I was “inspired” (of a sort) by this article about Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James publishing a writing journal. We’ll set aside my horror, disappointment and despair for the moment, and talk about what it made me think about.
I have kept journals, diaries and various notebooks for years; from the strictly literary to the nonsense to the angst-ridden teenage years. I carry notebooks in my bags just-in-case, and have bits of paper and notepads dotted all over the place.
I enjoy the art of writing by hand. I like the time it takes and the ache in your fingers afterwards and the uneven blue letters left behind. But have I ever kept a writing journal? The supposition is that I have the time and inclination to do some writing, reflect on it, and then write about that reflection.
Let’s get this straight. I have neither time nor inclination. I simply don’t work that way. The required “reflective journal” was always worst part of university. For me, my reflection is my editing. I don’t write about my writing, I’d rather write it. Instead, I write all the time. I have one notepad that is filled with random sentences. They don’t fit together, and some of them don’t even make sense standing on their own. It just so happened that every time a sentence or phrase came in to my head, I wrote it down. Some of these sentences have dripped into my various short stories, abortive novel attempts and poems – sometimes more than once.
I have character profiles in another notepad of all my favourite characters I’ve ever discovered. A lot of my characters make several appearances in various works – and often across genre, until they find their niche. Ultimately, they don’t move away much from those character profiles, they just get dropped into different situations.
The idea of E.L. James providing a writing journal (with “hints and tips” on how to write like her no less) makes me wonder if I’m even doing things right, and then makes me wonder what people think writing is actually about. I have a few books about writing (Stephen King’s On Writing being my favourite), but nothing that dictates to me how I should write, or how to copy a beloved author. I have practiced writing like an author before, but I don’t think that imitation is the best form of finding your own voice. I worry that perceptions of writing are somewhat skewed – that nothing original can be written, and one can only write something that’s just as good as something else. So therefore you can only hope to aspire to be like someone, and so should follow what they did – as if what they did is a magical formula to success.
To me, the best way to learn about writing, to “discovering” your own writing is pure and simple practice. Write, read it back, and write again. Filling a journal full of musings on your writing is not honing your skill, it’s not teaching you anything other than how to pick apart your own writing (and, trust me, you’ll eventually find editors and critics who will be more than happy to do that for you). You’ll write absolute rubbish, and – hopefully – you’ll write absolute magic. But how are you ever going to know if you don’t get writing it?
Do you keep a writing journal?
What do you think about E.L. James’ writing journal?