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Writing journal or commonplace book?

2 November, 2008

How-to-write books often suggest keeping a writer’s notebook. But will you choose to write a daily writing journal? Or keep a commonplace book? Or both? Each has a different function. This blog entry is Part 1 of 2.

Writing journal

A writing journal usually refers to a notebook in which you write something each day. The aim is to develop a writing habit by writing regularly, no matter if you feel creative or dull, and even if you feel pressured by other commitments on your time and energy.

Below are the usual suggestions that how-to books give for successfully keeping a daily writing journal. Decide which of these suit you.

  • Each time you sit down to write, record the time, date and place for each entry. E.g., 7am, 12 Oct 08, my desk. Doing so charts your progress. As well, you may eventually discover the times when you are most productive.
  • When you find an optimal writing time, make a date with yourself to undertake your journal writing then. See it as an appointment with your creative self.
  • Hand-write your entries rather than journaling on a computer. Why? Some writers talk about the link between your creative right-brain and your writing hand. Some enjoy the flexibility of  a journal that they can take anywhere to write. Some like to re-read and mark or elaborate on past entries, which may be simpler to do with a hard-copy journal.
  • Set a daily writing goal in terms of pages or words. A reasonable goal is to write at least 1 page but no more than 3. Why the upper limit? The idea is to establish a daily writing routine, not a feast-or-famine approach. And do write each day. Even a few sentences is better than skipping your writing date.
  • To keep from slipping into diary mode—this is what I did today—try out different writing prompts, which can encourage your imagination down new creative paths.
  • Give yourself the freedom to write down your thoughts, no matter how silly or odd. Comment about anything that interests you: one-off situations, relationships, your views on politics, TV shows, music, etc. Write about any good things that happen to you in your writing development, e.g., great feedback from someone in your writing group. Also record the bad stuff that comes with writing, e.g., your fears, irritations, etc. Do not worry if much of your daily writing is a whinge (complaint) about issues in your life. That seems to be common, at least at the start.
  • When you write an entry, don’t edit. Use your writing time to encourage your right-brain Creator—by daydreaming on the page, exploring, taking flights of fancy—rather than letting your left-brain Editor jump in prematurely to vet your ideas or style.
  • Do not read out or show your work to anyone else. After awhile, you’ll come to treasure having your own private textual space to play in.

Commonplace Book defines a commonplace book as ‘a book in which noteworthy quotations, comments, etc. are written’. The word has been in use since the late 1500s.

Use a commonplace book to consolidate all the writing fodder from your life—notes, ideas, scribbles—instead of filing it away or keeping a scatter of notes.

I use an A5-size artist’s notebook, with thick unlined sheets. It goes everywhere with me, and whenever I find something that I want to capture, I write or paste it in my notebook. What kind of material? My commonplace book includes the following:

  • Inspiring or funny quotes about writers and writing
  • Lists of books and authors I want to read
  • Items that catch my attention: photos, cartoons, news items, messages, graffiti, signs, visuals, poetry.
  • Dreams
  • Examples of what I admire in others’ writing, e.g. a phrase, a sentence, a description, an apt way of putting a difficult idea.
  • Unusual words and their meanings
  • Descriptions of people or places, captured in prose or poetry
  • Overheard conversations
  • Ideas for stories and story titles.

Don’t use your notebook for shopping lists or other information that does not directly connect with your writing goals.

PART 2: Taking the next step: Using what’s in your journal or notebook. (See next blog entry.)

One Comment leave one →
  1. jessica permalink
    31 March, 2009 10:11 am

    hi, i love your advice for journal writing! thanks!!!


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