5 Reasons Writers Should Keep a Journal

In another article, 3 Reasons Everyone Should Keep a Journal, I’m talking very generally about the benefits of keeping a journal and is geared towards anyone that wants to put pen to paper. This article, however, goes one step further and discusses a few reasons why writers should be keeping a journal as part of their daily writing habit/obsession.

Dreams

The first thing I am going to mention is dreams. I included dreams in the aforementioned sister article, and my claim was that writing down your dreams can help you see deeper into yourself, and I think that’s true and beneficial for everyone.

For writers, there is something else that recording your dreams can provide you: the possibility to plumb the depths for poetry and plot.

If you are a fiction writer, you can use your dreams to spark anything from narratives to plot twists. That shady character whose face you never quite see: wouldn’t he make a great antagonist? Creepy location? Perfect for that scene you’d just been tinkering with the other day.

I often find myself drifting off to sleep with a story question floating around in my noodle and more often than not, I wake up in the morning with the answer. But there is a warning. Dreamstuff doesn’t always make sense and sometimes needs a bit of tweaking, but the seed grows into a plant, right?

If you are a poet, you might compose a set of surrealist poems based on your dream-worldly experiences like so many talented poets have done. See John Berryman, Sara Arvio, and Sinead Morrissey, to name a few.

Our dreams inspire us. Many cultures believe dreams are sacred/holy/messages from above/below/somewhere/is that you, uncle Jim? But I’m happy enough to settle on dreams being the way our brain re-sets itself to be ready for another day of being furiously human.

Side Note

I just want interrupt myself to say that you don’t have to journal the way I journal. I think it’s obvious that journaling is an extremely personal process and you can journal any way that you deem fit. But just in case you’re just starting out, or are drawing a blank, I wanted to throw a few ideas out there for those the might need them, and you can tailor your practice to your particular needs.

Okay, to return.

Lines for Poems Past

Oh, these. Even if I have convinced myself that a poem is finished, my brain doesn’t always think so. It sometimes knocks on the door and asks, “Do you have a pen handy? Because BLART!” Blart, of course, being the line of poetry as suggested by brain. I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term for it.

So then you decide to dig up that poem and its resurfacing means much more editing, self-doubt, nail-biting, over-caffeination, and a resulting lack of sleep. Sigh. It’s tough, but that line could change the face of the earth—! And if not the earth, the poem, which is important enough in its own right.

Lines for Poems Future

How many times have I had a great line that I swore to myself that I would remember only to forget it literally seconds later? So. Many. Times. Remember those lines guys. Your future poem-spawn depend on you keeping the fantastic lines that sneak up behind you and hit you in the forehead, or the ones you painstakingly compose in your mind while you’re elbow-deep in dishwater. Make sure it gets into your notebook, even if you write it on a pad and tap it in later.

Alternatively, you could write those random lines onto cue cards, stick them in a bowl, and fish one out when the well is dry. It’s a guarantee you’ll always have a little spark to work with, and sometimes that little spark is all you need.

Mundane to Metaphor

You know, sometimes it’s good to note simple things, things you notice in your daily life that could seem trivial, but if looked at differently, are actually huge. You can craft a wicked poem from the mundane and provide your readers with a revelatory and mind-blowing experience. I’ve seen it done—and maybe have even done it myself. See poems like Cut by Sylvia Plath and Mending Wall by Robert Frost.

Anything and Nothing

I don’t have this one as part of my personal practice, but mention it because I recently had a sneak peek into a friend’s notebook and he had been doing some automatic writing—AKA psychography—which is where a person would hold a pen and move it around a page, but actually let their unconscious/spirits/something else provide content. I like the idea and contemplate trying it, but anticipate getting spooked. (I get spooked.) For more info, read this Wikipedia page.

Journal Entry Brainstorm

I’m going to go into list mode. Here are some things you might find in my notebook.

  • all manner of lists, to do lists, grocery lists, writing supply lists (need those pens!)
  • recipes for things
  • quotes I find helpful
  • cat stickers Emily gave me
  • weird pieces of paper or bits of stuff I don’t know why I like
  • washi tape to hold said weird bits
  • if I made a connection between things I’ve written that share subject matter or tone, and could therefore end up collected into a zine or chapbook, and notes on how each would change each
  • poems
  • doodles of random stuff
  • memories that got triggered for one reason or another
  • words that I like or find curious
  • words to look up to see if I invented them or if they’re real (surprisingly often are real)
  • words in Danish as I’m (slowly) learning the language
  • titles for poems; existing ones or some yet to be written (sometimes the egg comes first)
  • lines of dialogue I have heard/imagined/imagined I heard
  • ideas for fiction; settings, plot points, themes, aristotelean trinities
  • scenes for fiction pieces in progress
  • scenes for fiction pieces that have yet to be fleshed out/written
  • lots about The Story Grid as I’m studying it
  • birthdays I don’t want to forget
  • books to research/borrow/purchase
  • things people say or do that ring, one might call synchronicities (thanks, Jung)
  • notes about novels I am reading (beats, devices, tricks, things I like/dislike, etc)
  • notes on poetic craft/metre and rhyme schemes I’m working on
  • things I don’t understand but want to (stuff to research)
  • something one of the cats did, like yarking on the heater (What is that smell? It’s hot cat yark.)
  • really anything. What did you do today? Do your pants have spots or stripes?

