Keeping a notebook of short descriptions, thoughts, overheard conversations, quotes and even complaints and worries will keep us in the writing mode, even when our days are filled with other activities and concerns. I have been reading a wise and inspiring book called The Journal Keeper, A Memoir, by Phyllis Theroux. The author put together journal entries from over 30 years to create a book that includes much writing wisdom. When we don’t have time to write or feel stuck writing or realize that if we don’t “get it down now,” we will not remember as well as we wish to, a writer’s journal is the tool that helps and ultimately allows us to enrich our writing. Theroux writes, “…every once in awhile a deeper wisdom, trying to speak beneath the din, breaks through.” If you keep the entries going, you will find these breakthroughs HAPPENING in your writing. This week I offer 21 ideas to help you get going, keep going and move beyond stalling.
When you travel (or are out and about in your own neighborhood or town), write about your surroundings. Describe the rooms, buildings, streets, landscapes, people, and activities in which you are involved. Jot down dialogues and conversation. Describe yourself in your new surroundings being sure to show how you react to the people around you.
Journal your journaling. Choose an activity other than journal keeping and keep a journal for several consecutive days about that activity. Some examples are: training a puppy, having a visitor, planting a garden, and searching for the perfect gift for someone. Or take the same walk over several days and write about the walk each time you take it. Whatever you do, capture your thoughts and behavior as you do the activity you have chosen to journal about.
Write word meditations. Locate five words from anywhere around you: your bulletin board, a newspaper headline, a shopping bag, a warning label, or a card in your wallet. Write each of the five words on a scrap of paper and put the scraps in a bowl or hat. Choose one scrap and begin to write about that word. Write for ten to twenty minutes without stopping or editing yourself.
Collect tidbits, odds and ends. On some days, you might just want to enter an apt phrase or description or an ironic question that comes to mind. Leave them as short paragraphs entered under dates. Someday you might collect them under one title, such as “Winter Thoughts” or “What My Mind Wandered to in Spring.”
Journal your writing process. If you are engaged in writing anything —- a story, poem, essay, play, or paper for school or for work—-make some entries about your writing process. Be sure to say what your feelings are as you begin, revise, and finish what you are working on. What questions do you ask yourself? What are you learning that helps you write? What do you think you are working against?
Imagine you are writing poems. Do entries in the form of poems, even if you don’t think what you are writing about is poetic. Take what might seem prose-like and chop the paragraphs into lines like a poem has. When you see the writing this way, you might find that images stand out to you and with some editing (taking out of extra words), you could have a rich piece of writing.
Write letters you would never mail. Tell old boyfriends what you’d like them to know now that you are older or wiser or “dumber.” Tell family members or friends something you never told them before. Tell toys and pets from childhood or a teacher from long ago about something that makes you think of them now.
Unload your worries and work, family, friends, yourself and your goals into a journal to clear space for the writing self. When you allow yourself to do this, invite yourself to follow the entry with another entry that closely observes something around you.
Write about fellow enthusiasts. Think of someone who shares your interest in something–gardening, fishing, knitting, reading, baking. Write about the person and the person’s knowledge.
Be a weather center. Become sensitive to the weather and try describing the weather in your journal entries. Put your eyes and ears on how the weather affects the landscape, sky, people, animals, buildings, and vehicles. Write your entry so that when you reread that entry, you feel as if you are in the weather.
Write from the same place every day for a week or once a week for a month, describing it as it seems to you at the moment you are writing. Things change–what is on the desk, out the window, under your feet? You will become a keen observer.
“The last thing I ate before I sat down to write this entry was _______ and the next thing I might eat is______. This is because _______.
I look up from the page, the first thing I see is_____. I like/don’t like this because_________.
If I could describe the place I am sitting to a set designer for a movie or play, here is what I would say___________.
Here are five things I should not have put in the trash and this is why.
Here are five things I ought to put in the trash and here is why.
When I go to the White House for dinner, I always wear my __________ and take along my _________. That way _________.
When the nightly news director put words under the shot of me to identify me to the people, the words were ________. This is what had happened _________.
Write book reviews of books you have recently read.
Search on-line to investigate a subject that interests you. Write about your search.
Turn on the radio or TV or listen in to a conversation around you for twenty seconds. Write about what you heard.
Using any of these ideas will prompt easy-to-write journal entries and allow you to keep your writing wheels greased. You’ll find you are soon making up more strategies for keeping writing. And you’ll want to return to some of the entries to spark longer writing. Keep at it! Writing even for 10 minutes exercises your inventive muscle and keeps you unblocked.