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 ‘For organisation’ section of that post, expanding the ideas and exploring their benefits in our quest of how to journal. and what is a journal.
To focus on a direction
A creative journal is not a mere passive collection of observations and thoughts, it has the ability to be dynamic and provide support for you. The simple act of reviewing your journal, of reviewing previous thoughts, previous concerns, can provide focus for your thoughts and guidance for your actions.
To set goals
The discipline of setting goals is not usually thought of as part of a creative culture. However, goals form a very useful function when working on your project. Because once we have made the commitment to write them down and can ‘see’ them, we then automatically take them more seriously. This is because it is no longer just one half of your mind that is working on it. By making a visual representation both your logical-self and your creative-self begin to work towards a solution.
Without the commitment of pinning them down, goals tend to slip and slide, becoming vague as the separate centres of your mind follow their own and often very conflicting agendas.
To make your main goal effective, it is best to make it easily visible on a daily basis. Joanna Penn stresses this when advising on how to writea book.
"Have your goal in mind, write it down in bold lettering on the front cover, and let it guide you."
Joanna Penn, “From Idea to Book”
Whether it is on the front cover of your creative journal, on a book mark, on a screen saver, on the fridge door; by placing it on some, all or even more such places, provides constant visual reminders to you of your goal. The more visual are the representations, the more involved your creative-self will be.
So just by using your journal to frequently remind you of your dreams can make all the difference of them ever being realised.
To map or overview a project
Having a final goal is only part of the directional help that a creative journal can give you. Keeping a separate summary within your journal will allow you to easily view all the main parts of the project, for example; the story arc, promotion, jacket design, publishing options etc. Reviewing the summary regularly will ensure that they are fresh in your mind, making certain that nothing is forgotten or worked on to the detriment of other sections.
To help clear your thoughts
Sometimes it is hard to get started simply because there is too much to consider, to decide on, to finish, and so we become leaden with intention and indecision. We shuffle among all the different intentions, repeatedly arriving at each one but never remaining long enough to be successful.
Journaling during these times about what you are attempting to achieve, allows you to gain a good grasp of what you want to do and what is really important right now. It frees up the mind by minimising the distractions, leaving behind only the important actions to concentrate on.
To gain awareness of own thinking
One great advantage of reviewing previous journal entries comes when you observe some of your own predispositions or shifts in thinking. The journal becomes a mirror with your heart reflected in all the short scribblings. It is not just your notebook that can do this. By listening to audio journals or watching video journals, you are able to see yourself as if looking through the eyes of others.
"For me, such inquiry into my own unconscious, however unavoidably incomplete, helps me to write with a greater understanding, and sometimes to move deliberately beyond past obsessions, or at least move into new ones."
Reginald Gibbons, from "The Writers Journal", edited by Sheila Bender
It is because journals hold so many raw, unedited thoughts that they have the power to do this. Nothing else you write will allow such intimate understanding.
To organise content
As you go about your daily life, you are certain to have some good ideas on aspects of your project. Ideas which always seem to occur at the most inopportune times.
Similarly whilst writing, creative thoughts seldom occur in an orderly fashion and you can be certain that when you are working on say an important love scene, your active creative mind will also throw up ideas about perhaps; a car chase, a betrayal, a summer ball or gelatinous aliens from Centuri Slime.
Your creative journal allows you to collect all these, to evaluate them and reorganise them.
Random thoughts about promotion, story arc, font selection, character developments, research required, endorsements etc., that occur to you during odd moments or whilst you are working, can all be placed in their appropriate places whilst the remainder can form an eclectic collection within a composting section of the journal.
Journals, because of their availability, naturally lend themselves to containing lists. Most people will consider a list as the epitome of the organised, logical mind but we can view lists as intrinsic to both the logical-mind and the creative-mind.
Logical lists will include to-do lists, shopping lists, contacts lists, reading lists etc. They are useful, functional and are often characterised by a stark appearance.
Creative lists may include; interesting names, inventive ways to die, inspiring descriptions, notable vistas, exotic places (maybe to visit, maybe imaginary), exotic people, opening sentences, etc. Creative lists lend themselves to creative mind games, the results of which can be chaotic on the page or drawn as mindmaps or cluster diagrams.
A few of the more important lists are;
A list to calm the noise
Disturbing, nagging and persistent thoughts can destroy not just a person’s creativity but also seriously harm their ability to be productive in non-creative activities.
Thoughts like these are described by Jon Kabat-Zinn as “mind propaganda” and it is possible to control them.
“doing what needs taking care of… but they can also be ways to keep ourselves distracted”
Jon Kabat-Zinn, “Coming to Our Senses”
By tucking such thoughts into a list which is to be acted on later, they can be calmed, as if they are content that some eventual future action is now promised. Finally once freed from these distractions, the mind can maintain focus and concentration.
A name collection
Names can also be collected in lists and with a little creative thought, they can come alive. Set aside a page or two that are an easy flip of a few pages from the front or the back and make these your ‘names’ pages. Collect on them any names you find interesting, not just integral names but also parts of names that are pleasing to your ear.
"Learn the names of everything: birds, cheese, tractors, cars, buildings. A writer is all at once everything — an architect, French cook, farmer — and at the same time, a writer is none of these things."
Natalie Goldberg, “Writing down the bones: Freeing the writer within”
Then, to engage the creative mind in what was otherwise a non-creative task, add to each name any emotions or images that it evokes, e.g.
Stockard: Robust, earthy, reliable, likes flowers, bit of a ladies’ man given the chance
Tyrisa: Elven nobility, slender, implacable, rider of unicorns
Once full, name pages can be transferred to a dedicated ‘names’ journal.
A reading list
A reading list in a creative journal tends to be larger and more engaging than a simple list. Each entry in the list may be a significant entry. As you consider the literature around you, you will come across popular books, renowned books and the occasional dire book that has caught your interest. Add them to a reading list and scribble down why you wish to read it and your expectations of it, e.g.
"Twilight; Stephanie Myers:- Millions of people love, even rave about, it. What is its power over young and some older readers? Are the new vampires an improvement or an odd mechanism? What cost is there, to love a vampire?"
The technique of leaving questions and messages to yourself is a fundamental part of creative journaling, but when leaving questions to yourself, consider if you are leaving those messages for your logical-self or creative-self?
To talk to yourself
As you journal, new thoughts naturally surface, other things to do or consider pop up in your mind. Simple actions can be added to a to-do list tucked inside the front cover, whilst larger more involved thoughts can be turned into journal entries and marked with a task symbol (we will cover these in the section on navigation symbols).
Turning the thoughts into journal entries of their own allows you to consider them thoroughly, whilst the thoughts that drove them are fresh and available. The entry may consist of no more than a collection of questions, but without your creative journal many of those thoughts and their associated thinking would be lost.
Then, whilst reviewing them later, the entries will become messages to you and your creative-self.
Photo credit: Collection – B&W, by E Hoyer.
"Why Journal?: Journaling for organisation" by Andy Shackcloth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.