In the End, it’s About Habit…

We humans are creatures of habit and I think by making a conscious decision to write, the more second-nature writing will become until it’s a necessity for some semblance of internal wellbeing. Studies have been done to discover how long it takes to form a habit, and the results are varied and all depends on the type of person you are, which makes perfect sense.

I have gotten to a point that if I don’t do some kind of writing or writing-based activity every single day, I feel off, unbalanced, and not like myself. A journal entry, a blog post, a scene in a fiction piece, a poem, even typing up a scribble. It all counts as far as the habit is concerned.

…But it’s Also About Time and Place

Some writers decide on a specific time to do their work because that is what fits into their schedule. Some—like myself—jot things down on a fairly regular basis and keep their journal on hand throughout their day. Others have been able to detect what time of day they’re at their most performant and work the rest of their lives around that. Are you an early bird, a night owl, or a midday fowl? Find out and use it to your advantage. Also, don’t discredit the possibility that your optimal working time can change. Before I went to university, I was undoubtedly a night owl. I’m finding that after, and as I get older, I have my moments of clarity earlier in the morning, usually while walking or doing something mundane and usual, like making tea and toast.

Wasn’t it William Wordsworth that took long walks in the Grasmere moors to get his mind to the place he needed to be to write? You need two places then; the place your body can physically do the writing, and the place your mind needs to be to do the writing.  I know it sounds complicated, but don’t be intimidated. You can do this.

You might have a specific and cozy location in your home designated for this purpose. You might have a local library or coffee shop that suits the mood. and even when you have what you think is the perfect location, you have to do something to get to “the place”. Read a favourite passage, recite a mantra, doodle on the page to get your pen ready, pretend to play a piano scale, crack your knuckles. Have a thing—and do it. Writers of all levels are going to keep telling you this—DO IT! Do the work.

Find what is best for you. Then—repeat.

The Autumn of Jane Austen

The thing about Jane Austen is that as of the end of 2016, I had never read any of her novels. Which means that I never got Jane Austen references, or Jane Austen jokes, which really started to chafe. And so I decided to remedy that; from end-October to Christmas I read all of them in this order:

25-27 October 2016 | Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen | 4 stars

25-28 November 2016 | Emma by Jane Austen | 3 stars

29-30 November 2016 | Persuasion by Jane Austen | 3 stars

9-10 December 2016 | Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen | 3 stars

14 December 2016 | Mansfield Park by Jane Austen | 3 stars

22 December 2016 | Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen | 4 stars

I enjoyed these books. Perhaps not my favourite genre, but the writing was good and I did keep on reading, the characters were well-developed, my favourite being Fanny Price from NA.

Another great thing was that I had the lot in my stash of TO-BE-READ books.

If, like me, you never read these or have resisted reading them, they’re worth it. If you have and want MORE, then check out Elisabeth Gaskell, she is also great.

Happy reading,

AF

Boss Cupid—Thom Gunn

This collection was published in 2000 and I have had it on my shelf for a while and I’m completely guilty of not having gotten to it. I so very often do this, and I am sure many other book lovers do the same—


 The back cover says that the poems are “…of fluent grace, as formal as they are relaxed.” This is a true thing.

The poem I enjoyed most was Arethusa Saved for this bit:

But Artemis opened

                                   many earth-entrances,

cracks underneath her

                                    hair-thin but deep. 

Down them the girl slips

                                    soaking out of sight

And I found the entire poem incredibly vivid but the line Down them the girl slips really got my heart beating. I’ve always had—and continue to have—a peculiar love of unusual syntax. Also S sounds.

Here is the poem in its entirety, however, keep in mind that the online version is not the format of the print version; every second line is tabbed, as you can see by looking at the section I quoted.

I am also quite fond of the poems Hi and Rapallo.

I found the cover quite interesting in the context of not only the poet, his life and experiences, and the fact that it was painted by Lucian Freud—Interior with Hand Mirror.

