Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Revised Journal


I've always been intrigued by journals or diaries. The concept of having a written record to look back on is appealing. Oh, the memories to be saved!

With this appeal tugging at me, I generally start and stop one on a regular basis. Yes, there is a "stop" because the "daily" requirement soon goes out the window. And, in all my years of starts and stops, I've come to the conclusion that the "good stuff" is probably happening on those missing journal entry days.

I admit, I've never quite got the hang of much of anything that is supposed to be done "daily." Obviously, my writing comes to mind. However, I'm at the halfway point in a class that has keeping a journal as 30% of the grade. It's a short, summer class of 2 1/2 weeks that is flying by. Yes, I should be writing in my journal! But pushing that "should be" aside is a bit of what I've learned about how to make a journal work for me.

First, a short list of definition of journals straight from the dictionary:

a. A personal record of occurrences, experiences, and reflections kept on a regular basis; a diary.
b. An official record of daily proceedings, as of a legislative body.
c. Nautical A ship's log.
d. A newspaper.
e. A periodical presenting articles on a particular subject, like a medical journal.

All of these are types of journals. But do they say daily? I don't think you can throw "regular basis" out the window, but there is some wiggle room for most types. Even for log books. Immediately, I hear Captain Kirk's voice say "Captain's Log, Stardate xxxx." But I'm willing to bet even Captain Kirk got behind in his log entries during "the good stuff." What the heck did he do when he fell behind? Did he say, "oh, forget about it" and skip a few days? How was "the good stuff" kept from being lost for humanity to learn from? (Yes, I know, he had help from the writers.)

But I'm certain he had to go back to his log book a few days later. When the dust settled, he had to recreate from memory what happened. That had to take discipline. Or is it all discipline? Maybe he jotted down some notes along the way. Is that equally impractical?

In my class, one of the tips my instructor gave to writing my journal was, "remember you can go back to your journal entry. It isn't written in stone." I can go back? This was a bit of a revelation. It seems silly now, but for some reason, I hadn't thought that was allowed.

Of course I can go back. It's done all the time. For instance, when I read Robert Kennedy's Thirteen Days, A Memoir of the Cuban Missile Crisis, (btw, am i ever glad that class is over!), it was obviously not a collection of "daily journal entries." It followed a day by day account, but there was clearly a lot of revision and organization going on to add quotes and facts and, ultimately, drama. In many instances, there are passages that begin.."as we later found out..." So, yes, this is journal, but a finished product of many missing days restructured.

Yes, a journal can be, and often is, revised. And another important thing to accept is that a journal can be topical. Robert Kennedy's memoir/journal is topical. The episode based on Captain Kirk's log entries is topical. My class journal is topical.

So, when all is said and done, my comfort zone for journaling may not be a daily diary of random thoughts like "a bird flew down my chimney and is flapping around in front of the fireplace screen." (I think it's still there actually. I don't know for sure with the barricade of furniture I felt the need to build in front of the fireplace and the tv blaring to drown out all that flapping....*shudder*--but I'm hoping it will fly out! Update: It was a DUCK! Yes, a duck flew down my chimney and got trapped at the bottom. A friend got it out (brave girl!) and the happy ending is the not-so-frightening duck is alive and well. Anyhoo, that type of "what happened today" may make interesting snippets for stories, but I personally can't maintain that type of journal.

Topical is another method and it works for my class so it should work for my personal journal and perhaps for my story plotting too. For instance, for the class, I have about twenty topics to write on, which include field trips, some articles and questions. So, this is pre-planned and with a time limit of about two weeks. And every journal entry is made up of notes of the event or article that get revised by what "I later found out."

I'm thinking about how I could adapt this method to my own writing. I know it's nothing new; journalists use it for investigative reporting (field trips, research, questions). Then they work on a deadline to put it all together in a finished product. But, to me, it's a new way of looking at journaling. All I have to do is come up with a set of topics and a time limit. Maybe this would work for a chapter. It doesn't hurt to experiment. :)

Do you keep a journal? What type? Do you have pre-conceived notions of what a journal requires, such as daily entries or thinking you can't revise your journal entries? Ever have a duck fly down your chimney?

2 comments:

  1. LOL -- no ducks, but several birds! It was awful too, because the chimney was too tall for the bird to go back UP! I always felt like a flock of birds would fly over and elbow (wing?) one of them so they would fall down the chimney, as a joke.

    I'm not very good at journals or diaries -- I'm not all that great at daily schedules -- but I do like the idea of being able to go back and flesh it out when there's time.

    LOL about Captain Kirk saying "oh forget about it" when he got behind. LOL I can just see him using whiteout on the Stardate, to make it fit what he actually wrote! LOL

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  2. Thanks for stopping by, Donna! Now I'll be thinking that my poor duck in the chimney got elbowed by his fellow ducks to fall. And white out on the Stardate? You crack me up. LOL I needed a laugh after a day starting to organize my strange "flashback" driven novel - which turned into more of a blog on flashbacks then actually getting a lot done - but it's all part of the process - or that's what I'm telling myself anyway. :)

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