At the Higher Education institution where I teach Creative Writing we are very fond of the “Writer’s Journal”. We remind our students to use one at the beginning of each module and when they write their “Writer’s Reflection”, a reflection on how they have progressed in their writing during the module, we remind them to tell us about how they have used their journal.
I have just read a Reflection - a very good one – but one where the student admits to not having used a journal this time but did say he made lots of notes. Is there some misunderstanding of what we mean by “journal” here?
Until very recently I used to think I had to have a smart 8 X 6 notebook for my journal. It had to look like a Moleskin (shop’s own brands are MUCH cheaper) and it was best if it had a ribbon and / or elastic to keep your place. I carried it around to confirm that I was a writer.
I’ve seen some great journals in my time – one friend has a gorgeous notebook covered in all sorts of buttons. I used to like ones that looked as if they were covered in wrapping paper. I almost prefer ones without lines.
BUT: such beauties can be heavy to carry around. And half the time when you do need them you don’t have them.
I’m getting much more out of my journal now that it’s miniscule and fits neatly into my equally miniscule handbag. How do I use it? I jot down ideas as I think of them. The little book is always at my elbow. Alone in a café I’ll thrash out parts of my novel in bullet points. I’ll note down the name of a new book or a new author as I come across it. It’s a real hotchpotch.
I still use the Moleskin look-alike. I make notes at talks in that. Note-taking actually, for me, reinforces understanding. I rarely look at the notes again afterwards, though I force myself to after a conference in case there is something that needs following up.
One side issue is that I’m terrible with pens and tend to leave them on the desk where I’ve been working. So, I may need to note something down and have a note-book but no pen. Well there’s always the iPhone, though with that one misses that all important brain-hand-pen-paper connection. Many students, however, now bring work to the creative writing workshop on their phones and several writing colleagues read their work from theirs. Why not, indeed?
Writer’s journals, then, come in many forms and guises and are used in a variety of ways. Almost anything goes. One thing is certain: they are immensely useful.