No, not a blog, my friends. Not a composition notebook by your bedside table where you jot down ideas that strike in the middle of slumber. Not a list of “Cool titles I might use one day” or “writing prompts” or “neat character names.” A writing journal can have all of those things…but what a writing journal should be is a foundation for what it means to be human. A way to store all the emotions you feel on a daily basis, reflect on them, and then summon them at will when you want to use them in a character. A place where you keep progress of your work in order to keep yourself accountable. A place where you work out the chaos in your head by simply turning it into an alphabet.
I haven’t kept up with my writing journal for very long, nor have I reached the habit where I write in it every day. But already, I see why it’s beneficial. Pouring out the bad emotions and weird thoughts and worried delusions and speculation of my future is a great way to encapsulate my humanity – a humanity that, often when I’m writing, I wonder if I really have. I’m not frequently emotional. I worry that my work is often bland and shallow and devoid of character because I don’t pull at the reader’s guts every other page. I’m a commercial writer, I admit, but I appreciate a blend between commercial plot and loveable, heart wrenching characters a la Doctor Who.
I have that journal in front of me and I can go back to a day where I felt fully in love, or inadequate, or fat, or useless, or uneasy, or lucky, or curious, I can relive what it means to be those things. I can use my prior self as a vector and fill in my character, or whatever plot thread I’m trying to twist.
On a less personal note, I can write down all the weird “what if?” thoughts I had throughout the day, thoughts that both disturbed or elated me or struck my curiosity. I can write down funny anecdotes from work, funny things Reggie said that I might use later in a character like him, or amusing people I saw at dinner. I can talk about news stories that angered me, scared me, or made me shake my head. I can log trends in the universe that I observe as a way to predict what’s next in fiction. I can write about books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, and games I’ve played to dissect what I loved and hated about them, and why the story worked or why it didn’t. I can count my submission response letters and make note of journals who were particularly kind or helpful in their rejections. I can preserve – in ink, in something tangible – the moment when I actually get accepted to something.
When I first read about the habit of keeping a journal, I thought, “I don’t need to do that – I have a blog.” Or, “I don’t need to do that, I have a plot bunny journal.” But after giving it a try, I see why this is different. Because the writing journal is not a place where you wax about your writing philosophy, as my blog is. It’s not a place where you simply tinker with ideas, like my plot bunny book. It’s a place where you can keep track of experiences that are so important in building authorial maturity. It’s a place where you sketch out who you are, and that identity will define what you write about.
And let’s face it – it would make a mighty fine auction item if you ever became famous one day ;)