Jay on Journals

At my current job, we don't go out for lunch much. That's because we have a decent cafeteria in the building, and also because people have a very traditional work ethic about getting their jobs done so they can leave early. (It was just the opposite at the law firm--since we were going to be there until 10 at night anyway, we went out to lunch almost every day. What was the point of working through lunch when you didn't get to leave early?) But I have the habit of taking a break around noon, so during lunch, I read writing blogs. Blogs of authors, blogs of agents, blogs of editors. It's interesting to see how different people did different things.

And, on one for the blogs I read recently, the author (who shall remain nameless not because I'm trying to protect her, but because I can't find the link, so I don't actually remember her name) said that journalling is not writing.


I know! Because most writing advice websites and books and instructors strongly advocate journals. "Carry a notebook at all times!" they say. "Jot down things!" "Do this writing exercise!"

But the blogger I read before said all this is crap (not her words). "Writers WRITE", was the basic tenor of her advice. "They don't fool around with 'jotting.'"

And I have to say, I agree with her. And I keep a journal.

But those two things are very different--I keep a journal because I like it. I don't write a lot, just three paragraphs a day describing what happened to me that day, or what I'm thinking about or what I want to do. I keep it with me, because all of my other stuff goes in there, too--grocery lists, to do lists, notes on my phone conversations with the cable company or the phone company (with both of whom I have recurring drama--don't get me started), lists of books and music and DVDs I want to buy, lists of presents. If you have my notebook for a relevant month, you pretty much know what's going on in my life on a day-to-day basis.

Also in those notebooks is some of the background work I do for my writing. That epiphany I had about the secondary character I talked about here? Done in my notebook. When I broke the story for the sequel to The Book? In my notebook. When I have a flash of insight about a character? Notebook.

But I don't feel like the journal I keep is part of my "Writing," by which I mean the stuff I do that creates stories. I journal for me, based on the recommendation of Bryan Garner, who is my Official Legal Writing Hero. He says that lawyers should write everyday because it develops a feeling for language, which is important, especially when lawyers spend all day looking at legal documents in which the writing is, simply put, f***ing AWFUL. You have never seen writing this bad. Seriously. Since most lawyers don't spend enough time thinking about writing, a journal every day is more personal writing than most of them have ever done. It might not be as effective for someone like me, who spends A LOT of time thinking about writing, but I like it. So I keep a journal to maintain a brief record of my life. I write in my notebook. But it's not Writing.

In other words, the journaling I do is not a substitute for sitting down at my computer or in front of a piece of paper and actually creating scenes and dialogue. I could journal every day for the rest of my life and not have a novel that I could publish. I could do writing exercises every spare minute and never have completed a story. I like journaling, and I do it, but it shouldn't be confused with writing. Because it's not.*

*Obvs, your mileage may vary. As I told my friend Anonymous, I do not judge other people's processes. If writing exercises work for you, go forth and exercise. But don't make me do it.


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