10 March 2009

On Keeping a Writing Journal

If I could only give one piece of advice to writers (aside from back up your files), it would be to keep a writing journal. This is like keeping a regular diary, but you're specifically recounting your daily writing experiences and your emotional responses to those experiences.

I practice what I preach. I keep a little Moleskine notebook nearby at all times, and spend time each day jotting down story ideas and how I'm feeling about what I've written. More often than not, that feeling is crappy. But when I go on to articulate why I'm feeling so negatively, whether it's because a scene isn't working or a character doesn't fit or a dialogue exchange feels unnatural, I eventually and invariably solve the problem. There's something about figuring out a writing problem by writing it out that just works. 

For instance, I was muddling through a YA novel where the narrator's sister died in a car accident halfway through the story. After the accident, the story just fell apart. I was devastated. I wrote about it in my journal, about how everything turned to steaming doo-doo after the sister died. And then I wrote the question, What if she doesn't die? Whoa. That turned everything upside-down! Suddenly, I'd opened up the story to new possibilities, and opened myself up to a new sense of hopefulness. (Caveat: I still haven't finished the story. But that's another problem for another time.)

Also? It's valuable to keep a record of the ups and downs of your writing process. I may feel crappy and hopeless about what I'm writing most of the time, but at a certain point, a little more than halfway through, when I can see the end of the tunnel, I start feeling hopeful. When I'm working on my next story and I find myself in that crappy, hopeless mood, I can read through the journal of my previous experience and realize that A. I felt crappy and hopeless before, so this is all just part of my process, and that B. eventually, things worked out.

It may seem like a lot, to work in a routine of writing about what you're writing about, but it really is helpful. And if it helps the world's most negative, easily discouraged writer (aka moi), you should at least give it a try, don't you think?

P.S. Yes, I've used the word "crappy" a lot in this entry, and no, I'm not going to apologize for it.


  1. Great post, Kara. I must start my own writing journal. In addition to capturing all of my frustrations (and a few successes) I'll have a reason to buy several more Moleskines and save the economy. I'll call the volumes my "Treasury notes!"

  2. "Treasury notes"? Punny stuff, Magoon. : )