I spend a lot of time “writing,” but often not a lot of time producing much of anything. That is, I spend a lot of time journaling and writing letters, but not a lot of time working on and revising real pieces. My Writer’s March goal is to spend an hour a day working on these “real” things to see if I can actually start and finish some fully formed stories or essays. I told myself that journaling and correspondance didn’t count toward that hour.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not still keeping a journal, and that doesn’t mean I don’t find it necessary to the rest of my work.
I’m not as compulsive as some when it comes to keeping a journal, but I do think that regular documentation is key to collecting and understanding future writing material. Extraordinary things happen all the time, if you’re paying attention, and those things should be written down. (You might think they were so extraordinary that you’ll remember them forever. You won’t.)
There’s a crazy man who lives next door to me (Or maybe he’s homeless and lives in the alley. If he lives in the apartment next door, someone must be taking care of him.) who I see occasionally doing strange things like laughing maniacally, seemingly at nothing, outside in the middle of the night, or filling a shopping cart with random objects then pushing it back and forth through the alleyway. After the night of hysterical laughter, which I’ll admit was eerily terrifying, I deduced that he is mostly harmless. He always seems to be in good spirits, and when I see him around now, it’s with a certain protective fondness. “Hey! That’s my neighbor! Or…um…some guy who lives in my alley!” As I was leaving my apartment a few days ago to go get coffee and “do some writing,” (that is, sit around and write nonsense in my journal,) I turned out of the alley onto Coal and into a mysterious traffic jam. There was a long line of cars in both stretching in either direction from Columbia. As I inched forward, I saw that my crazy neighbor had moved one of the construction barriers into the middle of the road and was standing in front of it, smiling, and waving an egg timer in the air. (I’m not making this up.) People were honking their horns and yelling out of their windows. Since we’re in the age of cell phones, I’m sure multiple people had already called the police. I thought about stopping and trying to get him out of the road before he could be arrested, but realized that, though I knew who he was, he wouldn’t know me. I kept driving.
As soon as I got to the coffee shop, I wrote it all down. Who knows if I’ll ever use it in future writing.
When I write about things that have actually happened, I like to do it as if I’m writing a scene, with as much sensory detail as possible and good control of time. I’ve often held on to story ideas for years, then looked back at my journals from when I first thought of the idea to find, in some cases, full passages that can be excavated and put into new pieces.
Over the years, I’ve been hard on myself about the amount of time I spend with my journal, and how little I spend on other things. It seems so…lazy. It doesn’t feel like writing because it doesn’t feel like “work.” It remains daunting for me to sit down and work on these “real pieces,” and I know that I think about writing a lot more than I actually write, but I’ve realized that keeping a journal is the hybrid of thinking and writing and often serves to transition my mind into doing more “serious” work. So it’s not only crucial for documentation, it is also a sort of meditation that gets me into the writing zone.