Keeping a Writer’s Journal Can Spark Inspiration and Curiosity

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When I began taking my writing seriously – and I mean, writing almost every day – I decided it was time to keep track of all my story ideas. Little did I know then that there was such a thing as a writer’s journal.  That’s exactly what it was used for – to keep track of all things related to writing.

A writer’s journal is a place to track everything related to your writing. It can be based on a single story, a theme or your own writing journey.

Much of that depends on what you want to achieve from your writing. For example, I focus strictly on my writing projects. The writer’s journal is my place for developing story concepts, plot structures and character sketches.

I also keep a personal journal to record events in my life, which I keep separate from my writing journal. It’s my place for emotional venting. The second one is where I keep all my notes from all the workshops and classes I’ve taken related to writing. It’s more about the craft of writing.

I keep these notebooks separate because it keeps me organized. I know I have a designated place for each of them and I don’t have to search through countless story concepts to find that one nugget of information I learned in a workshop three years ago.

I use a simple notebook, but you can use a hardcover journal or use your computer. I prefer a notebook because it’s lightweight and easy to carry with me, and I don’t have to worry about having to turn on my laptop to add something to a document. I also carry a smaller notebook in my purse so if I am inspired by a setting or a conversation I overhear, I can write about it then and there.

Other writers use the writer’s journal differently, but see its value just the same. Writer Rebecca Graf uses the journal when her mind goes blank while she’s writing. “No matter how hard I try, I cannot get all those precise details pulled up from my memories. If I go to my writer’s journal, I can find those details and really enhance that one scene. It is a valuable resource any writer can use.”

Dolly Garland writes at The Writing Cooperative that she has used her journal to collect tips and inspiration for improving her craft. It’s also a place where she gets to know her characters and have dialogues with them.

Every writer is different, so you may want to set up your journals differently depending on what you want to achieve. Here are some common elements to include in your writer’s journal:

Basic story concepts. If you’re like me, you’re constantly coming up with story ideas. It’s important to  jot them down before you forget them. Start with a brief plot description or the premise, then brainstorm the rest of the story. The details about scenes and characters will come later.

Characters sketches. Have an idea for a unique character for your spy series? Or perhaps you met someone or saw someone at the bus stop who inspires a new character. Write it down. Describe their appearance, motivations and quirks. Give them a name to help you visualize them better. Like Garland, try having a dialogue with them.

Places you’ve been to that inspire setting. Think of some of your favorite places to hang out. Spend an afternoon at the beach, a coffee shop or the library. Describe the sights and sounds around you. When you need to describe a setting for a conversation between two people, you have only to refer to your journal to recreate that atmosphere rather than jog your memory for details.

Drafts of scenes. Perhaps you don’t have an entire story figured out but you have one or two scenes that appear vividly in your mind. The writer’s journal is the ideal place to get it all down on paper before you forget it.

Memories and flashbacks of your own life.  You might be going about your business when something you hear or see reminds you of a situation that happened to you a long time ago. Now you can’t get that memory out of your head. It’s time to write it all down, and write it as a real story with real characters.

Middle-of-the-night musings and revelations. If you’re like me, you have moments when you’re wide away at four in the morning and you brain is abuzz with different things: a song you can’t get out of your head, a movie that’s playing over and over, or an argument you had earlier in the day. Instead of letting it disrupt your sleep, get up and write it all down in your journal.

Research related to your next project. Include feature articles and news stories that provide historical background. In my files, I have several articles about women who have worn their grandmother’s wedding dresses. They’re handy references for the story idea I have about a similar situation.

Dreams, especially if they’re reoccurring. I’ve taken vivid dreams I’ve had overnight and written them down the next morning so I don’t forget them. Then I may rewrite them as works of fiction. You never know if you need a dream sequence for your work-in-progress.

Snatches of conversation. Ever sit in a restaurant, a coffee shop or a retail store and overhear conversations between other people? The best ones are the public arguments where the participants aren’t aware they have an audience. Jot down as much as you can remember in your writer’s journal. What were they wearing? What were they discussing? Even if you can’t recall the conversation or can’t hear it, make it up. You never know when you need a lover’s spat for your romance novel.

Some writers say it’s important to write in this journal every day. I usually write in it when I know I have something concrete to add, usually when I’m inspired by something I see or hear, or something directly related to what I’m working on. The choice is up to you, of course. Your writer’s journal is your own.

No matter how you use it, you’ll find the writer’s journal is one of the most valuable resources you’ll ever use.

20 Literary New Year’s Resolutions for 2020

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Happy New Year!  Hope the year ahead is filled with exciting opportunities.

