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Anybody Can Write

TIPS FOR ALL LEVELS OF WRITERS

by Roberta Jean Bryant
 

"Keep a daily journal," my first writing teacher advised. "That’s the best way to get comfortable with putting words on paper." She assured me I’d gain the writing facility I lacked by starting a journal.
     Great advice. The best advice about writing I’ve ever received, as a matter of fact. But it fell on deaf ears; I really couldn’t 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? Not me.
     I had heard about a writer’s journal that could be used like an artist’s 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 writer’s 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 wouldn’t lose the momentum I’d gained during the school year. Okay, I decided, I’d try a journal, but it had to be a writer’s journal. I assigned myself one page a day, one side of the page, in a wide-lined, spiral-bound notebook. And I’d do it before going to sleep at night.
     I started feeling excited by the possibilities. Lyrical descriptions, article and story ideas, invented dialogues. Maybe I’d 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 evening’s sunset; I reread the few sentences I’d 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 I’d ever done; I felt humiliated that I was producing a boring diary rather than the exciting writer’s journal I’d envisioned. But I persevered, hoping the effort would ultimately be useful. By the time class resumed, the diary-journal was a useful habit, one I’ve 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 writings.
     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 can’t bring myself to write in them because I feel too inhibited. They seem to demand a perfection I know I can’t achieve. The total permissiveness I need for journal writing works best for me with inexpensive spiral notebooks.
     "I’ve 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 just that.
     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 what’s good today, playing with ideas — all are potentially magical.

TRUSTING YOURSELF

Trust yourself. Trust your experience. Trust your hunches, your opinions, your feelings.
     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.
     Trust yours.
     As a writer, the only thing you have to offer the world is your own unique self. Be courageous. When you think, "Oh, I can’t write that part; it’s too petty, too shameful. It’s not respectful. People won’t 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, action.
     Trust passion.

 
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.