I've kept a journal ever since I started writing on a computer. I print out the pages, punch them with a three-hole punch, and save them in a hard binder. For me, it's been helpful to my writing career in several ways.
By rereading my journals, I've seen that there is a rhythm to my writing. I can work like crazy for days, weeks, months, and then nothing much at all for a period of time. And that's okay. I'm not one of those people who likes structure in my life (four pages a day, 1000 words a day, 2 hours of writing a day.) But in my own bumbling, haphazard method of writing, I still seem to get a lot accomplished.
I use my journal not only to record things that have been going on in my life, but to capture feelings and moments that are important. Re-reading my journals has allowed me to see that I tend to get depressed when it rains a lot, and the sun makes me happy. It lets me look up when the first swallows arrive each year, and the date in late Spring I first hear the thrilling song of the Swainson's thrush in the forest.
I can use bad words in my journal, ones that I wouldn't post in a public place (like this.) I can capture the raw emotion of finding a beloved cat dead in the middle of the road and having to bury him all by myself. Yeah, tough stuff.
I use my journal to get my fingers working again, when it doesn't seem like I can write at all. I write little pep talks to myself -words like: I have not been writing. I am not a writer. What's wrong with me? I'm a fraud, and I'm fooling everyone. blah blah blah. I cannot seem to write a single thing. I'm a mess, I . . . blah blah blah . . . Look, I've written one entire page. I did. I filled up all that space. With something. Anything. I can do it. I can. I know I can.
I use my journal to discuss with myself things about my WIP (work-in-progress.) What would happen if my character did this? What would make this character feel this way, and do this? Maybe this could happen, or this and this. On my latest middle-grade novel, I actually have another document available where I try to keep all the facts straight, names, etc. and the pertinent info for my WIP. But for actually brainstorming plot points, I find it is actually most helpful to tumble around ideas with in my journal. I like the immediacy, the discussion I can have with myself on paper. It allows me to check back in later, and see how I was able to hash things out. And believe or not, it is very helpful to see this process when it comes to future novels.
Because the very best thing about keeping track of things in journals, is that I can go back and see when I first got the seed of an idea for a novel. On February 21, 2009 I wrote in my journal:
So I'm tossing and turning ideas around in my head for something new to write. And I'm thinking that my next novel might be from two points of view. A boy. A girl. It would be a challenge to see if I can do it. But actually, it's because two characters are coming to me. The girl, with the invisible sign at the bottom of her driveway. And the boy, who is not very nice at first. Maybe his mom drinks too much. Or other stuff. . . . . And then there's the flood.
I wrote several chapters, and then got involved in major revisions on another novel, and then stuff (called life) happened, and I struggled along and finally dug in and finished this new novel this winter. There is a boy. And there is a girl. And I did manage to write it from two points of view, although there is no flood, and the storyline took a completely different direction from what I first envisioned. That's the beauty of creativity.
So on March 2, 2010 I noted in my journal that I just finished the final chapter of my newest novel. (And yeah, there are many edits and revisions still ahead, but that's a writer's life.) And it's really cool to be able to look back on the entire process from when that first kernel, or spark of an idea began, and how it transformed into an actual story.
Do you use a journal? What form do you keep it in, and how has it worked for you?