“Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.” — Francis Bacon
Learning how to keep a consistent diary or journal is a great start in becoming a prolific and fearless writer.
When I was in grade school, I was one of the countless students who rolled their eyes and groaned at the prospect of keeping a journal. Writing down my inner-most thoughts and feelings was something that only frilly girls did, and no self-respecting boy would ever be caught doing that. Then, one day, our third grade class was assigned a journal to keep over the course of the year. Writing fiction was no problem for me, but a journal was nothing short of embarrassing. I begrudgingly finished the assignment and vowed to never submit myself to this kind of torture ever again.
The fourth grade, however, was a sharp turning point and I found myself using every last scrap of paper in my notebook and every loose lunch menu, school photo reminder and spare work sheet to write down all my thoughts and feelings and draw out all my frustrations and dreams. On top of that, I was completely unapologetic about it. I didn’t care who saw me or what other people would think of my endeavors. It was something I had to do and no one was going to stop me.
But why the sudden change?
First of all, I believe that writing begins with learning how to render the things one sees into words and paragraphs with the lens of perception rather than the filter of biased opinion. When one realizes that the words he is writing in his journal will never be seen by anyone, its owner feels free to be completely honest about the events that have shaped his day. Second, it allows one to empathize more with people and characters by becoming more aware of his own feelings and observations. The day’s ramblings may seem like nothing now, but when weeks, months and years pass, one can look back on these thoughts and see a gradual change in himself. If the subject of the entries are family and friends, he can observe these changes in others as well.
This is the key to good characters and settings.
Much like time-lapse photography, watching a terrarium with the naked eye yields no results regarding growth because the changes are so gradual. “A watched pot never boils” is the old adage. But seeing pictures at key points in growth reveals something far more outstanding. Think of life as a terrarium and a journal as a time-lapse camera.
Keeping a journal provides a way of questioning and exploring one’s self. “Who am I?” I asked myself, and my journal answered.
Most importantly, keeping a journal kick-starts the habit of writing. If Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion applies to writing as well, then writing doesn’t just blossom when the inspiration bug bites. It’s something that must be constantly rolled about, cultivated and practiced, or else it will stop moving and become harder and more strenuous to get off the ground again when the time comes.
Journaling may seem like a frivolous pastime, but it can work wonders in the life of a fledgling writer, both perceptively and mechanically, and no one, not even the strongest of writers should neglect its benefits because of what anyone else thinks.
Give it a try, yourself. I think you’ll be surprised.