Why I Still Keep a Writing Journal …

… even though I don’t actually write in it all that much.

Recently some of my compadres in the Codex writing group discussed who among us still wrote in longhand, and the benefits and drawbacks thereof. I followed the thread with mild interest, but didn’t contribute much. Now, a week into this web log experiment, I had a small insight.

In addition to the tactile pleasure of scratching ink onto paper, of seeing squiggly black lines that somehow convey meaning (even if I am the only one who can read them), my writing journal allows me something the computer — and the blog especially — does not: the freedom to record ideas and musings only half-formed. In contrast, in this venue and in my “serious” writing I try to produce entries that are, if not fully formed, at least close to complete and coherent. Even producing a first draft takes me a long time, because I want it to be a good draft. The notebook, though, collects for me the briefest snippets of thought, the most inane ramblings, and a hodgepodge of notes on scratch paper that I fully intend to transcribe … someday.

And the journal is infinitely patient with me, even if I am not so patient with myself. Maybe an entry will help explain. A little over a year ago I wrote (on journal page 2097),

The best thing about this little notebook is that it’s always here, ready for me to write in it. It doesn’t matter (except to me) how long I go between entries — the pages are always here, and if I use them all there will always be more, waiting to be written upon. That’s comforting, but in a way it’s also daunting.

My other projects line up and demand my immediate attention; my little notebook waits without complaint. Articles, stories, speeches, and even blog entries require a certain amount of precision and care; the journal tolerates my worst spelling, my most egregious grammar, and my most outrageous ideas. And that’s why, even though I use it far less than I should, I still keep my writing journal.

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While we’re on the topic of writing, founding Codexian Luc Reid has a great entry in his blog on the myth of writer’s block: Writer’s Block: Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself.

If it really existed, writer’s block would be the inability to write. If we look at this idea for a moment, we begin to notice that it doesn’t make much sense. Is a person with writer’s block physically unable to put words on a page? If they are, it’s not called “writer’s block,” but rather “paralysis” or “death” or “extreme drunkenness.” So people with writer’s block can clearly write. Presumably what a person’s saying when she or he talks about having writer’s block, then, is the inability to write anything good….

Of course, there’s one more possible kind of writer’s block: having trouble writing because you don’t really like to write, and don’t feel compelled to. Some writers talk about not enjoying the process of writing, but they’re compelled to do it anyway. Either compulsion or enjoyment will work, but if you don’t like to sit down and write and you don’t feel driven to do it, then you can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing you don’t have writer’s block: that just means you’re not really a writer.

I relate to both situations: the fear that I’m not going to be able to write anything good, and that I’m not really a writer. But then I write something and prove that at least one of those notions is wrong.

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