Fear and Journaling

I'm rereading a favorite writing book. Twelve years ago, Robin Hemley's Turning Life Into Fiction got me journaling in a more idea-making fashion. (A new, expanded paperback edition promises additional helps for budding fictionists.)

Hemley encourages us to record "triggers" that get our stories going. They're memories, associations, insights--thoughts only you can invent or retrieve from your personal inner conglomeration. I can't keep up with mine. Most aren't worth saving. But once a day or so I'll flash on something, like, Oh, I see, I never got along with Aunt Mildred, because she treated me the same condescending way as Mrs. Fawlty did in Sunday School class. And I'll think I ought to include that discovery somewhere in my writing. If I scribble it into my journal I can come back later, in the midst of a story with a character based loosely on Aunt Mildred, and draw on my earlier deposit. (I don't really have an Aunt Mildred, by the way.)

That's the idea. I haven't kept up lately with recording triggers. But I'm inspired to do so again.

I have been a fairly consistent journaler since 1989. Before that, I wrote things down in spurts periodically. It's always illuminating to read back over the pages of me. To ponder what I think I had right and what I'm sure I got wrong years ago. And to follow my attempts at marketing articles (mostly non-fiction), the failures and successes.

What I wish I'd done differently, and try to do today, is journal negatively, at least when the moment calls for it. Many, if not most, of my entries during young momhood sound like pages from Fluff Magazine, devoted to finding that silver lining, even before stormclouds loomed fully into view.
Of course, I was practicing for Christian publications. And I'm sure I wanted to leave an impression on posterity of my ability to handle this existence. And I told myself continually (in a keeping-all-the-plates-spinning sort of way) that a Christian wife and mother ought to improve steadily. But my entries often read as though detached from real, grime and confusion-tainted living.

In 2002 a writer friend asked me to take over teaching a continuing education class on journaling at our local community college. She provided her outlines, which I then used to frame lessons based on my experience and on resources, such as Hemley's book. An assorted crew of students assembled every Monday evening that summer to learn from me how to Journal to Better Writing and Personal Exploration.

Partway through, I wrote in my journal:
"This class is taking up a lot more time than I'd imagined, mainly because in between sessions I must plan for it and acclimate myself to the idea of what I'm doing. It's an emotional process, one that makes me see myself--my ego in full blossom."

I'd started to notice the way I bluff in a crowd in order to look good. The struggle began, and continues today, to strike a genuine posture with people. Not comfortable for this old gal.

Very thankfully, my class was made up of kind, outgoing (and opinionated, clashing, yet overall respectful) people. They tutored me as much as I them. They seemed to enjoy it greatly when I brought to class my rejection file and read differing examples of what it's like to not make it but to have tried in the writing arena.

At our final session they gave me a card with appreciative notes, such as:
  • Thanks so much--you've gotten me started! This is my first journal and I've almost finished it now.
  • You did a fantastic job with a rather challenging group!
  • You have given me many interesting ideas.
  • I've learned a lot and hope I can pursue my ambitions as a writer.
Rummaging through old files the other day I found the long-forgotten card. My students' wishes triggered a connection between the off-kilter feelings I suffered, seeing my weaknesses exposed, and the way the students managed to receive what they needed while boosting my spirit.

Perhaps character traits and situations exist there to be mined for a future story. We'll see.


Mirtika said…
On journaling: I stink at it.

Consistency is not a trait I have in abundance, or even in meagerness for that matter. :-/

I have a lovely, leather-ish journal, bit, desk-size, that I bought about 5 years ago. It's got entries, scattered ones, from 2001 through this year. And it's not even a third full. I'm still in "March". :) I tend to scratch out the real journal date and fill in whatever date I finally got 'round to writing in it.

It is nice to go back and see what was on my mind. My memory is a lousy thing since my thyroid went kaput, so having or coming upon entries in partially used journals (I have a dozen or so), is like a bit of a present from the past.

I do wish I was one of those disciplined, consistent, daily journalers. Seems to me that's a heckuva legacy to leave to a child. Your life.

Mirtika said…
Oh, and thanks for the link. :)

Deanna said…
Thank you for the comments.

Journaling became easy for me when I discovered I could simply plop thoughts down in a spiral notebook or something as they arrived. Now I use bound journals, but never with pre-printed dates. Agh! It's the number thing, I guess, that fouls me up.

I'm amazed at your prolific-ness in the blogsphere. I can tell your mind moves miles faster than mine. Is it caffeine, or does only your grocery checker know for sure?

And I was glad to link to your site.
Mirtika said…
I'm prolific? Really?


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