On Journaling

I’ve had a long flirtation with writing implements and papers. If I just don’t like the pen or the paper, I may as well play Solitaire because I won’t get anything significant done.  Yeah, I might be able to write a little, but I might as well toss it sooner rather than later.

Also, trying to write with somebody else’s pen or a borrowed bit of paper is like wearing somebody else’s underwear or using a strange toothbrush.  It just is not natural!  The media has to fit the message. I can’t write a novel on a chalkboard any more than I can put a dictionary on the back of a postage stamp.

About a hundred years ago, I was working in the broadcast industry during my college years. In those days there was a news machine in the hallway (or several) with rolls of paper inside.  When it was time to clear the machine and sort through the material, the paper was ripped off along a clear plastic edge and then further ripped between stories.  I used to liberate the bitter ends of the rolls of paper, and I gathered them in my dorm.  I taped the ends of the rolls together to make one really huge roll of paper.  I hung this roll of paper on the back of my typewriter when I was feeling somewhat manic about writing, and I could go for miles (well, feet anyway) at a time without reloading my typewriter with paper.  This was not the writing that would win the Pulitzer prize.  This was me just exploring my own creativity or dashing out a draft for a paper due in a few hours that needed to be retyped anyway onto regular paper.  I found the process to be fairly efficient compared to miles of liquid paper, retyping pages, and making rather a larger mess than I had to.

Part of my collegiate experience was keeping a journal. In those days it was a spiral bound notebook, and I had to turn it in for review by one of my writing instructors.  I write quickly by hand, almost in a code, and it can be difficult to read. Yes, these journals were also crap-filled but they did help me explore my thoughts a little more slowly and methodically than dashing things out on the everlasting gobstopper roll of newsprint.

I’ve tried fountain pens, felt-tip pens, ballpoint pens of all sorts. With a few exceptions, I really don’t like pens.  I fell in love with mechanical pencils instead.  A mechanical pencil does not need gravity, ink, time to dry, and the carbon lines do not smear very much.  Plus the eraser is a bonus.

I find that there is something in actually writing something by hand first that cements the ideas a little better for me. Plus, I find that when I’m drafting an early stage of a work, I NEED to doodle.  I draw little pictures in the margins, bits of maps to explain to myself how things are oriented, and I literally connect dots between thoughts.  There is no “doodle” function in Microsoft Word, in iWorks Pages, or in Open Office.  I know because I’ve searched in vain.  When I’m exploring an idea I don’t even really like lines on the paper because an occasional sentence may need to run down an edge, or a parenthetical thought may need to be skritched on.  Yeah, skritched.  Especially if I’m trying to get a bit of poetry right or a more sentimental narrative.

I’m convinced that sometimes you must slow down a little and write things by hand.  Would Thomas Jefferson have been as eloquent writing the Declaration of Independence if he were constrained to 140 characters at a time?  No.  Instead, he had the luxury of dipping his pen every few words. This gives an added bit of time for crafting what must be said instead of just blurting out something.  Perhaps today’s youth, on the other hand, are so tied into the digital world that this isn’t going to be an issue for them, and it is a conundrum for old fogies such as myself.

So, at the urging of a friend, I’ve returned to journaling.  I ordered two Moleskine journals and I’m going to see how that goes.  I’ve not really been on a creative streak for quite some time – both due to pressures on this side of the keyboard that keep dragging me back into reality, and a lack of anything to say.  Yes, they are rather a bit expensive for doodles and thoughts, but it is also a reminder to make the time count.  Wasted pages is wasted money and wasted time.  Get focused! Stay focused! Keep writing!

I also find wonderfully coincidental that I find this blog entry today as I’m writing this post [via Rachelle Gardner on Twitter]. I’ll be looking for more by Christa Allen.  Her post is about journaling, and she mentions Natalie Goldberg, who has gotten me out of more creativity jams than anybody else on the planet through her books.  Writing Down the Bones and the Wild Mind are highly recommended – you can find them in the same volume on Amazon.

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