By Lonnie Cruse
After the 9/11 tragedy the discussion on various writer’s lists centered around how difficult it suddenly was just to write. Some writers worked through their horror by writing, others couldn’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. I've always found myself in the “writing it out in order to get it out” camp. I’ve been studying a lot about journaling lately in preparation for a workshop I taught at the library in Harrisburg, Illinois. (Have Workshops, Will Travel!)
I hadn’t realized until recently that scrapbookers often journal their photo pages, but that’s a terrific idea. My hubby has long complained about the pictures his mother didn’t at least label with names and dates, and about the ones I don’t either. Journaling about photos does leave a terrific record for our progeny. And it doesn’t have to be novel length, just a short paragraph/history about the photo.
Even though I don’t journal our photos, I did buy a blank record book many years ago, right after my dear father-in-law passed away. I jotted down as many as I could of the wonderful family stories he used to tell, like the time his uncle pounded on the front door, bellowing for help. The family raced to the door and found him on the porch, holding tightly onto the snake inside his overalls that had somehow slid up into them as he walked home through a field of tall grass, most likely when he climbed through a fence. Okay, all together now: EEEWWWWW!!!
After I’d written down all the wonderful stories I could remember about my in-laws, I included stories about my parents and then moved to stories about hubby and I, and our sons as they grew up. It’s been a joy over the years to see our oldest son read that book and laugh out loud. Wouldn’t your children and grandchildren like to hear stories you remember about those who have passed on?
Journaling can serve other purposes as well. Now, as with most things, I don’t jump in half-hearted. I’ve got probably half-a-dozen journals, for various uses. The two smallest with the cute dogs on the front are for our grandsons. When they come over for one of our “adventures” I try to note what we’ve done together so they will remember when they’re grown and we’re gone. Some things, of course, are unforgettable. Our youngest recently told his dad that he likes to come to Grandpa’s because “Grandpa always hurts himself.” Lest you think that’s a joke or the kid is really mean, (he isn’t, trust me) here’s what he meant. Our most recent adventure was in the creek that runs alongside our house. Grandpa scraped and bruised the underside of his arm practically from elbow to shoulder, “teaching” the boys to swing on a grape vine out over a grassy area. Watching a guy in his sixties imitating Tarzan. . . well, you probably hadda be there. Sigh, but I digress.
One of my favorite journals is my writer’s journal where I jot down quick ideas for novels, short stories, blog posts, newsletter articles, etc. I use it for notes about characters I want to create, notes from classes I take on the Internet (just finished one from Writers Univ) my assignments, things like that. It’s not real in-depth, mostly quickly jotted notes, maybe slices of things I’ve experienced or heard from others, but it’s a huge help to my writing. If I have a problem area in a manuscript, journaling about it can often show me the answer.
I have a personal journal for life lessons and spiritual growth, and I go there when life is a bit dim and I need to “write it out.” Because that’s one of the beauties of journaling, being able to write out whatever’s sitting like a giant cement gremlin on my chest. Seeing a problem on paper can help me step back and separate the individual tree the forest had blocked. And I can tell if I’ve actually been learning anything over several months or just stagnating.
There are a bazillion websites on the Internet about journaling, so anyone interested in the subject can find whatever you need. One thing I recommend is getting a journal you will really use, particularly one where the pages lay flat. Much easier to write in. And buy a journal that is attractive, but not so attractive that you are reluctant to “mess it up” or one so plain you get bored with it. And you don’t have to journal page after page, nor journal every day. Short snippets are fine, unless you need more. It doesn’t take a lot of time, and I think you’ll find you enjoy it. It is a good idea to keep it handy so you don’t forget about writing in it.
If you have personal or writerly issues to work out and you aren’t currently journaling, why not give it a try? See if it helps. And if you have children or grandchildren, by all means, keep a journal for them and for yourselves. The funny things they say and do often slip away, and jotting a few notes will help you remember. And it will give them a gift from you one day that none other could ever compare.
That reminds me, there was another episode involving a grandson and a tree just last week. Excuse me while I take a few minutes to jot that down in his little journal.