I love the start of a New Year. It’s always filled with great promise and hope, just like the start of the school year or the first day of spring. I’m eager to start new projects and try new things. I even try to make resolutions, and though I might fail to achieve them, I believe making them sets the tone for the year.

Yes, I know. Resolution is a dirty word for some people. Perhaps we should call them goals, plans or challenges. I’m always looking for the next challenge though, and I also remind myself that I have a full 365 days in which to achieve it.

So even if you don’t believe in making New Year’s Resolutions, maybe there’s some small goal you’d like to achieve in the coming year. If you can’t think of anything, never fear. I have a few ideas, all related to literary pursuits.

In honor of the year 2020, here are 20 resolutions for the New Year. Choose one or two to pursue, then see how your life unfolds.

1. Read the dictionary or thesaurus front to back as if you were reading a novel. What better way to build your vocabulary.

2. Choose one author whose books you have wanted to read and read every book they’ve written. Select someone who has written at least five books, but no more than twelve. You still want to leave room for other author’s works.

3. Attend a writer’s conference. Immerse yourself in the culture, build your network and rub elbows with authors and editors. Find a conference that matches your genre, like romance or science fiction or screenwriting. Bring along your manuscript and have it critiqued. Attend as many of the sessions as you can handle. You’ll walk away eager to put into practice what you’ve learned.

4. Attend an author reading in your town once a month. Brownie points if you ask the author questions afterward about their craft.

5. Participate in your own reading challenge. Set a goal for the number of books you’d like to read in the next 365 days. For example, I usually set a goal of 32 books because that’s what I’ve averaged the past few years.

6. Same as number 5 above but with a twist. Each book you read is a different genre – from light-hearted romance and detective stories to cookbooks and politics. Each fiction genre opens you to a different style of writing and storytelling, while the non-fiction books can provide background information for your latest work.

7. Start a writer’s journal. Keep track of story ideas, scenes, character descriptions, the humble beginnings of a poem – you get the idea. When you’re ready to start your next story, browse through your journal and see what inspires you.

8. Finish that story, poem or essay you’ve been working on for the past few years. Pull it out from the bottom of your desk drawer and dust it off. Keep working at it until you feel satisfied that it is your best work. Bonus points if you submit it to an editor for publication.

9. Volunteer to be a literacy tutor. There are plenty of organizations that provide reading and writing tutoring to children and adults. Share your love of reading and writing with others.

10. Clear out your bookshelves. Donate the ones you no longer want to worthy organizations. Or if you have a lot of books, host your own book sale, then donate the proceeds to a worthy organization. Either way, you’ll be clearing the shelves for more books.

11. Get up half an hour early each day and use that time to write. You can easily write a couple hundred words during that time. Do that every day, and you will have one or two chapters written within a month.

12. Select a place in your town that you’ve never been to – whether it’s a university campus, a public park, a landmark or even a coffee shop. Then write about your experience. What did the place look like? What kind of people visited the place that day? How did you feel walking through the place? The experience might inspire a short story or essay.

13. Participate in a local write-in. A write-in is a day set aside where visitors can use the time and space to simply write with no interruptions. Universities, writing studios, even some libraries host write-ins. You don’t have to stay the whole day. You can spend one hour or four. Either way, it’s a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the writing process surrounded by other people who are doing the same thing. If you have trouble sticking to a daily writing schedule, attending a write-in can be just the thing to jump start your progress.

14. Write a review of a book you’ve completed or a movie you’ve just seen. For example, if you saw the film Little Women, how did it compare with other film versions? How did it compare with the novel? Even if you’ve never written a book or movie review, trying it once or twice is good practice to develop analytical skills.

15. Visit a different bookstore once a month. Even if you don’t buy anything, browse the current releases to see what is being published.

16. Visit the library once a month. Even if you don’t have a library card or borrow books, there are plenty of resources to browse through. Read the newspaper or a magazine, do some research, or bring a notebook to write with little interruption.

17. Find a writing buddy and meet with them once a month. Having someone along on your writing journey can keep you motivated.

18. Join a Meetup group of writers or book fans. If you’re working on a screenplay, for example, check your local Meetup to see if there is a group for screenwriters. Or maybe you prefer poetry or non-fiction. Whatever your passion is, find like-minded individuals to share it. If there isn’t a Meetup group that meets your interests, start one of your own.

19. Learn about a different writing style or genre. If you’re a business writer, maybe you want to transition into doing personal essays. Find a class or two about writing essays or stock up on books about that topic.

20. Volunteer for an organization that provides reading services to the visually impaired. Many students and seniors have difficulty reading because of their impairment. Organizations like the Blind Service Association in Chicago

need volunteers to read and record everything from textbooks to magazines, whatever is needed. Check to see if there’s a comparable organization in your area.

