Journal Writing

The Carry-Along Book

This is going to be a short post today (I know what you're thinking–ha!  when has she ever managed to write a short post?) because, ta-da, my office furniture is assembled (thanks to my long-suffering husband) and I want to spend time moving myself back in.

This is actually the very first post I've written from my new desk.  Amazingly, I can sit comfortably at it with my computer on the desk, instead of in my lap, as has been the case for the last few years.  I can already feel my shoulder problems easing.

I promise to post photos when it is all in order, but the picture to the right is a bit of a teaser, an image of one of the wall cabinets.
Wallcabinet For those of you who are familiar with Ikea products, it is the "Effektiv" line of office storage and it is quite handsome as well as efficient.

But all of that is actually a warm up to the real topic of this post, which is something I'm calling the carry-along book.

I've written numerous posts about journals and journaling, and the importance of choosing just the right journal for your tastes.

But lately I've been doing things a bit differently.

My journaling has taken the form of Active Imagination, which to me, requires a bigger canvas on which to throw words, so I've been using large sketchbooks from my new favorite place, Columbia Art and Drafting.

(In case you don't know about Active Imagination, I wrote about it in the most recent issue of my newsletter.  It's a technique devised by Carl Jung, and it involves accessing a "trusted source" which can be your intuition, your higher self, God, the goddess, whatever in writing.  Just choose a source and then do an actual dialogue on the page, using the names.)

But the larger sketchbook is hard to take with me.  Yet I need a place to scrawl notes, to write down things of interest, to note observations.  One of the practices in my-soon-to-be-renamed Writing Abundance system is cultivating, which is basically the habit of observing, listening, and gathering.  Taking stuff in so you can spit it back out on the page. Usually this stuff goes right along with regular journal entries, but that won't work at the moment.  So I needed a carry-along journal.  

Which I didn't even know until I started using one.

When I was in Nashville I found myself drawn to a journal on a rack at a coffee shop in the 12th Avenue South neighborhood.  (Somebody help me out here, I've forgotten the name of the place.)  
Journal
Journal2 

As you can see from the lovely accompanying photos, the journal is awesome.  It is small in size, 6 by 8 ish (my ruler is still packed).  As a matter of fact, I hesitated to buy it because of its size, thinking that it was too little to journal in.  But I was so compelled to buy it, I did…and then I started the Active Imagination and the rest is history.

 One of the great things about it is the way it is bound, with the edges
threaded and two separate covers bound together, allowing it to lie flat.  So now I'm in love with a new style of journal (this one was handmade but I found others in this style are available commercially).

But all of this points out something crucial about writing: it is a living, breathing practice.  And sometimes that practice changes as we change.  I reserve the write to go back to my beloved Moleskines, and I probably will at some point.

Meanwhile, if anybody knows how to make this kind of journal, I'd love being pointed to a link.

So, what kind of journal do you write in?  Do you mash everything together in one, or use a carry-along journal and another for lengthier entries?  Or perhaps you have numerous journals?

***By the way, when I grow up I want to be Ann Patchett.  Read her great essay about the Nashville floods here.

****I almost forgot, the maker of this journal is Holly Frees, of Hope Sewn Journals. 

A Place You Go

800px-Laguna_Beach Yesterday I wrote a blog post called Have a Place to Go in Your Writing.  It was about how important it is to know where you are going when you begin a writing session.  You can go back and read it here, but you don't really have to in order to understand this post.

This whole thing about place grew out of a journal entry from a few weeks ago.  I started out by writing on the topic of yesterday's post–having a place to go in my work and what a difference that made.  And then the journal entry morphed into how important the concept of place itself is in my writing.  The fact that place is front and center in my work is not news to me.  I wrote my critical thesis for my MFA on the role of landscape as character in the works of Willa Cather and Flannery O'Connor.  (And for the record, I'm a huge, raving Cather fan.  O'Connor***, not so much.)

