This post forms part of a serialisation eventually building into a complete reference on Journaling for Creativity and the writer's notebook. One that will demonstrate how to journal in order to improve creativity and effectiveness of artists, writers or anyone needing to be creative.
This post follows on from So why journal?, in which I listed a few reasons why journaling is a sound investment of your time. Here, we further investigate the ‘To train’ section of that post, expanding the ideas and exploring their benefits in our quest of how to journal.
To train your senses
Using your senses whilst practising active observation techniques enhances your ability to be aware of what is around you and more importantly, what is not. How this affects your senses and your mental command over them is discussed in the post “The effect of journaling on the senses”.
To train your mind to remember
For a journal entry to deliver its promise, it is necessary to enhance it with evocative prose, enthralling visions and electric sensations. Then, when you later come back and review the entry, the memorable prose causes the memories of that event to leap into your mind.
So with every entry, you are looking for the most evocative part, the gripping visual, the strongest sensation of what you wish to record, and in doing so, with every recording you are training your mind to pay close attention to the most memorable elements of every experience.
Dreams are especially difficult to remember, which is unfortunate considering how important to a writer they can be:
"Great writers have always recognised the potency of dream images, using them as inspiration for poetry and prose, among them Poe, Coleridge, John Hawkes, John Clever, Herman Hesse, Doris Lessing and D. M. Thomas"
Gabriele L Rico, “Writing the Natural Way”
Dreams are produced in the sub-dominant, artistic right-side of the brain. As we move from the sleep state, the dominant logical part of the brain starts to reassume control and every decision it makes pushes our dream thoughts further from our minds. As we wake, every decision, from choosing our socks to sorting the day’s itinerary, elbows out the memories. However, creative journaling builds the bridge between the two sides, providing us with more access to our artistic self and making our artistic self more dominant in the process. The outcome of this is that when we choose to, it becomes easier to recall our dreams and artistic inspirations:
“Your dreams will become stronger and clearer, both by night and by day. You will find yourself remembering your night time dreams, and by day daydreams will catch your attention.”
Julia Cameron, “The Artists Way:…”
To play out small scenes, beats, dialogue as they occur to you
Previously we looked at how, by using the collected characteristics of people, you can play with and develop your fictional characters. This is also true with story elements and beats. Journals allow you to play with the elements of a story as your thoughts or observations occur. Again, these will not necessarily be part of your current project; they may purely reinforce your grasp on the story arc. They might be fragments of novels, novels that may never be completed, but something special about a particular scene or beat inspires you to explore a small literary bubble. Without a journal to give them form, these thoughts would never be written.
These micro compositions could be clever dialogue, promising scenes, parts of scenes, interesting beats, some poetry, a brilliant phrase or cutting remark. Maybe dashed down, maybe laboured on and if so you can hone your skills whilst you polish your entries. As with the fictional characters, a collection of these forms a wonderful repository of inspiration when later browsing old journal entries. It is unlikely that any of them will be used as they are; almost certainly they will be pared down and rewritten for the project of the time, but imagine the joy of finding a jewel amongst your journal for your current work.
To train the writer within
Regular unconstrained writing in a journal trains the mind to move into that fast creative flow which has caused so many people to proclaim epiphanies about journaling. By repeatedly writing in this manner, speed and creativity can be unchained.
The author Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary;
"20 April 1919: It has a slapdash and a vigour and sometimes hits an unexpected bull's eye. But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. [...] I believe that during the past year I can trace some increase of ease in my professional writing which I attribute to my casual half hours after tea."
“The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume 1: 1915-1919”, Ed. Anne Olivier Bell
She believed that her short journaling sessions, where she wasn't judged, where it was personal, where there was no requirement for the inner critic to have its say, allowed her to find a place where her writing came freely. This “slapdash” writing she attributed to improving not just her speed but also her creativity, from only thirty minutes a day of journaling.
To become skillful at taking comprehensive notes
Taking good notes is a skill. When combined with the need to take those notes quickly, it becomes a difficult skill.
It is easy to fool yourself into believing that you can scribble down enough notes at the time, for you to be able to make good use of them later. Yes it is easy to fool yourself about this; unfortunately, you almost certainly would be wrong.
The skill of taking comprehensive notes that are useful later requires repetition, both in the taking of notes and of using those notes. With each repetition and with each realisation of a note-taking shortcoming, the skill develops. There is no easy path to gaining this skill; it grows from trying, making mistakes and then trying again, but if you don’t practice, there will come a time when you need the skill but don’t possess it.
Because creative journaling requires you to be continuously observing, you will be continuously making notes and continuously getting that necessary practice.
To practice different writing styles
A journal is a criticism and expectation free zone. A zone that is useful for trying different writing styles. For example, suppose you want to get closer to a character, you could try rewriting a section from the first person perspective. It is not going to be published or even shown to your critique group, which makes for a liberating experience.
Key scenes could be written from the perspective of a different character or with different starting points. Maybe make a sections or sections more reflective, and so on. Trying to modify elements whilst sitting at your desk can be short lived by an internal pressure to return to working on the project, so losing any benefits from experimentation.
However, scribbling furiously in your journal, not being constrained by "is it good enough?" and "am I wasting time here?", frees you from that internal pressure. The prose can be poor, the grammar shoddy and the punctuation overlooked, but the content is there and it can speak volumes to you about where your project wants to go.
Photo credit: Dell Education Think Tank – London, by Dell Computers.
"Why Journal?: Journaling for training" by Andy Shackcloth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.