It’s pretty intricate, the type of looking-in that poets need to do. It is a good choice of a cover. The poet obviously has a clear look at life, and writes about it through that filter in a matter-of-fact way but at the same time, is delicate when necessary. I can’t tell you that he is a confessional poet but I read that he acknowledges many of his poems are about his life. As always, more research is required.

Happy reading—

AF

Horns—Joe Hill

Although I started Horns by Joe Hill (2010) last October for a little Hallowe’en fun, I went on a writing streak while taking a two-month poetry workshop, and ended up setting it aside for a while. I find it irksome to do that but sometimes it’s unavoidable! When the workshop ended in December I made myself a pile of the reading I had to catch up on and this book was amongst them.

It’s about a young man that grows horns. I won’t provide more of a synopsis here because I would not want to spoil the plot, but I will encourage those who like this dark  subject matter to read it. I very much enjoyed the writing, the conceit, and the non-linear execution. I enjoy, and maybe even favour third person limited.

I do have a favourite scene–which involve snakes, fire, and a monologue. Dark? Definitely. But so very complex at the same time; it was not just scary for the sake of fear, it was scary that included a certain, I want to say buildup of feelings and reasoning behind it.

Joe Hill’s first book won the Bram Stoker award for best first novel in the category of Horror, however, psychological thriller is what I would call Horns; there is mystery and intrigue, a love triangle (spoiler alert!), and a delving into human nature, which I am afraid, is not very positive.

On a side note, the book includes a short story that was also published in the compilation Stories by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio that is worth a browse.
Happy reading,

AF

Update—July 2016

Last week, I saw the film based on Horns starring Daniel Radcliffe, and I thought it was true enough to the book that I can say it was good. Things are missing and things are added, but that is only a natural part of the process of book-to-movie.

You—Caroline Kepnes

Because I have mixed feelings about this novel, I spent yesterday evening—after finishing the book—wondering if I should write a post about it at all. It’s possible and even probable that I will be flip-flopping, so please bear in mind that I don’t have a fully-formed opinion about it yet. It could be that in writing this post—which I have obviously decided to write—that I will end with something somewhat cohesive.
It’s the first book of its kind that I have read—and by its kind, I mean a novel about a stalker. I should elucidate: a stalker whose main tool for accomplishing said stalking is his use of the internet and social media. It gets points from me for originality, but I am sure there are many other books about stalkers that I have not read, and I am sure there will be more, from this author or from others.
I need to mention that this book needed to be written, because internet privacy is inexistent and people don’t seem to be conscious of it, myself included. It is necessary to know about privacy and I think young girls should read it—hoping of course that the intertextuality and music references don’t go over their heads!

There are definitely things about this novel that deserve praise, and one of them is the genuine psychological traits of each character. Everyone’s got something, and if that’s not true to life then I don’t know what is, though I feel like the parts of characters we see are the tip of the iceberg. Again, that’s true to life, though in fiction I think we like to get more information as quickly as possible so that we feel we know the characters inside and out. This is not always possible with real people in real life.

So. Narration. I had a hard time getting into this book because it is written in the second person and I find the tone off-putting and accusatory. After getting a quarter of the way through, I got used to the style and I understand why it was done that way, but that is not to say that I liked it any better after that point.

In fact, I didn’t.

So the thing about a book and about having a narrator at all is that there is a narraror, and one must be aware of that and understand that the story is being told from the perspective of someone. That someone might not even necessarily be the author either, and generally isn’t. The Book Thief is narrated by Death, but Death did not write the book, but Markus Zusak did, writing as Death, so we have the sensibilities of both the author and the narrator. Someone who writes a memoir is the narrator though, so you are only seeing through one sensibility, which is definitely not to say that it is more reliable a text. Because the narrator could be a persona or construction of the author, not only is a story and is written down and thus removed from immediacy and fact, it is also removed by the fact that there is a narrator and we are always wondering about how reliable that narrator is.

So the narrator. Let’s open that can of worms.

The particular narrator in this novel is a stalker and a murderer, though we don’t know the latter initially. It is in the first person and in the present tense so there are sentences like “You are texting me right now.” but in actual fact it would be hard for him to be walking down the street reading a text, answering the text, and on top of it writing the novel that we as readers are reading. He is supposed to be 17 and yet he is the manager of a bookstore. It seems to me that he is a lot older than he says he is, and his confidence and prowess mirror that assumption. And holy crow, does the guy have spare time. But I guess that is a must for a stalker.

If he was in his mid-to-late-twenties I would have found it more believable, but it does not take much to distrust a narrator. Not that I trust him at all—he is a stalker—and all the psyclological baggage that goes along with being one.

I imagine it was a complicated piece to write, and all things said, very well done. It might not jive with me but it probably took lots of planning—and lots of guts—to write.

