I have nothing against journaling, except in the specific case of my own emotional health. We depressive types are often lovely people—really!—but many of us share a certain thought pattern: rumination. Because I am most likely to seek the company of pen and paper when I'm least suited to being with actual people, my attempts at journaling used to end up like this:
I'm the worst housekeeper ever. The kitchen's so gross it will take me an hour, and then I’ll be even more tired and I won’t get any writing done. What is the point? WHAT IS THE POINT? There is no point. It’s all utterly pointless. Do the dishes, then more dishes get dirty, then do more dishes, again and again forever as I hurtle towards a meaningless death. Everything sucks.See what I mean? The journal is not a healthy outlet for rumination. Expressed mathematically:
But still... I need to write like I need food and air and very occasional interaction with human beings. So what's a writer to do? Here are my tips for avoiding the tornado:
- It may get used off and on for years or be filled in a month.
- I’ll have at least two other notebooks in rotation at the same time because I write in whatever I have handy.
- It will be an unsorted mish-mash of fiction, stream-of-consciousness drivel, grocery lists, and important dates and phone numbers. I will never remember to transfer those important dates to a calendar.
- Eventually, I will let the kids doodle all over it at a restaurant.
- At some point, I will spill water or coffee, rendering most of the pages unreadable.
- 99.9% of any notebook is too boring to re-read.
Take out the trash
While simply writing down bad feelings isn't very helpful, transforming them into poetry can be. Include line breaks, choose each image and each word carefully, and you might find yourself more involved in crafting a poem than in whatever emotional crisis started your journey into free verse. There's a creative objectivity that goes along with art, and it often gives me the distance I need to get though a bad time.
Her worth was the dusty trail’s
desire.She puts lotion in her hands,always dry now,and in the geometry of her skinsees the cracked desert clayno water for her thirst.
There's freedom in writing stream-of-consciousness, letting yourself get as random and weird as your mind will allow without regard for logic or meaning. The following is utter nonsense, but writing it rescued me from a pint of Häagen-Dazs.
|Diet Coke + Mentos = Awesome|
Devil peals out of my car's subconscious keychain and I'm laughing out loud the nocturne, gentle and slow. Why is that cat clawing at nothing, air, a vacuum, a blue blinding hell-born light? My mind is bottled up and fizzy and minty-fresh, vaguely European. I'm a Mentos, a science experiment, imploding in the sand. My toes call me and plead to feel the sun.
Try it, really. Your brain will thank you.
Moment by Moment
|(Not my actual husband)|
I held the last glass from the dishwasher; it dripped water from its concave base onto my hand. John stood against the counter, slurping the last drops of Kellogg-sweetened milk from a blue ceramic bowl. His sandy hair stuck out in eighty different directions, and his left arm had a bright pink pattern of sleep creases. The children whispered about their cereal being poop, which meant they were eating poop and that made them poopyheads. I pretended I couldn’t hear them over Elmo’s World.
When you're working on a story, sometimes it flows and sometimes it's really work. That's just the writing life. Don't let a journal become an obstacle. If it isn't working for you, put it away. Go make some memories. Let life happen, and if the best times never make an appearance in your stack of notebooks, that's okay. There's more to the writing life than writing.