The Surprise Benefits of Journaling

quotes-writing-virginia-woolf-600x411I organized my thoughts on journaling a few weeks ago for a guest post on another blog. Here is a revised version of that post…

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On my recent birthday, my seven year- old daughter handed me a few tattered horse stickers, a purple pencil, and a blank notebook that she’d salvaged from her bottom desk drawer. I must have given her a confused look because she pointed to the notebook and told me it was for me to practice my writing. How cute! I thought as I hugged her and thanked her for the thoughtful present. It wasn’t until later that I realized what a powerful gift she had actually given me.

I kept that notebook next to my bed where it lay untouched for several days. Before falling asleep one night, I decided to open it and give journaling a try. At first, writing down my thoughts felt awkward and strange. Why did I need to write a note to myself about what I’d already experienced? What if someone read this? Why was my handwriting so horrible? By the third entry my handwriting was still illegible, but the words started flowing easier. Now, two months—and dozens of pages—later, I’m hooked on journaling. I’ve outlined some ways journaling can help writers below:

  1. Journaling sparks creativity – Stream of consciousness writing—or writing without thinking—brings forth thoughts you didn’t know you had. Journaling has no rules! There’s something freeing about filling a blank page with ramblings meant only for yourself. A journal allows you to explore crazy ideas and exercise your expressive muscles without the worry of what others will think.
  2. Journaling eases stress – Had a horrible day? There’s little worse for your health than keeping your emotions bottled up inside. Writing it down on paper can somehow contain the situation and make it seem manageable. You can even take it one step further and write a happy ending to your sad story. Now that’s my kind of plot twist!
  3. Journaling eliminates writer’s block —Journaling documents snapshots of your life which may eventually become segments of your novel. Drawing a blank? Look out the window and describe the weather. Describe the room you’re sitting in. Write a letter to a friend you haven’t spoken to in years. Describe what you ate for lunch yesterday. You get the picture. The topics of journal entries don’t have to be life-changing. Revisit these seemingly mundane journal entries when you’ve reached a tough spot in your novel and see how they inspire you.
  4. Journaling transforms your emotions into words – When drama does occur in your life be sure to record your feelings while they’re fresh. Journaling preserves the sensations you experienced during times of intense emotions. Chances are good that the characters in your novel will experience similar periods of love, hate, despair, elation, anger, contentment, etc. Pull details from your journal to bring truth and authenticity to your writing.
  5. Journaling makes you more likely to achieve your goals – There is something about the written word that holds people accountable. Writing down a goal may prompt you to outline specific mini-steps for achieving that goal. The words may cause you to visualize and feel your own success. Make sure to take time to write down—and occasionally revisit—your goals while journaling.

As it turns out, my seven year-old daughter somehow knew  that a blank notebook sitting at the bottom of her desk drawer was just what I needed to jolt me out of my writing slump. Journaling has benefited me in all of the above ways and I’m happy to have rediscovered this simple writing tool. Do you have a birthday approaching? Perhaps you should ask for a journal!

 

 

Revision Tracks

I’ve been writing my newest novel–an adult thriller set in the world of real estate in downtown Chicago–for about a year now. I finished the first draft six months ago, and then added to it and revised it several times, including paying for a Revising-Your-Manuscript-4-Easy-To-Use-Revision-Techniquesprofessional edit. I knew my novel still needed a few tweaks, but I patted myself on the back thinking it was basically finished. After setting the manuscript aside for a few months, I blew away the cobwebs about a month ago, and asked a trusted and knowledgeable writer friend critique it. I so badly wanted him to tell me that it was perfect, that I should go ahead and send it out to agents, that it would be a best-seller. However, this is real life and that’s not what happened.

At first, some of his comments about my writing made me defensive. This book had become like a baby to me. No one likes to be told their baby is ugly. I spent a few days thinking about his suggestions, however, and realized many of his criticisms were correct. My main character did need more of a motivation for his actions, I did use too many similes, I did explain too much, etc. The realization my novel was not only incomplete, but that I might have to rewrite the entire thing, made me want to find the nearest tall building and jump off. The task before me seemed insurmountable. I had completely wasted a year of my life. What was I thinking? I crawled into bed, vowing to never write another word again.

Athletics_trackThankfully, I have a husband who is experienced in talking me off of ledges. He reminded me that he loved my book and that the two other people who had read it also enjoyed it. Yes. Maybe it needed some tweaking, but if I focused on one thing at a time, I could get it done. That’s when I remembered something I’d read a few years ago about “revision tracks”. Following different tracks of revision translates to reading through a work-in-progress several times, only focusing on and revising one thing each time. Changing just one thing isn’t so difficult, right?

I’ve already begun my first revision track–reading through my novel for unnecessary similes and removing them. Next, I’ll tackle creating a deeper back story for my main character which will make his later actions seem more believable. Then, I’ll move on to something else. You get the picture. The point is, now my revisions seem doable, and I’m actually excited about them! It’s simple and straight-forward–breaking an insurmountable task into smaller pieces is the best way to make it less daunting.

Have you struggled with revisions? What strategies worked for you?