Using Journals for Memoir Writing and More

A few of my many “pretty” journals

Do you use journals to record your thoughts, ideas, emotions, poems and stories?

When I first started journaling, I followed Julia Cameron’s ideas in The Artist’s Way.  I wrote 3 pages of long-hand on any cheap notebook or paper that I could find.  In some ways, I’ve come full circle and have been returning to that idea, and even moving to online forms of writing.

However, in the interim between then and now, I spent years writing in beautiful, whimsical, artistic and “professional-looking” journals.  Unfortunately, much of what went into those lovely books was drivel.

Yet, interspersed between the mundane and the trivial were some interesting observations about my life and times that make memoir and creative writing easier.  If I want to know how to write about life in Chicago in the 1990’s, I already have some starting material.

Even more fascinating to me is how  journal entries sometimes foreshadow the story that I am now writing in my novel.  Like this little admonishment to myself on March 2, 2001:

As long as you “control” your ship you cannot swim in the ocean and dive as the mystical whales do.

I read that now and get a shiver up my spine, because there are mystical whales in my novel now.  I had a vague idea of the novels I wanted to create then, but no idea of writing about whales (consciously).

Nicholas’ drawing of a Fumaron when he was 8 years old in 2010

Today, I was even more delighted to find the journal with drawings from my son Nicholas 2 years ago when he was only 8 years old.

One of my projects this summer  is to transfer the gems from my journals over the last twenty years into Evernote notebooks so that they can be searched more easily.

Too often we spend hours writing and don’t go back to look for the good stuff.

This weekend how about taking some time to look at your early writing, journals, art, premonitions or anything else that you might still be able to access?

If you don’t have any records of your life and times on earth, there’s no time like the present to start creating some!

Do You Create Secret Journals or Videos for Your Children?

the next four journals
the next four journals (Photo credit: paperbackwriter)

I decided this week’s theme is about how do we leave a legacy with our writing, our art and our life.

Today, I want to start with a simple writing idea.

Before my first son was born, I got the idea to write a secret journal that I would give to him sometime in his teenage years.  The journal would contain quotes from me and his father and his grandparents.  Then over the years, it would contain the wisdom that I have acquired for living a good life as well as expressions of how proud I have been of him throughout his childhood.

It’s been a while since July of 1998 when I started the first journal when I was pregnant with my first son. Now about 14 years later, I have two journals — one for each of my sons.  I’ve been sporadic about adding material to them.  Life gets in the way.  I was reminded of this journal today as I shot a video of our house and garden as a reminder of their early life for my boys to add a video component to my “secret writings”.

It’s easy to forget how short life is.  We think it will go on and on forever.  We worry about the daily challenges of life — making a living, getting a promotion, buying a new car, getting our kids into the “right” schools, saving for retirement and so many other transitory concerns.  We get annoyed with our kids for stupid things they do, or ourselves for being less than the person we wanted to be.

My inspiration for writing journals for my children is my mother.  She has always been a great letter writer.  I have a chest full of letters and keepsakes from her.  My mom also taught me how to ask deep questions about life from the time I was little.

Unfortunately, I have very little from my father in the way of written expressions of love or wisdom shared, and I can only remember vaguely the things he shared with me.   I have photos but they aren’t as powerful as written words when it comes to sharing wisdom.  He wasn’t a talkative man either, so I sometimes wonder what mattered to him in life.  I still miss his presence in my life, four years after his passing.  It made me cry to see what he had written in my son’s journal back in 1998.  I am so glad that I asked him to write something when he still could.

There’s no guarantee my kids will appreciate their wisdom journals from me.  I just hope they will know that I cared enough to think often about their future happiness as well as my own.  I want them to know that I will always be wishing them the best for them from wherever my spirit takes me.

If you have kids, it doesn’t matter how old they are, or even if they’ve moved out of the house.  Think about sharing your love and wisdom with them in a journal or video. For there will be a time when you won’t be around to show how much you care.

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Your Failure to Improve Your Life Could Help Your Writing

In the last few days, I’ve come across so many articles about the subject of letting go that Iwanted to address this topic in a slightly different way as it pertains to writing. 

When you and I have to let go of something, whether it’s a behavior, a person, a long held belief, or a lifestyle, don’t we think that I’m the only person in the world faced with this challenge, and somehow I’m not as equipped as other people to this process of letting go? Most of us feel alone in our dilemmas, when in reality there are so many of us who have trouble letting go.

Most of us like the idea of embracing something new that is good and pleasing, and we’re not so fond of letting go of our comforts and pleasures, and only do so when we’ve gotten to the point that we absolutely need to change. Yet, this whole letting go process is not a new thing. 

Moreover, the inability to let go is a key part of every great story that has ever been lived or written.  If you want to be a great writer, embrace your imperfections!

Consider Shakespeare, and how many of his great tragedies centered around the inability of one of the characters to let go in some way or form.  Hamlet, wouldn’t let go of being a helpless bystander.  Macbeth wouldn’t let go of the drive for power.  And it goes on with every story that compels us to keep reading,  every movie that is worth watching, there is at least one character that won’t let go of something to its detriment.  Sometimes that inability to change is funny, and sometimes it’s tragic.  In all cases, the inability to let go of an ineffectual way of living  is at the heart of why stories still fascinate us.

In our own lives, developing a skill with letting go is often a pathway to a better life.  However, if you’re writing a fictional story, make sure you have at least one character that can’t let go of unhealthy behavior.  Write at least one character who refuses the call to be a hero or heroine.   Stories that have no problems with letting go are not ones that most of us humans can relate to.

So, if you’re having problems with letting go of anything in your life, be happy about it. 

It is from that experience of failure to be perfect that you just might have the experience to write a masterpiece, or at least something worth reading.