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.
One of the types of entry in a journal will be from observations and descriptions of the things you encounter. Let us just spend a while considering the differences between these two terms.
Some journal entries can be a straightforward list of observations. This list may then form a scene or be no more than a collection of facts.
"Norman Church, grey flint, white lime mortar, altar of grey sandstone, peeling paint, crazed varnish, black pews with rounded edges, delicate glass held by sagging lead, plaster patched…"
Or the entry can be all the same facts plus the fleeting uncertain extras that occur whilst observing, the combination of which makes for an emotive description;
"A Norman Church. Does it point south? Square tower missing to the north. Grey flint buried in lime mortar, gouged deeply between the flints by the weather. The altar in the same dour grey but now sandstone and carved ornately. The paint is peeling from the walls and the same lack of love shows in the cracked varnish of the wood. #?Why does ancient varnish crack and craze? Yet the black ancient oak pews demonstrate the love of ages where hands and bustle have rounded and polished edges where people touch. Delicate glass with its delicate Latin inscriptions, glows with the southern(?) light, the sagging lead in the glazing having more strength than its appearance immediately suggests. Wherever you look there are wounds in the plaster, patched with inelegant repairs, all adding to the feeling of decay. Mirroring the decay of the Church's potency perhaps…"
Which style you use is your choice and that choice will vary. If you need to get the facts/feelings down quickly as you zoom past on the tour bus, then the machine gun style of the first example, just firing down key words, will capture sufficient detail to allow for later recall of much of the scene.
If you have more time or if soon after you can make some time, then expanding the entry to include thoughts, feelings and questions that accompanied the observation, will provide so much more food for your memory. Then whenever you review an entry, it will have the power to snap you back through time and space to the very moment that the observations were made.
Of course, when journaling for creativity we can also use video, photographs, sketches, sound recordings and physical samples to further complete the entry. (Don’t forget to pop the date on them so that you can later find them from your placeholder entry.)
It is important to attempt to capture as many different aspects and nuances of a situation as possible. To do this it is good to use your available media wisely. Don’t waste your time describing details if you can take a photograph, but do use the time this frees to describe what your emotions and senses are experiencing. Then upon review, your evocative descriptions produce effortless, full visualisations of the scenes.
These full visualisations can be so important when you wish to work from an entry at a later date. For example, the author Michele Weldon when describing her thinking of how to convey something from the page to her readers, said;
"I needed to use my words as if I were describing a sunset to a blind person."
Michele Weldon, “Writing to save your life”
Which is a difficult enough task in itself, but consider attempting such a description when you only have old, incomplete and cryptic journal entries to draw from.
Note that in the example description used above, there are questions directed to the writer that have been included in the description. Don't be afraid to include questions; often these will bring back more than just the visualisation, often a question also brings back your state of mind at the time.
Of all the observations and descriptions written, photos taken, sketches draw and sounds recorded, you may use hardly any or none. Maybe only the observation eventually used is that ancient oak is black and not brown, as you might otherwise assume. Yet without that observation being recorded, new and interesting words may never be written.
A word of caution. As touched on above, do not be tempted to write cryptic one-off codes or sensations that are incompletely explained, for it is with the utmost certainty that you will not be able to decipher in the coming months, what was once utterly obvious to you. It is far, far better to write one emotive sentence than two cryptic ones.
And finally, once you have adopted a habit of regularly reviewing your journals, certain entries that have lost meaning due to their brevity will become apparent. Such entries are valuable lessons; they show where you can improve your game. Learn from them, so that you will be able to make entries that stand the test of time and so make your journal work for you.
If you have any tips or thoughts on recording descriptions or observations in your journal, we would love to hear what you have to say. Please do leave your tips and thoughts in the comments area below.
Photo credit: Cliddesden Church, by Neil Howard.