There you have it – 20 ideas for resolutions for literary types. Hope you see one or two that you’d like to try. You may find it opens up new opportunities in unexpected ways.

 

Find Inspiration to Start Writing — and Keep Writing

sunflower-1421011_1280Like many writers, I am often intimidated by a blank page. It’s like staring at an artist’s canvas or a vacant room in a home that’s ready to be redecorated. But a blank page doesn’t have to be feared. Embrace it for the opportunity it is to express yourself, and the writing will come more naturally. 

Some say the hardest part of being a writer is getting into a routine and writing regularly. Others say they draw a blank and don’t know what to write about. The empty space, they claim, is inside their own head. To get past both obstacles, here are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned to develop a regular writing practice.

Do it first thing in the morning. Just like exercise or meditation, writing first thing in the morning can help you get it out of the way. Some people swear by completing morning pages – writing continuously without stopping for three pages. For some, morning pages helps remove the toxic thoughts and feelings that have built up over the previous 24 hours so your brain can operate more freely and creatively. Others choose a method like “500 words a day” to establish consistency in their practice. Whichever method you choose can help you become more productive. Once it’s done, you can move on to other tasks, and you can feel good about your accomplishment.

Schedule it in your calendar. If you don’t have time to write first thing in the morning, schedule time on your calendar for later in the day. Make an appointment with yourself to sit at a desk or computer. Set aside at least one hour, and just write. This time is for you, just like scheduling a massage or haircut. Putting it in your calendar shows you are serious and committed about giving your writing attention.

Skip the computer. I find it helpful to keep a notebook for writing. It’s where I jot down story ideas, webinar notes and bullet points for blog posts. It’s also where I write rough drafts for my stories. Then I will turn on the computer to do a more complete second draft. If you turn on the computer first, you’re more likely to edit as you write. Avoid doing this because it slows you down. Get your ideas down on paper first, then go back and rewrite and edit.

To keep inspiration flowing, check out these ideas to stay inspired and kickstart your creativity.

Play writing games. I keep a small plastic container filled with slips of paper. On each paper slip is a word. It can be anything – car, dog, photograph, telephone, mystery – you name it. There’s about 100 slips of paper in this container. Whenever I’m feeling stuck with writer’s block, I pull out three slips and reveal the words. Then I write a very short story, a few paragraphs, making sure to include those three words. If you want to challenge yourself further, choose five words. The more words you choose at random, the more challenging it becomes to include them all in your writing.

Once I’ve used a word, I set it aside. I’ll do several stories in one sitting, so I will set aside words I’ve already used during that session. At the end of that full session, all the words are put back to reuse in a future writing session.

Keep a writer’s journal. I started keeping a writer’s journal earlier this year. It’s where I keep story and blog ideas as I think of them. It’s where I keep notes from webinars and workshops I attend. If I come across a quote that I like, something that moves me deeply, I add that to my journal too. Any miscellaneous idea I have about writing and creativity I add to my journal. When my ideas run dry, I turn to my journal and look for inspiration.

Find quotes that inspire you. We’ve all seen the memes on Facebook. Some are funny; others are meant to inspire and make us feel better about ourselves. We find one we like and share it with our friends on Facebook. Is there a quote that resonates with you? Does it remind you of a situation or person in your life? Use it to write why it has meaning for you. Another potential source of writing inspiration: tea bag tags found on Yogi tea.
Similar to the memes you see on social media, the sayings on these tea tags are often profound and thought-provoking, ideal fodder for writing inspirational essays.

Seek out writing prompts. There are numerous resources available about writing – essay books, magazines and websites – that offer writing challenges and prompts. Writer’s Digest has an online prompt tool you can download to kickstart your writing. Many books about writing contain brief exercises to get you started thinking about writing. For example, “Crafting the Personal Essay” by Dinty W. Moore contains several essay writing exercises and writing prompts to keep you writing for a long time.

Find a writing buddy. I’m not talking about collaboration here. I’m talking about creating a support system for yourself. If you have a friend who also writes for a living, join together as a support system. You can talk about story ideas, exchange writing tips, critique each other’s work, etc. Having a writing buddy keeps you motivated and accountable for your progress, just like having a workout buddy. You don’t want to slack off knowing your friend is pushing you to succeed. This is especially helpful if you are shy about sharing your work with others and are reluctant to join a writers’ group. All it takes is one person to share your writing efforts with to keep you writing day in and day out.

Using one, two or any combination of these ideas can give you the confidence you need to start writing – and keep writing.