A journal about writing

As you are probably aware, I have been battling numerous life events that keep coming between me and writing. A seemingly endless number of viruses wiped out the whole household this winter. And there have been lots of visitors and houseguests. Travel, while inspiring and a nice change of pace, tends to destroy my writing routine more than either sickness or guests. There’s more travel coming, and, starting in a week or so, I’ll be filling in a couple of days a week at the newspaper where I used to work as a reporter and editor.

When the routine gets thrown off, it’s hard to remember what I was doing before. I feel totally disconnected from writing. It’s tough to feel any sense of accomplishment when you’re interrupted in your process so much. That’s not to say you’re not accomplishing anything – it just feels like you’re not.

Which is why a couple of months ago I starting keeping a journal about writing. I use a fat little turquoise-blue Moleskine datebook. Every day that I do something — anything — related to writing, I make a note of it in the datebook. Yesterday, for example, I noted that I added 767 words to the short story I’ve been working on. On April 12, I recorded that I had written 1,000 words on the same story. I write down when I’ve written blog posts, too, and what they were about.

Not all of my entries detail what I’ve written, however. Let’s face it: not every day turns out to be a productive writing day. On March 29 I scribbled that I had submitted a story to two lit mags, and that I researched some quotes from The Great Gatsby to use (maybe) in the novel I am (sometimes) writing. So I didn’t advance any of my WIPs, but I was still thinking about and working on administrative tasks related to writing.

I make notes on the unproductive days too. I want to remind myself that I am trying, that not every day is a perfect writing day. On April 1, for example: “Tinkered with C_____ story. Added a graph or so. Switched to working on novel. Wrote a new opening graph. Didn’t like it.”

The exercise of keeping track of what I am accomplishing (or not) related to writing is helping me tremendously. When I have unavoidable breaks in my routine, I am now better able to pick up where I left off, to remind myself that I am accomplishing something, even if it’s only a paragraph or two. I now keep my fat little datebook in my laptop backpack, so it travels with me and my computer to the neighborhood cafe where I do a lot of my writing. Part of the work of being a writer is managing your expectations and reminding yourself of what you’ve accomplished so far so that you have the courage to keep going. The journal helps.

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13 thoughts on “A journal about writing

  1. I’ve never heard of doing something like this before, but I like it!

    (My boyfriend once created a spreadsheet he wanted me to use to track how many hours I wrote, and when, and how many words, etc. each day. Erm, no thanks.)

  2. I should try that – I’m struggling at the moment between the three rocks of house-buying, school holidays and having to completely re-cast the work in progress into a wholly imagined world (as opposed to an alternate one). And there’s always the day-job toad. Something like this would really help keep me focused.

  3. oh, I do like this idea! So much more tangible that those dag-blasted to-do lists that make the lister (moi) feel like a failure, because it’s all pie-in-the-sky and what we think we can/should get done. Unrealistic expectations, to say the least. A daybook of what’s been accomplished and/or attempted is much more rewarding. Thanks,eElizabeth, I’m on this like a tick on a bloodhound!

    @Kristen(spreadsheets! oh the horror!)

    • Hi Lakin! Yeah, I used to keep lists too, but I lost them. Or I turned the page in the notebook in which I had written the list (to write another list) and then never saw the list again. This is much more helpful.

      • ha, ha! that’s me, too! Then months later I’ll be cruising through the notebook and do the head-smack thing. Plus, this gives me a good reason to acquire one of those delectable Moleskine journals.

  4. Your writing journal seems a wonderful idea. As I have written a new version of my memoir in the last year, I have kept a writing journal on it—my feelings about how it is going, reminders to myself, notes on breakthroughs and setbacks. It is very interesting to look back and see where my head was, see the hard stretches, the great days.

    • That’s great! I find that what’s so interesting about where my head was a month or even a week ago is that it is not the same place it is now. So much changes in the way we think about what we’re writing, and so quickly! A journal helps.

  5. This is really cool! And it’s probably helpful to see that you’ve been productive, even when you don’t feel like you’ve been productive.

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