essay writing process

The Journal Jungle

With the various lockdowns going on, I’ve noticed an uptick in the number of posts recommending prisoners, err, people do some journaling. This is a good thing. A good idea. It is helpful to get those thoughts down on paper to look at in the future. 

Confession time. I don’t journal. At least not in the traditional method of opening a blank book and spewing my guts. I have lots of blank books, I can’t seem to stop buying them. They sit on my shelf, pristine and untouched. I mean to use them—to journal. It just never happens. I carry around a little Moleskine book to jot poetry lines and notes down. It’s not as filled as it should be. Partially because I started using voice memos on my phone to record those thoughts. I think of it as a journal of sorts. I flinch at the sound of my voice, (Do I really sound 12??) yet force myself to listen. How can I read those lines better when I present at a poetry reading? Is voice memoing a form of journaling? I don’t see why not. Voice memos transcribed gives me another way of preserving thoughts. 

Feeling Your Way

There’s something to be said about the act of touching a pen or pencil to paper. It triggers the brain. A way of seeing. I scratch poems down in a wide-ruled notebook I buy at back to school sales. It seems freer than a journal and makes me less of a perfectionist. Maybe blank notebooks are too intimidating, with their pretty covers and straight-lined interiors. I think I’m more suited to a sketchbook, where I can write at a slant, and doodle in the margins. Artist habits die hard. 

I have one very spectacular journal with a star-studded cover. It intimidates me with its perfection. I found a way to conquer that. I decided to write out my chapbook poems in it, written in my neat, drafting class printing. I hope not to make a mistake but if I do, I do. With that mindset going in, it makes the whole exercise less anxiety-inducing. Hopefully, that feeling will carry over to the stack of blank books stuck on my shelf, resulting in some honest to god journaling. 

The other reason I haven’t journaled too much is that I tend to take my innermost thoughts and project them onto my literary characters in novels and poems. I journal in my mind. I also transfer the ideas to art. I’m pretty much a recluse. It makes for great swaths of time where I think about things. So much of the journaling byplay goes on in my head long before I put it down on the page. I thought about my novel for a year before I ever started writing it. I roll poem lines around and around in my head, searching for the key. But. I also put them into an electronic file on my computer for later exploration. Electronic journaling? I write every day as it is, if not poetry, on a novel, an essay, a long email to a distant friend. Maybe journaling seems like more work to me. 

Buried Treasure

Cleaning out my art room, I found a journal I kept when I went to art school in Italy, many many years ago. So. Many. Years. Ago. It was a glimpse into my 20 something mind that fascinated me. Entries showed I held some of the same beliefs I hold now. Others showed nativity and optimism that shot me back to when I thought I’d conquer the world. Drawings. Tickets from the train to Florence. A postcard of the Colosseum in Rome. A sketch of the Duomo di Siena. Each one triggered a memory. 

I have a friend who journals every day and has for years. She plans on leaving them to her children. A glimpse of a part of her they may not know about. That’s valuable for future generations. Plus, she can read back and relive her life in detail, without things being hazy memory. 

All good reasons to physically journal. Record thoughts, emotions, observations, and details. All valuable to writers. So why aren’t I doing it? I don’t know. I should. I need to if only to look back from years in the future and get a glimpse into my thought processes from the past, and maybe steal some to use to create. As I did with the Italian journal. It pushed fears of my past self aside, and let me know who I was, and who I can be. Maybe that’s the purpose of journaling—to thrust me into the practice. 

Do you journal? How do you tackle it? Blank book, notebook, sticky note? More importantly, WHY do you journal? I’m curious.

1 thought on “The Journal Jungle”

  1. I have so many journals for so many reasons. There’s a stack of journals where I spew daily thoughts, current events, examine problems, celebrate this and that. There’s a gratitude journal, started as part of a spiritual practice to become a better person. There’s a poetry/essay journal – okay, several of those – that have drafts of all kinds of creative work. Every single one of these is handwritten. Oops, forgot the garden journal but that one is more of a yard-sized environmental diary. Yes, I make a distinction between diaries (matter-of-fact daily records) and journals (deeper examination of various topics). I love the handwritten way of keeping a journal because it’s tactile, it doesn’t require electricity, it doesn’t require special software, it doesn’t require anything but my presence in this physical space. The journals themselves are all kinds of notebooks, from wonderful soft leather-covered handmade page journals (one of these holds handwritten versions of my favorite published poems and I forgot to mention this one above), Moleskine black cover journals, a small black sketch notebook with unlined pages, a notebook with prompts (the gratitude journal, which was a gift). Oh, and some notebooks with Andy Warhol art covers for special project notes. These journals all have a different place in my overall creative process and writing practice. Some are personal and some not so much. None of them contain pictures or artwork inside. Their words and ideas get transformed into blog posts, stories, poetry that goes out into the world. Some of it only goes as far as the next room and that’s okay, too.

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