June 9, 2008

“A, B, C, It’s Easy…” – Jackson Five, Part II – Journal-Keeping for Writers

Posted in Writing tagged at 12:11 am by otherdeb


As I noted in my earlier article, there are some marked differences between a regular journal and a writer’s journal.

A writer’s journal should address and serve the following broad functions:

  • Recording material: All journals serve this function, but for a writer this doesn’t only mean day-to-day minutiae. It is used for character sketches; recording conversations, and story ideas; observations of people, places, and actions; accomplishments; notes on reference materials and relevant websites; and other data pertinent to a writing career.

    Organization of, and access to, material: Unless organized for a specific purpose, most journals are just a chronological record of events and other things. A writer, however, might dedicate one volume to a major project, or might organize his/her journals by specific categories (a section or a book for character studies, for example). Or they might create a way to access information quickly in a volume that has many different types of recorded material.

    Refining of material: Some writers rework material in their journals until they are satisfied, and only when it’s satisfactory will they send it out to a copy editor or a market.

    Record-keeping and tracking: A writer’s bread and butter is selling his/her writing. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to keep records of the various steps in the selling of articles and stories: where pieces are sent, what the outcome is, payments received, and (if any) awards received.

  • These functions do have some degree of overlap, and each writer will find a different way of dealing with them.

    Some writers keep a chart on one of the interior covers of each notebook, with a list of date submitted, where submitted, date of response, response, and payment (if any). Some create a separate page for each piece of writing and keep the same statistics on it. Some divide each volume into sections for various things. Others keep everything in chronological order, number the pages of each notebook, and keep a Table of Contents in the back of each volume. If you keep your work on the World Wide Web, you may choose to have a site that allows you to keep multiple pages. Or you could keep things in one journal, and use categories or tags to sort your entries. The ways to organize material for retrieval is almost infinite…the trick is to try as many as necessary to find the one that fits you best.

    Again, online journal-keeping has some definite advantages to offer the writers among us: ease of incorporating data to be used in a project; ease of organizing materials; ease of tracking submissions; and ease of editing and revising material.

    Another reason writers use journals is to jump start their brains when they get stalled. There are any number of tips and tricks for doing this, and they can be used by both writers and non-writers to enrich their journal-keeping experience. From lists of prompts to making lists, to specific writing/observation exercises, they are quite useful for getting the creative juices flowing. I will be devoting my next article in this series to covering some of the ones I have found most useful over the years.

    If you are a writer, what are some of your favorite ways of organizing your journal? Are there any tips or tricks for getting the juices flowing that you are especially fond of? Do you have any suggestions for those who are planning their first writer’s journal?

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