Bonnie Schroeder is the author of Mending Dreams as well as published short fiction. Find out more about Bonnie at her website.
ANOTHER KIND OF JOURNALISM
I came of age in the 1960’s, the era of Hippies and anti-war protests, the Summer of Love and psychedelia. Dropped out of college to marry an art student. Lived in a loft in Downtown Los Angeles before it became the fashionable Arts District.
A lot of good writing material there—if only I’d taken better notes.
I didn’t start keeping a journal, however, until 1974. Here’s the first entry, from January of that year, scribbled in a blue-vinyl-covered spiral-bound notebook: “This journal was a gift from John, who will soon be my ex-husband.”
I didn’t consciously craft that sentence as a story opening; it just came out that way, from my brain to my fingers to the pen on the page. And at least I was able to write authentically about the ups and downs of a no-fault divorce in California.
I’ve become a devoted journal-writer since then and have lost track of the number of notebooks I’ve filled. It’s become a need, a way to preserve and (maybe) make sense of what goes on in my life.
Those lost years in the 60’s? I can research in libraries and online until the cows come home, but it won’t reveal what I personally was thinking and feeling and experiencing in those days. My journal is a repository for all life’s oddball experiences, good and bad, beautiful and ugly—all waiting to spring to life again.
But journal-writing has another, even more valuable application: it’s great writing practice.
For years I worried that I wasn’t doing my journal writing the “right way,” not filling pages with long, elaborate, lyrical descriptions and all that. Then I realized, that’s not necessarily what it’s all about. Journaling is simply practice in putting words on the page and building up those writing muscles.
Whether you intend to or not, once you keep a journal, you do start to notice the world around you more carefully as you strive to record and interpret your experiences, in as much interesting detail as possible. The challenge presents itself without your even trying.
And remember this: nobody’s looking (unless you want them to) so you free yourself to experiment with phrasing and structure, to invent whatever and whoever you want, to create fiction as well as re-create fact.
There are a ton of how-to books on journaling out there. I have two favorites that are especially relevant to me. When I’m feeling stuck or just need a break from my current project, I sometimes turn to them to jump-start my writing in unexpected directions.
· The CreativeJournal by Lucia Capacchione
· The NewDiary by Tristine Rainer
As for all those notebooks stashed away in my garage? I finally wised up and started keeping my journals on the computer, using MS Word (and a password protected file.) This has several advantages: my handwriting is horrid (the only D I ever got in school was in penmanship), I don’t have to make room in the file cabinet for yet another notebook, and the entries are searchable in case I want to look something up quickly. I confess, however, that sometimes only the scratch of the pen on paper will quell the writing itch, so I succumb and then in my OCD fashion retype the entry into the digital file “for future reference.”
I didn’t inventjournaling, of course. A lot of writers, better and more well-known than I (hello, Anaïs Nin) have even published their journals. Some have written novels in journal format (one of my personal favorites is Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.) It seems a fairly common trait among writers, this deep-rooted urge to put words on paper, to capture and describe (or invent) their experiences, even if/when their words aren’t meant to be read by anyone else.
So let me ask: do YOU keep a journal? Does it add value to your writing life? If you haven’t been journaling, did this post make you want to consider it?
15 thoughts on “Another Kind of Journalism by Bonnie Schroeder”
You have such a sense of humor. I laughed out loud when I read your first journal entry. I switched from just writing about my thoughts (I was boring myself) to brainstorming ideas and questions, whether they be about writing or life in general. I've become more interesting. 🙂
Talk about a great opening line…your first journal entry revealed a talent for grabbing the reader's attention.
I have kept a journal at various times of my life and have periodically gone back to read them. They serve as a time capsule of who, what and where I was at that point in time. At times I regret not making more frequent entries, for reasons which you explain so well. Guess it's never too late….
When we lived in Europe, I kept a travel diary, but it is mostly names of places and the weather. For a while I kept a daily diary, but when each year ended with “still haven't sold a book,” I decided I should just write more books and publish them myself. That was far more productive.
But I do make scrapbooks. Yearly. Filled with pictures and playbills and mementos of my life. It says in pictures what I like, what I love, who I know, what I've done. I guess we all need a way to say, “Yeah, life, this is me.”
Funny how that works, huh? But I can't imagine your thoughts EVER being boring, Jack!
Bonnie, what an interesting post. I have never had a journal, so hearing what keeping a journal means for you was great. I, too, loved your first line–what an opening! Having all those journals sound like a way to keep your past alive–(said by someone who can't remember diddly about the 60s or 70s) I think it would have been smart to keep a journal… You are truly a “writer” ! really enjoyed your post.
Precisely, Miko. I used to think I couldn't sit down to write unless I had a significant block of time. Then I decided to just steal five minutes here, ten minutes there, and the pages mount up. Heck, with all the traveling you do. . .
You found the method that works for you, GB, and that's a very good point. A journal doesn't always have to consist of nothing but words.
Thanks, Mad. And as Miko observed, it's never too late to start journaling.
A clever first sentence in your journal indeed, Bonnie! I've always kept journals when on trips. They came in handy when writing my R. A. Huber mysteries, as each book takes place at a different location.
Great post! As I read it, I was reminded of one of my favorite movies, “The Bridges of Madison County.” In the movie, two grown children read their mother's journals after she's died and they come to realize that there was so much more to her than they knew.
Thanks, Alice. Yes, that is one of the great payoffs for keeping a journal. A purported Chinese proverb: “The palest ink is stronger than the most miraculous memory.”
Thanks, Patricia. I liked “Bridges” a lot too. And there's a sort of delicious voyeurism in reading another's journal. No one will be able to read my old ones because of my illegible handwriting, but I put a warning in front of the first box: “Read at Your Own Risk!”
Bonnie – I identified so much with your post. I, too, have boxes of journals – with sporadic entries, often when I was going through a rough patch, or had something to celebrate – like Gayle's scrapbooks. Although, since my husband, Rick, died I have written every morning and every night – just a few lines. And going back over them I see the journey I have made and realize I have many more things to write about. I, too, loved “Bridges' – but it also made me think I should burn my journals before I leave this world!… Thanks Bonnie for a great post.
Ah, the journal as therapy: another excellent way to use it., Rosie. And you HAVE made a very courageous journey on your own, one that inspires us all, so I'm glad you recorded it, if only for yourself. Hmmm, maybe we should have a group “journal bonfire” at some VERY distant future date?
HI Bonnie, Love this…and I never knew you loved the Golden Notebook. one of my favorites. i have keep a diary since 1967. Egads. the earlier entries which i'm rereading make me cringe sometime and what to do with the contents down the road is another conundrum. But as you say, it reflects who we are, where we've been, and our experiences…the good, bad and ugly. thanks for reminding me of journalling!