Friday, October 26, 2007


I often discuss writing journals with other writers and am surprised by the resistance I find. Here are some common objections:

"I don't want to write in something everyday, it's too confining. It makes me feel like I'm back in school." "I forget to write entries and then I feel 'what's the use?'" "If I have something to write, then I would prefer it be a story."

Writers' journals are fine for some. Not fine for others. I love them.

My wife bought me a journal of crisp white paper with an attractive, sturdy leather binding. I take it with me most everywhere I go and write in it on a daily basis. In it are passages which will sometimes end up in short stories, or sometimes I'll write detailed outlines for stories I am considering. Occasionally I will set down three or four story concepts, often no longer than a few sentences, hoping this will spur me to write. It's not for everybody, but it works for me.

Here is an example from my writers' journals of ideas which may or may not become something. I'll write them down exactly as they were in my journal just to show the process I go through. Who knows if any of the ideas will become anything:

The Statues- a man moves onto a block with curious and imaginative children. They are in awe when he puts on his lawn two or three grotesque statues. The children start to notice that the statues poses seem to change slightly from day to day.

When The Weathervane Lied- 1930's. A poor farming family in Oklahoma is about to lose its farm. Grandmother: "Fortunes change --weathervane says so." The family faces a murderous dust storm. Someone comes to the door, a thin man with a bandana over his nose and mouth. The grandmother sees him and says: "Don't let him in!" The father gives the stranger charity.

Stranger: "Funny thing about doin' good. People reach out and give a man a hand up. Sometimes they do it and it's automatic. They just do good without thinking about it. They just do." Father: "It's Christian to be charitable." Stranger: "Is it Christian when charitability becomes a habit." Father: "I don't get your meaning." Stranger: "The old lady didn't want me in here. The old lady was right." Father: "Ma don't mean nothin'." Stranger: "But she was right. You should have listened to her. When I leave here in the next couple minutes, I'm takin' your children with me."

Finding The Road: A Nazi concentration camp officer is shown to be a normal individual. Whatever his conflict is, the concentration camp must be nothing but a background, all violence and gore portrayed in a mundane manner. The story is theme driven, showing that the Nazis are not monsters, but humans doing monsterous things. As such, the terror should be found in the potential for all of us to play the role of monster.


Franki said...

Thanks for this look into your private ruminations! How very interesting!

As an artist, I carry a digital camera and snap a pic if I see something that sparks my imagination.

Christina said...

I keep a writers journal. I'm on my 11th book now because they fill up so quickly. I have lately been trying to organize them and found a lot of ideas for stories that I had scribbled down and had forgotten about. I love having an extra notebook to write in when I can't lug my computer around. Great Entry, it really hits home with me.

Kate S said...

You know, I'd never really thought of it as journaling, but I've probably got dozens of notebooks scattered about my place--some from year back--with snippets of ideas, an observation or two, lists of lists, and whatnot.

Does that count?

spyscribbler said...

I love to write. I blog, LOL, as if you didn't know, and I have a file where I pour all my complainings and whinings and fussings.

I can't, however, write in journals. I am in love with the blank page. If I do pen letters in one of those journals, I end up trying to make my letters pretty. But really, I much prefer running my hands over the blank page, flipping through the blank journal, thinking of all the possibilities.

If it had a delete key, I might consider it ...

Stewart Sternberg said...

franki, I think writers should take a lot of photos too. Pictures are great inspiration and they help in nailing description.

Christina, I have books going back some twenty years. I love going through the old ones and seeing where I was emotionally and intellectually at that time. Sometimes I read something and say: "Wow, is that me? Did I write that?"

Kate...lists, snippets,'s all journaling. I even write a paragraph every so often about what is going on in the news.

My God, Spy. I love fresh paper too...but like virgins, I have an urge to despoil and corrupt.

Charles Gramlich said...

Cool entries. I keep a journal as motivation. Each day I record what I did in writing or for my writing. I do make notes like you indicate here, but tend to make them in other files, labeled "story ideas" for example.

spyscribbler said...

Hah! Stewart, you crack me up.

Jon said...

If a blank screen in Word is intimidating, a new, fresh journal is even more so. But I do, from time to time, journal. I bought a new one for myself. I'll try again.

BTW, I posted. Yeah it's a retread, but Happy Halloween anyway.

miller580 said...

I too, journal...if you can call it that (these days). I started when I was a kid (15 or 16) mostly using spiral notebooks. I did this up until the last few years.

For the last few years I have tried different styles of "journals" I switched because these books were small enough to shove in my back pocket. Spiral notebooks were too hard to carry around all the time. But since I have started using this style, I found that the books have become a hybrid journal/to do list/oh that’s a cool website....must write down address type of narrative. But still, if I had not switched, I would not have written the sentence about the old woman who brought her own maraca to a wedding and created her own rhythm to dance to.

I also have been taking more pictures...gotta love the digital age...I took one this last week of an abandoned gas station. It’s on the middle of a busy street, yet it stands alone like it was in a ghost town. It had the old school analog pumps (the ones where the numbers roll). The reason it really intrigued me was the fact that it has been sitting there empty since gas was $1.something.

Mark Rainey said...

For many years, I regularly kept a journal called "The Log," and I'm glad I did, particularly back during the 70s and 80s. In recent years, I've only scribbled in it sporadically; anything I'd write in The Log I pretty much blog anymore. I never kept writer's notes in it to speak of, though now and again I'd write down a particularly memorable dream. I still do that, though, on occasion, especially if it's ripe for material I can use in fiction.

SQT said...

I have the spiral notebook kind of journal. I don't write in them everyday, but I have a ton of them lying around with different thoughts and ideas. My kids keep trying to grab them and use them for drawing paper but I've managed to salvage them so far.

Sidney said...

Harlan Ellison has a great story, quite different from your note but of a similar theme. An old man is sitting at a restaurant and keeps seeing the faces of Nazis on a New York street, suggesting that the evil that drove Nazis is still present in the world and care must be taken to prevent a resurgence.

My boss and I both received small spiral notebooks with logos as a reminder gift from a potential vendor. My boss said: "I think I'll start a blog but I'll do it on paper."

ShadowFalcon said...

I'm in two minds about journals, I keep a very infrequent one but wish I could be as linear as the other ones that I read. It tend to be a collection for random thoughts and emotions rather then anything coherent...
The way you keep your writers journal reminds me of Roald Dahl, he'd jot down any idea he had in a few lines and come back to it later - thus giving birth to classics like charlie and the chocolate factory and the witches.