Shelley Widhalm

Archive for the ‘Journaling’ Category

The Ins and Outs and Benefits of Journaling

In Freewriting, Journaling, Writing, Writing Advice on July 16, 2017 at 5:00 pm


Journals can be used for multiple purposes beyond recording daily life.

Journaling is like pre-writing, or it can be a form of record-keeping.

It can be private or public, as in the case of blogs, which technically are considered digital diaries.

And it can be practice toward fine-tuned quality writing.

A Dozen Journals

I have a dozen journals, each with its purpose and different sized cover and pattern. I’ve journaled since second grade, a process that’s essential to my day and to my growth as a writer. I record what happens, the things I do and my interactions with others.

I find comfort in the result: my days are tracked, and I have a reference to recall events, conversations and even when I last gave the dog a bath. I can look back and see what I’ve learned, laugh over the drama that, now, isn’t a big deal, and, hopefully, figure out where to fix things.

I have another journal that’s my play journal. The half-dozen colored sections are designated for freewriting, book starts, book and story ideas and notes about the writing process.

Another of my journals is solely for freewriting because it already has prompts I can use when I’m blocked.

I also have a journal for the books I’ve read and one for notes on the books I borrow.

And I use one for sketching out poems I later type up.

Journaling is a form of writing that isn’t as official as sitting in front of the blank page. It’s like an artist’s sketchpad used to practice drawing skills; it’s a place to play around with language, descriptions and ideas.

The key to journaling is to write without expecting anything. Don’t worry about quality, grammar or style. Just worry about wanting to write, and by doing it regularly, the writing will be easier and the ideas will start showing up.

A Journal’s Uses

You can use journal for many things, such as:

  • Writing exercises you want to try.
  • Taking notes from what you’re reading or the things you want to look up later, such as words, phrases and ideas.
  • Capturing snippets of conversation and recording details you observe in your environment.
  • Drafting short stories and novels.
  • Playing around with language for a poem or beautiful description in a story.
  • Listing ideas for poems, short stories, novels, essays and blogs.
  • Compiling character sketches with magazine cutouts, found objects and written descriptions.
  • Pasting photos or describing settings and the buildings and places in your story or poem.

I forgot to mention that I even have a mini-journal, it’s a miniature composition book, to take notes on anything and everything I encounter in a day, and then those notes go into the proper big journal.

I’ve journaled since second grade and probably have written a million words, most of them pretty boring about the routine, mundane aspects of life. But there’s gossip and intrigue, plus the whole figuring-out-life thing. And collecting those cool ideas for later …


Journaling: Lost and Found

In Journaling, Losing A Journal, Losing Written Work on July 12, 2015 at 11:00 am

I lost my journal on May Day and finished what I’ve since called my journal recovery project six weeks later.

I thought losing four months of daily writing—wiped out from a computer glitch and failure to back up my work—was tragic, awful and a devastating thing for a writer to endure, because I had lost words that I’d written—about 70,000 of them.

I’d taken careful and detailed notes of my daily life and emotional responses as background material for a future writing project, wanting to turn an awful dating experience, coupled with stupid life decisions, into a novel—I still plan to, but as the very correct and accurate cliché goes, I need more time to process.

When the journal loss exploded my sense of writing security, I called my mom and cried, feeling 10-fold heartbroken. She said maybe I needed to go over everything again to get a new understanding, and, being a mother, she was right.

At the same time of my “loss,” I’d moved, alternating my focus on working on the project and packing, unpacking and organizing my things. To recover my journal, I arranged my communications in a similar fashion to house arranging, figuring out which things should go where to be useful, convenient to grab and still look aesthetically pleasing.

I typed up all of my texts over the four months that involved the important people to the telling of my story and copied and pasted long strings of Facebook messages between me and my best friend and a couple of other shorter communications among my circle of friends. I hadn’t realized it, but I treated my best friend like my diary recipient, giving him a blow-by-blow description of much of what had happened and seeking his wiser, been-there, done-that advice.

I’d been in a situation that was beyond my understanding of psychology and sociology and my own experiences to process and simply get what was happening. After what had happened, I needed to put my life back together, hence the move and a few other personal fix-it-up undertakings.

Seeing the various communications in one place made me realize I’d gotten caught up in someone else’s thinking, instead of relying on my own logic and commonsense. I bought into this person’s worldview, losing some of my own. I lost confidence. I defended my position. I didn’t say stop, and let communications become arguments that I couldn’t win. No matter what.

I couldn’t see these patterns in such a concise format when I was caught up in my daily writing without looking back. Journaling was a place to write down what had happened and how I felt about it and move onto the next day.

Retyping the strings of communications told a story, in that day-by-day sense, from beginning to end. It showed me how I communicate on a casual level, including patterns of expression, repeated phrases and descriptions of events and emotions.

As I recovered my journal, I recovered from my grief. I didn’t regret losing those other words, because I had new ones. I had me back, thanks to the work and talking with my mother and friends and having the will to get back to who I am: a writer in love with words, whether lost or found.

