But do you journal?

I was never one to journal. I know that’s supposed to be the mark of a great (or at least devoted) writer, that many writers use journals to jot down their thoughts, their opinions, their daily encounters. But for me, journaling always felt . . . awkward. Forced. Which, of course, made me feel less-than. How could I be a writer and not journal? Isn’t that, like, the basis of writing? Perhaps it’s because I’m not the sort of person who easily expresses herself, even by way of paper and ink. Perhaps it’s because journaling is akin to non-fiction, and I wanted to escape reality. Or, perhaps it’s because I had nothing of value to say.

That has been my fear since then, that my words carry no true value. After all, writers not only seek to tell stories to entertain, but to teach. To inspire. To move and motivate. To change the world. If I could never muster enough gusto to journal simple confessionals and experiences for myself, how could I expect to ever write something worthy of other people’s time and heart?

So, I wrote fiction for myself. I created characters I could relate to and characters through whom I lived vicariously. I dropped them in places I’d never been, gave them fears I’d never be able to overcome, forced them into strange and terrible conflicts that they fought to survive. I practiced weaving words, inlaying emotions and desires and tension. I read, and read, and read—different styles, different genres. I wrote in varying points-of-view, honing my style and voice. Most of the time it was garbage, but I kept at it. I loved (and still love) making real the impossible.

It’s an ongoing process, to say the least. A wonderful, frustrating, intoxicating process. What’s interesting is that after years of being devoted to the keyboard, I’ve gone back to writing by hand. I’m still not a journaling gal in the traditional sense, but there is something pure about unraveling thoughts and plots and snappy little descriptions into a notebook. My desk is littered with them—notebooks for poetry; notebooks for outlining; notebooks for story ideas; notebooks for revision. Granted, I still do the bulk of my writing on my laptop, but I sketch and edit by hand. It’s inherently satisfying to impale an ineffectual word with an inked strike-through, or to let ideas pool onto paper with purple ink. Writing by hand forces me to slow down—not just because I can’t read my own handwriting when I write too quickly, but because I’m consuming literal space. I have x-number of pages in my notebook, as opposed to the limitless space in digital documents, and I want to make each mark matter, even if it’s crap. Afterward, I have this creative memento I can hold and perfect and reflect on. They’re like pit-stops or souvenirs collected from my great novel-writing adventure. Or something less campy.

I may not possess the inclination or ability to successfully journal like other writers, but I no longer feel like a failure because of it. It’s taken many years, pep talks, woe-is-me lamentations, and talking with other writers to understand that there is no one way to write. Let me say that again: THERE IS NO ONE WAY TO WRITE. Write in a way that works for you, whether by journaling, typing, inking through notebooks or loose-leaf pages or on the back of your hand. Write when you feel inspired and write when you don’t. Especially when you don’t. The only rule, if it can even be called that, is to simply write. For yourself. For your loved ones. For strangers. There’s no easy way to do it, except to do it. And you can. Believe it.


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