TIPS FOR ALL LEVELS OF WRITERS
by Roberta Jean Bryant
"Keep a daily journal," my first writing teacher advised.
"Thats the best way to get comfortable with putting words on paper." She
assured me Id gain the writing facility I lacked by starting a journal.
Great advice. The best advice about writing Ive ever
received, as a matter of fact. But it fell on deaf ears; I really couldnt see the
point of beginning what seemed like just another tedious writing chore. I wanted
desperately to write to publish, and anything less serious seemed a waste of time. After
all, what could you do with a journal? My notion of a journal was a place where you wrote
about your feelings, an adolescent confessional, a "Dear Diary" Who needed that?
I had heard about a writers journal that could be used
like an artists sketchbook a place to record story ideas, fragments of
overheard conversation, descriptions of places or seasons of the year. Despite being
intrigued by the idea, I resisted beginning a writers journal for almost a year.
Summer vacation approached, and the prospect of no classes
for three months prompted me to look for a writing project to do so I wouldnt lose
the momentum Id gained during the school year. Okay, I decided, Id try a
journal, but it had to be a writers journal. I assigned myself one page a day, one
side of the page, in a wide-lined, spiral-bound notebook. And Id do it before going
to sleep at night.
I started feeling excited by the possibilities. Lyrical
descriptions, article and story ideas, invented dialogues. Maybe Id even do some
poetry. Grand ideas. Good plan.
The first day came. Night fell. Bedtime approached. I took
out the notebook, rounded up a pen. I thought and thought. Scribbled a few lines, feeling
dumb. I struggled to describe that evenings sunset; I reread the few sentences
Id produced and judged them as lifeless and boring. I eked out the rest of the page
as an act of discipline. I felt frustrated, angry, disillusioned. The final line on that
first page read: "You even show off your big vocabulary to yourself!" Not an
auspicious beginning with my internal critic taking a potshot at me.
Nevertheless, I kept my agreement to do one page a day over
the summer, despite painful barbs from the critic. That one page every day was the hardest
thing Id ever done; I felt humiliated that I was producing a boring diary rather
than the exciting writers journal Id envisioned. But I persevered, hoping the
effort would ultimately be useful. By the time class resumed, the diary-journal was a
useful habit, one Ive benefitted from ever since. My journal not only turned out to
be personally valuable, but also served as a source book for some of my published
The first task of the writer who seeks to publish is a
challenging one: self-knowledge. Journal writing is a great way to gain self-knowledge as
well as work on your apprenticeship. A journal is one of the best vehicles for exploring
your life through writing. If you can keep the critic at bay, if you can allow yourself to
record the truths of your life, if you can withhold judgment, the time spent on creating a
journal can pay off more than anything else I know.
Privacy is an important consideration; you must protect your
journal from prying eyes, or even from casual reading by others. Avoid showing it to
friends and loved ones. Any kind of exposure can be detrimental because you may start
being too careful and lose truth and spontaneity in your writing. If you keep your journal
on your computer, use a password to preserve privacy. If you prefer a handwritten journal,
choose the type of notebook that feels comfortable for you and find a way to keep it
private. Friends often give me those fancy or leather-bound blank journals with heavy
unlined paper. I cant bring myself to write in them because I feel too inhibited.
They seem to demand a perfection I know I cant achieve. The total permissiveness I
need for journal writing works best for me with inexpensive spiral notebooks.
"Ive been doing personal writings for over three
years," one of my students told me. "But journal is too formal a word for what I
do, and diary is too juvenile. So I call it my anything goes book." What
a wonderful idea, I thought. "Anything goes" imposes no limits on my
imagination, no curbs for my creativity. And it covers all the uses to which I subject my
spiral notebook pasting in fortune cookie maxims, daily horoscope predictions,
first drafts of love letters and angry letters unlimited possibilities.
An anything goes type of journal is the easiest way to
create a therapeutic relationship with yourself. Use your journal as a portable friend.
Give it a name such as Greg or Joy or Hannah, so you can share your journal insights with
others in a benign way: "As I was telling Hannah the other day. . . ."
The anything goes journal could be one way to explore all
the ideas in this book and invent some playful ones of your own as well. As a matter of
fact, many of these suggested writing processes are adaptations of journal techniques that
I discovered were useful for facilitating any kind of writing. If you began an anything
goes notebook and did nothing but variations of the Wordplay suggestions for a year, I
guarantee you would be astonished and delighted with the results.
A nonthreatening, no-demands journal that is protected and
private can provide the perfect place to write at risk, to say all the unsayable things,
to tell things like they really are like they really are for you. A secret place to
risk being honest with yourself.
Write honestly. Risk nakedness. Originality equals vulnerability.
I like what Jessamyn West says about being a writer: "To be a writer, you have
to first stick your neck out and take a chance and then be willing to make a fool of
yourself and give yourself away." A journal provides a safe place to practice doing
A journal is a place to detail all the little happinesses
and document all the large delights of your unique life. A place to have fun. And a place
for magic. Magic happens when one engages in regular and long-term involvement with
oneself in words on paper. Journals need not be grim or boring. Expressing the joys of
your life, appreciating whats good today, playing with ideas all are
Trust yourself. Trust your experience. Trust your hunches, your opinions, your
Trust your uniqueness as a vulnerable human being who
has experienced life in a different way from any other individual, past, present, or
future. There are no new ideas only new perceptions, new ways of seeing things,
fresh points of view.
As a writer, the only thing you have to offer the
world is your own unique self. Be courageous. When you think, "Oh, I cant write
that part; its too petty, too shameful. Its not respectful. People wont
understand" ignore these subversive thoughts. Be willing to say whatever you
have to say truthfully (full truth). Trust yourself, and trust your potential reader.
When you trust the truth, you can have the courage to
write at risk.
Trust your intuition, your absurdities, your loves,
your hates. Most of all, trust your passions, those extra-strong feelings and urges that
flow and surge and pulse with aliveness.
Passion provides momentum, involvement, commitment,
From Anybody Can Write, Ideas for the Aspiring Writer, the Beginner, the
Blocked Writer, by Roberta Jean Bryant. Copyright © 1999 by Roberta Jean Bryant.
Excerpted by arrangement with New World Library. $12.95. Available in local bookstores or
call 800-972-6657 Ext.52, or click here.