Journaling (and moving onward)

In Journaling, Writing, Writing Inspiration, Writing Processes on May 24, 2015 at 11:00 am

After losing part of my journal earlier this month, I thought again about the journaling process.

Journaling is a casual form of writing that is pre-writing, like artists sketching in sketchbooks to figure out or practice drawing certain objects or parts of things. Journaling is a free form of expression and a way to play around with language and ideas.

My favorite type of journaling is freewriting, or writing nonstop for a certain period of time, say five to 10 minutes, without constraint or a specific goal in mind. I like using a line of text, a quote or an image to give me a starting point, not caring what I write as I let loose with the words.

Journals can be used for writing down ideas for first lines of stories, ideas for stories or capturing snippets of overheard conversation. You can use them to record details observed in the environment, such as how a building looks in the setting sun or geese with one foot up as they stand near a pond.

Here are some other uses for journals:

  • A diary, or a place to capture daily experiences and reflections and keep track of daily activities.
  • Writing exercises you want to try.
  • Notes about the writing process.
  • Notes from what you’re reading or the things you want to look up later, such as words, phrases and ideas.
  • A list of the books you read and what you liked or didn’t like about the storytelling, plot or other elements of writing.
  • Character sketches with magazine cutouts, found objects and written descriptions.
  • Photos of settings and the buildings and places in your story.

The key to journaling is to write without expecting anything. Don’t worry about quality or grammar or style. Just worry about wanting to write and loving doing so while the words spill off the end of your fingertips.

On Losing My Journal

In Journaling, Journaling Emotions, Losing Things on May 17, 2015 at 11:00 am

In the wake of what has been the worst year of my life, I lost my journal.

My first thought was why? Why would Life, with a capital “L,” waste all of my experiences that I carefully captured in daily writing by erasing the file? I’ve been planning to turn those experiences into a novel, and so I became more detailed in my journaling in the past few months.

When the file went blank, I called my brother, who works in tech support, and he tried to retrieve the file. I called my mother, and I cried, mourning the loss of what I’d written, because even if I try to recapture the memories, it won’t be the same as the first time I wrote about what happened day by day.

I debated, as I awaited my brother to work his magic, if I wanted to go through my planner, my texts and my Facebook messages to try to recapture what had happened from December 2014 to April 2015, the months I lost from my journal (and hadn’t backed up). Or should I just leave it blank and go on?

I still am not sure.

Because I journal daily, I started a new journal and lamented in my entry for the day, May 1 and the day after my birthday, the loss of my journal. My mother hesitated as she started to say, “Maybe losing your journal is a way for you to write about your experiences in a new way from a different perspective.”

One of my friends said something similar. “Maybe writing about losing the file, and reflecting on what you’d written (and the nature of loss) might result in seeing the events of these last few months in new and interesting ways.”

I think they may be right, even though it is hard to accept.

Losing my work may become a way to process what happened, write about it and recall it from the vantage point of having lost and moving on. It may then represent an interesting five-month gap of decades of journaling, something I’ve done since I was in second grade. The words may be lost, but the question becomes what will I find?

NaNoWriMo Loser resorts to journaling

In Journaling, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on November 17, 2014 at 1:46 am

I gave up last week on National Novel Writing Month, but it’s because my journaling got in the way.

Or at least in part.

I believed I’d had a great idea for a novel based on a true life experience that I thought I had concluded, but I’m taking longer than I expected to work through and process it.

Instead of doing daily NaNoWriMo writing, I’ve been doing daily journaling that is getting longer and longer in length as time progresses. I typed up the journal entries over the past eight months about the experience I want to fictionalize to better understand the story I want to tell.

In the last two weeks, or the time frame of NaNoWriMo, I noticed that I’ve become wordier and lengthier in my journal entries. At first in my journaling about this experience, I wrote a few lines to a half-page that’s single-spaced, but now am writing one to two single-spaced pages a day. For the first time I wrote two single-spaced pages on Saturday, Nov. 8, holding steady to one to two pages over the past week.

That could be because I’ve been making the switch from more labor heavy handwriting to typing.

For my journal, I typed up nearly 83,000 words in 121 pages and since Nov. 1, 14,700 words in 21 pages, or about 700 words per page. My result for NaNoWriMo is an average of 980 words of journaling a day, not quite two-thirds of the 1,667 words needed a day to reach the end goal of 50,000 words by Nov. 30.

I noticed as I journaled more in depth and did it daily instead of every few days, because I had more to write, I could remember more. As I wrote, events of the day and even specific conversations came to mind and I became aware of details I’d forgotten about, at least at the conscious level.

But then as I tried to capture those specific conversations, I realized I found it more difficult to remember the actual words, as if I was trying too hard. I realized it was easier to summarize and put down the main interchanges, because in real-life conversations, what’s said often gets repeated. Alternatively, the idea in dialog in short stories and novels is to get to the core of the interchange, leaving out greetings, pleasantries and repetitions.

