, I do have that on my “To Do” list.  A couple of friends have used entries in their travel journals as springboards for nonfiction stories that they sold to magazines. Another friend uses threads from her travel entries in a novel that she is writing. 

But the truth is – writers don’t need to go to Istanbul to find rich material for their journals. Writers can find rich ideas anywhere; the local home front, whether it’s a library or coffee shop are wonderful places to collect journal impressions of what people talk about, how they act, how they look and interact.  All those expressions and subtle gestures that writers try to capture and use in their writing life can be journal compost, just as your left-over coffee grounds and egg shells from your ordinary day, can provide a nurturing substance to grow your gardening or larger writing efforts. Seeds for future work can sprout in the rich impressions of journal entries.

“Keeping a journal isn’t so difficult; beginning to keep it is the challenge.” ----from Deena Metzger’s Writing for Your Life: A Guide and Companion for the Inner Worlds.

Jan Bowman’s work has appeared in Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, Broadkill Review, Trajectory, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes, and others. She won the 2012 Roanoke Review Prize for Fiction. Her stories have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best American Short Stories and a story was a finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories and currently shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction work pending publication in Spring 2013 Issues of Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at:

1 comment:

  1. Yes. It is true. No need to travel widely. I've found that I can record interesting things right here in Howard County. I go to the local malls (check out Savage Mills) and restaurants and the movie theater. Last week I sat near a book store and wrote notes. Have some character descriptions.