Sunday, October 14, 2007

Surfing on the Edge

What difference does it make how long it's taken you to reach the place on the page where you stopped work this morning?

If you enjoy the process of writing... if you take pleasure in the search for words and the challenge of arranging those words on paper... what's the rush?

It's the writing, after all, not the publication, that brings meaning to your life, right?

But if you've reached a point where you're no longer enjoying the process, or where you may be confusing writing with publishing or having a hard time finding meaning--finding the pulse--in your work, perhaps it's time to begin keeping a journal.

A journal is where you can go to be alone.

You don't have to write for anyone else but yourself. There's no striving for public recognition or desire to please an audience, no goal except to put words on a page.

It's just you and the page and the thrill of seeing words emerge from your pen and the mystery and wonder of how that works... how your mind can have thoughts and how those thoughts can make themselves known to you as words on a page.

Every time you open your journal and begin writing, you never know what will emerge. That's what can be so compelling about journal writing. It's as if you're writing the story of your life as it unfolds, keeping notes, making a record, offering proof that you were here, that you existed.

Journal writing isn't always about getting the story down on paper, although journal writing can help you figure out ways to better tell a story that's tying you into knots.

Sometimes it's just about your ability to capture thoughts as they enter your mind and shoot down your arm into your pen onto the page.

Sometimes it's pure joy... where there's no judgment and no attachment to the words and no critical eye to shape the words... and you just accept whatever comes and don't re-read or revise... you just write.

Journal writing is like surfing on the edge of a wave.

Or like diving deep and holding your breath until you touch the bottom.

Journal writing's all about that moment of possibility... when every word is filled with meaning... and your writing is perfect... and the words say what you want them to say... and your reader knows exactly what you want to say... even before you put the words down.

It's sheer joy, this kind of writing.

Yes, there's always the moment when you wake up and realize that writing takes more than this.

There's the moment after you finish your journal entry when you understand that the process of crafting words into meaning requires thought and reflection and consideration for how the words will be interpreted by another human being.

But before then, before that moment, you write in a surge of emotion.

Only afterwards do you go back and revise to make your meaning clear so the words reveal your heart and whatever's hidden inside your heart that you want to share.

You can't be afraid to reveal your heart in this business... because as soon as you give in to fear the words will dry up and you'll be left with nothing but a blank page and despair.

So, if you want to find the pulse in your writing, the deeper meaning in your work, open a journal and start writing.

It won't take long before you surprise yourself.

For more information on keeping a journal, visit:


Anonymous said...

I've also found it helpful over the years to keep a separate journal specifically for the novel I'm working on. I use it to talk to myself and to my characters, and as a sort of arguing ground for plotting. Then I don't feel so much like I'm swimming alone.

I spent all morning reading through some of your blog posts--enjoyed it very much.

Anonymous said...


It sounds extraordinarily helpful to use the journal as a way to step back from your story--step off the page, so to speak--and explore what's happening on the page and in your heart.

Plus, the way this particular kind of journal helps you feel you're not swimming alone... that was also helpful to hear... and I wonder if other writers have found that their journals, when used in this way, offer similar comfort.

Thanks so much for stopping by and for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

"a point where you're no longer enjoying the process, or where you may be confusing writing with publishing or having a hard time finding meaning--finding the pulse--in your work"

You said, Bruce. Those are exactly the times when I find journal writing to be a sanctuary for my words. Journals are an important part of my life, gathering together every kind of detail about my personal world. I also recommend now and then rereading them. It's amazing what gems I find in journals I wrote years ago. Yes, most of it is mundane or simply catharsis, too much of it merely whining about what's going wrong. There's also gold in there if I take the time to pan for it.

Anonymous said...

"A sanctuary for my words..." is the perfect way to describe a journal, I think, where sanctuary is a place of refuge or protection... a place where you can go to find shelter, a dry haven, a safe harbor... out of the storm.

Thanks, Barbara.

gaelwriter said...

I like Randy's thoughts about a journal keyed to a current Ms. That might help free up the subconscious for insights into a current story. As for a day-to-day journal,I've kept one for very short intervals, and at sporadic times--typically during special events, like a wilderness trek. But I've rarely ever gone back to read them. Still, maybe the act of writing imprinted it deeper in my memory. Good discussion, Bruce.

Anonymous said...

Like you, I rarely go back to read journal entries.
It takes a certain courage, I think, to re-read them... but perhaps, as Barbara suggests, you can "find gold there if you take the time to pan for it."
Always good to see you here.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Jack--the act of writing imprints things deeper in my memory.

Sometimes when I'm trying to recapture a scene that I know I've already worked out somewhere in one of my many journals, I spend way too much time going back to try and find the original, only to discover that the way I remember it is almost exactly the same as it was originally written.

I remember back at Vermont College, very first residency, when Jackie Woodson said she has tons of journals in which she works out ideas, scenes, characters, etc. for her novels. So I asked, "but how do you ever find that stuff that you've written ages ago and want to use now?" And she said, "I don't have to." And now I know what she meant.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that story about you and Jackie. It's almost as if the act of writing in a journal carves the words--imprints them is how Jack described it, I think--in memory, where they're stored until you need them again.
Glad you stopped by.