By switching from a paper journal to my laptop, I’ve been writing more and longer, and I’ve had more to say. So in a backward sort of way, I have let NaNoWriMo influence me, though I won’t be reaching the finish line. At least not yet.

iJournal, therefore I am

In 52 Writing Topics, Journaling, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on March 4, 2012 at 10:00 am

Each journal in this pile has a specific purpose in my writing life.

In my quest to find and write about 52 writing topics in 52 weeks, I’m going to veer off course to talk about what I like to call pre-writing.

Journaling is a form of writing that isn’t as official as writing drafts for stories or playing with the lines and words of a poem.

Like an artist’s sketchpad to practice drawing skills, journaling can be a place to practice and play around with language and ideas.

A journal can be used for freewriting, a form of writing that involves writing nonstop for a certain period of time, say five to 10 minutes, without constraint or a specific goal in mind.

It can be for capturing snippets of conversation, recording details you observe in your environment and offering a timeout to get you to that space where you are ready to write.

I have nearly a dozen journals, and I cannot live without any of them.

I have my diary journal where I write down what I do each day, my responses to the things that annoy and please me and my plans for the next year. I do this every time I start a new journal (usually in June, for some reason) and at the beginning of the new year.

I have another journal that I call my play journal. It has different colored sections that I’ve designated for freewriting, book starts, book and story ideas and notes about the writing process.

Another of my journals is solely for freewriting because it already has prompts that I can use when I’m blocked.

I have a journal for tracking where I send my work. I put exes through the lines when I get rejection letters, turning this journal into one that I don’t like as much as my others. (I gave one of the rejection form letters to my dog and she ripped it up, and quire frankly, I quite enjoyed her slobber marking my disappointment).

A few other uses for journals I’ve run across include:

* Writing exercises you want to try.

* Notes from what you’re reading or the things you want to look up later, such as words, phrases and ideas.

* Character sketches with magazine cutouts, found objects and written descriptions. (I’m just starting this one after seeing that one of my writer friends uses a pasteup board to display the identity of her characters and key ingredients to the plot of her novels.)

* Photos of settings and the buildings and places in your story.

I’ve found that journaling shouldn’t be a chore and by journaling regularly, ideas come to you for new stories, ways to describe things and even new types of journals.

The key to journaling is to write without expecting anything. Don’t worry about quality or grammar or style. Just worry about wanting to write and loving doing so while the words spill off the end of your fingertips.

Babysitting Zoey, Part II

In Babysitting, Confrontations, Dog sitting, Journaling on August 15, 2010 at 2:42 am

In late May 2009, I stayed the weekend in Fleming with my Dad, as did my brother and his girlfriend Kim, along with Sophie, a then-1-year-old golden retriever belonging to Kim’s parents. (Zoey will tell you about what we did in her blog.)

I got home at 10 p.m. on a Sunday, and my mom was mad at me about the dog. She said she has been a pest, making it so she can’t get anything done, and this weekend with her gone made her realize how much time she uses up on Zoey.

She said she didn’t want to take care of Zoey anymore and wanted me to get rid of her. I thought that it was a ridiculous request. I said I would look for a better job so I could afford puppy day care, though I didn’t think I could find one in this great big recession, plus I didn’t want to exactly quit a job I had just started not even a year earlier.

I told Mom that she expects Brian and me to take care of her, but mostly Brian.

My mom said, “Well then, don’t.”

The tone of her voice was like a slap. I told her I was going to bed, not wanting to hear more about how I’m an awful daughter.

The next day, my mom and I apologized to each other.

I wrote in my journal (something I’ve kept since second grade), “I now know it was a mistake to get Zoey, since Mom doesn’t want to take care of an active, hard-to-discipline dog, who seemed very sweet in the pet store.”

I was angry, to say the least. I figured that if my mom doesn’t want to babysit my dog, she certainly wouldn’t want to babysit any child I had. But maybe I was over-reacting, because Zoey certainly wasn’t for the faint-hearted.

My furry child

In First moments, Journaling, Journaling about dogs, Scrapbooking, Wardrobes on July 18, 2010 at 10:01 pm

I did not expect that when I adopted a puppy, that I would mistake her for a child. First, I bought her a mini wardrobe of a couple of sweaters, a coat, a skirt and T-shirts, all of which she refuses to wear. She slips out of her clothes by running and rolling on the ground, lifting up the middle of her back as if she has a great itch to get rid of the extra material. The task is easy for a determined, long skinny thing forced into clothes made for the chunkier, non-wiener shaped.

I then put together a scrapbook, using doggie and heart stickers on each page, of Zoey’s cute moments at play, in a basket, in a boot and asleep in her favorite spots, such as the back of the couch, the armchair, the floor in the sun and, as a last resort, her blue doggie bed.

Zoey’s other first moments got a place in my journal, like the time I waited outside with her during a potty break and she heard her first birdsong. She looked up, turning this way and that with a big look of wonder on her face, and then held still as she tried to determine the source of the mysterious warbling.

Another first moment was her mastery of the stairs, a moment my mother witnessed. My mother said that Zoey looked so proud of herself and was sort of strutting with a look on her face that said, “Boy, look at what I did.”