There's a scene in my recently completed novel where the heroine, Emma Jean, who is a bestselling novelist, dramatically announces to her husband, "I cannot live someplace that does not inspire me."  While this is true for me, what is even more true is that I can't write about a place that doesn't inspire me.  And, bear in mind, I use the term "inspire" loosely.  I love writing about LA, though I have no desire to live there.  But something about the place inspires me as a location.  Conversely, though Nashville is one of my absolute favorite places on the planet, I've not yet been able to write about it.  I've set fiction in Portland (where I live), in Santa Fe, and in Sun Valley, Idaho.  I love the Oregon Coast, but have never been able to use it as a setting.  Weird, huh?

 And furthermore, getting the location set is as important to me as coming up with a character to write about.  To me, a character is so intricately linked to place that if I change the place she lives, that can jinx the whole book.  And, if I don't have a place firmly in mind when I think up a character, there's a good chance the story won't go anywhere.

Perhaps this odd thing about place that I have is about wanting to explore the parameters of a location.  It may not be that I have to love the place to write about it, but just that I want to know more about it.  LA, for instance, despite the many times I've been there, is a vast mystery to me.  I still marvel at the sunshine, the palm trees, the freeways, the cars.  I am still amazed that people actually live there.  Manhattan is the same.  A couple years ago, attending a conference there, I rode in the back of a taxi from the airport, staring at people walking down the busy sidewalks, flabbergasted that so many people lived in this place where you can't see the sky.  Try as I might, I could not figure out what it would be like to live there.

And maybe that is what it is all about–trying to figure out what its like to live someplace else.  Because, really, isn't fiction all about trying to figure out the someplace else and the someone else?

Thoughts?  What role does place play in your work?  Is it important or something you don't really think about?  How do you choose a setting for your writing?

**The photo is of Laguna Beach, where my dear friend Julie Brickman lives.  I've had the picture on my computer for awhile, but I think it originally came from Wikipedia.

***Now that I've dissed Flannery O'Connor, let me point out that today is her birthday.  She was born on March 25, 1925.  I just learned this while finding the link for her.

Make the Words Flow

I noticed something this morning when I was in the middle of writing an email.Myjournal

The words were flowing as smooth as a glass of fine wine. 

I started paying more attention.  And realized that I was allowing myself to go a bit deeper emotionally in my response.  So I stopped and thought for a bit, and realized why this was. 

Because I've been jingling every morning again.

Now, I'm an inveterate journaler.  I've written about journaling over and over again, so much so that you are no doubt sick of it.  Recently, I was reading Katrina Kenison's memoir, The Gift of an Ordinary Day, and in one scene she is delighted to find that over the last 18 years or so, she has filled 10 to 12 journals.  Um, I'm filled hundreds.  I have tubs of them in the downstairs closet, and more bursting out of cardboard boxes in my office.  So I've got some journaling cred.

But every once in awhile I take a break from it.  I decide that I should get right to my novel writing first thing in the morning, since it is the most important thing in my life and all the experts say to do that first.  So I shun my journal and go do my other work. 

And then something calls me back.

I pick up my journal again and before you know it, I'm writing like crazy every morning, and then sometimes several times a day.  And I have to admit, as I realized while writing the email, my work is better off for it.  Here, I've decided, is why:

  • The words flow more easily
  • The process of going deeper comes naturally, without effort
  • I'm more connected with my emotions
  • I notice more
  • Writing breeds more writing.

Take special note of that last item.  If I take time to write in my journal, those words breed more words. Has anybody else ever noticed that?  The more I write, the more I'm capable of writing.  It is almost magical.

One of the reasons this may be is that the act of writing in my journal shakes loose the muse and often what I write about is how I want to do a certain scene in my novel.  Nearly every day, a blog post comes through.  I get ideas for all kinds of things.

So.  Writing in your journal doesn't have to take up your whole day, and it doesn't have to be first thing in the morning.  Pull out your moleskine at lunchtime and write for 10 minutes, or have a mini-writing session during your afternoon coffee break.  You'll be amazed at what happens.