Keeping a journal is one of the most valuable developmental tools at a writer’s disposal, or anyone’s for that matter. Brett McKay, founder of The Art of Manliness website and brand, notes, “In studying the lives of great men, one of the most common themes you’ll find is that many were avid journal keepers. Now, we won’t say that the habit of journal writing is what made them great, but there’s reason to think it helped.”
Keeping a journal – daily, weekly, monthly (more often is better, I think) – has all kinds of benefits. For writers and other artistic types, it can improve writing and inspire creativity. There’s no better way to keep thoughts organized than to write them down. It can help boost memory. It allows for self-examination and introspection, and who doesn’t need a little of that once-in-awhile. It has also been shown that maintaining a diary or journal can channel anxiety and stress.
I attempted to keep a journal on a couple of occasions many years ago. Both times it didn’t work out because I found I placed so much attention on what I would be writing in my journal at the end of the day that I accomplished little else. Especially in regards to the writing I should have been doing. I’ve never been very good at writing extemporaneously, or off-the-cuff. I have to think a lot about what I’m going write before I write it. I’m sure if I had stuck with it I would have gotten better. But I didn’t. I chose, instead, to put my energies into screenplays and eventually novels.
So when I decided to give it another try at the start of this year, I did a little research (as I’m known to do). What I discovered is an expansive market for what are called “prompted” journals. These are dated, calendar notebooks that pose a question or idea for each day of the year. Each daily entry, then, is a response to these “prompts.” This eliminates the habit of pre-writing and instills spontaneity. Perfect for someone like me.
And perfect it’s been. So much so, I wanted to share some of my entries with you. But first, let me give a plug to the product I found, a brand called Q&A a Day published by Potter Style. It is just as the label implies: each day you are given a question to ponder and answer. There’s a whole series of them, too, to accommodate a plethora of tastes and needs. Q&A a Day…5-Year Journal…for Kids…for the Soul…for examples. I picked up a copy of the 5-Year, as well one for Writers, which is filled with daily exercises to stir and challenge one’s literary creativity. Here are some examples:
February 3rd: Shakespeare is credited with inventing words, such as advertising, moonbeam, undress, assassination, blanket, amazement, lackluster, madcap, critic, and puking. Select a few of these words to write into a passage here. (I chose to use them all.) The lackluster moonbeam cast a dull glow upon her hair as she undressed beneath a blanket. Still dazed from the amazement of the madcap puking by the advertising critic, and the attempted assassination of her virginity, she managed to remove her vomit soaked blouse and skirt in time for the laundry-service to take them away with the next load of wash.
February 5th: Attempt to fill this space with a short story that employs only single-syllable words. The dog went to the door. He gave a sniff. He could smell it, but did not know what it was. How does a dog think of what it does not know? Like a strange smell. It does not. The pooch just sniffs. Dead rat? Next door Shih Tzu’s ass? He hears a key in the lock. His tail wags. The man Sam! The one who feeds; the one who pets. The one with no shoes. The dog puts nose to toes. Then it hits him. He knows now. Sam with his bare feet wafts of the street, the grass, the mud and the rain, of trash and worms, dirt and stone. The dog barks and wags. Sam smells of the world!
February 28th: Inhabit a moment of fear you had as a child and write it out. There was a bicycle safety film we used to have to watch in grade school. It involved actors wearing monkey masks doing unsafe behavior while riding bikes, thus getting into horrible accidents. Those expressionless, soulless masks always scared the shit out of me. Every year we watched it. Every year I averted my eyes by staring down at my desk until it was over.
So, with the help of these prompted journals I’m exercising my imagination, honing my word-skills, little by little. Maybe not perfectly, but progressively. One day at a time.
(By the way, I found that bike safety film. It’s called One Got Fat. Check it out here, and tell me if it isn’t just a little bit creepy.)