To talk a bit about the main female character and object of the narrator’s obsession, Beck, is in the process of getting her MFA and it got me a little bit worked up because all it seemed like she was doing was sleeping around and only writing an eensy weensy bit. I’m not sure. I got through my Bachelor’s in Creative Writing in Literature and it was hard, and I assume a Master’s is harder and more pointed, more focused, and so on. Do we see her actually writing anything, anything she herself thinks is worthy? A writer needs to be a ‘writer who writes’ and works hard and I am not convinced she is who she is portrayed to be, but that also ties in to the reliability of the narrator. I saw her more as a college student taking a writing class that she loves, but as I said, we see through his filter.

Beck’s first name is Guinevere, invoking that great beauty, and of course, adultery.

Please take this post lightly. The book did not make me feel good in any way, and I didn’t like any of the characters, but despite that I feel like it is one of those creepy books that stays in your mind for a long time, and some people consider those retained memories a part of what makes a book good. I think a book like this is supposed to make a person feel uncomfortable and gross. If it makes someone feel good…I would start to worry about them.

Also this quote:

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

The commentary on human nature is—what can I say? Frightening.

When I finished it, to my shock, there was a snippet of the sequel. I’m not going to read it but I am going to start counting my knickers.

Best and until next time,

AF

The Kingfisher—Mark Tredinnick

From the Global Poetry Anthology 2011, page 40. This poet won a 50,000$ prize! Amazing!

This is a ten-line poem which has been turned sideways on the page to accommodate the long lines and indents. I appreciate it because of the way I have to change the orientation of the book to read it. I have to change to read it. Actually, it might be my first time seeing it in a poetry compilation. I’ve seen it in art+poetry books but rarely in books with only poetry. It’s different and refreshing.

To speak of the poem itself, it is captivating. I like how the process of flying is like a self-projection, as if the bird imagines where it wants to be and just flies there. I love how it is described as “a dark electricity”. The poem is so compressed and well crafted and it kindly describes my own thoughts feelings about birds. I love poems that tell me something that I have not thought of!

I adore the last two lines of the poem. I don’t get to say this often, but I admire the poet’s use of that evanescent moment when one sees something as simple as a bird flying—but that the moment is grand and awe-inspiring. The awe definitely shows through here, without sounding too floaty, hifalutin, or—I’m sorry to say this—like a stoned hippy. It has great balance and images. The poet is Australian and from what I have read in articles, he writes about about nature and the natural world. I don’t know if that makes him a nature poet. I’ll have to investigate.

I have a little problem with “a plump/trim elegance of intent” because I feel like plump and trim together make one big-tiny oxymoron. BUT, in defence of that, I can see why a kingfisher with its bowed belly would be plump, and I definitely see and like the trim elegance of intent. So I’m just not sure about that little gray area. I’m sure my poems are 100% gray areas but. You know.

Happy reading!

AF

Cut—Sylvia Plath

I decided to write about a poem I have mixed feelings for. It is called Cut.

I like a lot of things about the poem. The comparisons that are being made are wonderful: the cut as a hinge, the Indian/pilgrim, turkey wattle, the homunculus, and the blood as soldiers where the speaker calls them ”red coats” on line 20. (Shall I say Plath instead of the speaker since she is considered a confessional poet?) These are all great images, so vivid. I am a fan of imagistic poems, I guess that is obvious.

I don’t know if I have just made it up from my reading experience, but I call this sort of poem “domestic confessionalism” since it has to do with the home/the place where Plath was cutting an onion. Regular confessional poetry I feel is maybe more internal? I could be totally off my rocker, but the sub-classes are different in my mind. I should really do more research on that. Always more research.

http://www.internal.org/Sylvia_Plath/Cut

Above is a link to the poem, which is ten verses of four lines so short that sometimes they’re only one word. Sometimes poems with short lines like that get choppy and interrupt the reading (for effect or not!) but I have to say that this one reads well. I can hear a sarcastic female voice reading the poem. Oh wait. That’s me.

Moving on to the things that I don’t like about the poem.

Verse 4—The bottle of pink fizz. I am assuming this is some sort of medication or seltzer to fight nausea from that time. It just catches me up because I don’t know what it is. The next thing is the thing that really makes my skin crawl, the rhymes ill, pill, kill in the sixth verse. ::writhing:: But then it is all made better when I read the line “The balled | Pulp of your heart”. That’s a beaut.

Last thing—the second to last line of the poem ”Dirty girl”. I get the gist of what it means I just don’t like it.

So there you have it!

Next month I will be writing about animal poems! Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Actually none of those animals :3 but come and check it out anyway!

Best,

AF