Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

On Blank Journals and Self-Doubt

Forget what they say about diamonds and dogs: when it comes to writers, journals are man’s best friend.

Okay, okay, maybe dogs, too.

Like most writers, I love journals. (I’m talking inspiration journals, although, writers should consider the diary kind, too.) Whenever I get a new one, I admire the artistic cover, run my fingertip down the unbroken spine, flip through those beautiful, blank pages and let their virgin paper aroma fill my nostrils. If the journal has a ribbon as a placemarker, I fling it out of my way. Then, I move to the first page, pick up my pen, and…freeze.

blank journalHere it is before me: a gorgeous, unsoiled journal with over 100 blank pages waiting to receive my brilliance. Only, I can’t help but wonder, do I have any brilliance to give them? Who am I to dirty these clean manila pages with combinations of words that I deem “creative”? Are the words I write worth the death of a tree, worth a lifetime on paper?

Once the ink marks the page, it is there forever. Even if I use pencil, the ghost of the lead will stain the pages with half letters and smudges for life of the paper. There is no going back.

Okay, I’ll scale back the drama, but hopefully you get my point. And even more hopefully, you’ll tell me that I’m not alone in this. For whatever reason, writing in a blank journal is a million times more difficult for me than writing in a word processor. The few real-life writer friends I have echo these sentiments. They, too, recognize the confidence-shattering object that is the blank journal. But, surely, we cannot be the only few who feel this way.

So what is it about the blank journal that is so intimidating? Here are my theories:

1. Symbolism

As humans, we apply a great deal of symbolic meaning to objects. When faced with a new journal, a writer does not see it as merely a journal — it is a vessel of creativity, a primitive draft of a novel, a piece of posterity for grandchildren to discover and leaf through in 30 years. That’s a lot of pressure.

2. Self-Doubt

While I don’t necessarily agree with traditional writer “stereotypes,” I will concede that many (though not all) artists are inflicted with disproportionate amounts of self-doubt and self-criticism. Therefore, when faced with an empty journal, all the ugly heads of “writer’s block” rear. Seeing these blank pages give you a glimpse into your soul: you are not worthy of soiling them with your unexceptional thoughts.

3. Perfectionism

Once your writing utensil hits that virgin page, the mark can never be undone. Why ruin the journal — it’s so pretty! What if your handwriting is messy? What if you make a mistake and have to cross something out or create eraser smudge? Should this journal be all for its own project, or can you divide it into sections? What if you run out of genius and can never fill the entire journal?

new journal
The beautiful journal I got for Christmas, which inspired this post, and which I vow to use fearlessly!

This is not an exhaustive list. And the next one isn’t either. However, if these, or any other thoughts, haunt your new journal, try reminding yourself of these things:

1. It’s just paper.

Seriously, it’s just a bound set of paper pages. It’s not some sacred vessel. In fact, even with your words scrawled in it, it’s still just a journal. Calm down.

2. You can get another one.

If you “ruin” your pretty new journal with “uncreative” thoughts, you can always get a new one. There is no ration on paper at this time in human history.

3. No one else will read it.

Your journal may not be filled with brilliance, but that is okay! It is a place for inspiration, random thoughts, and plot bunnies. No one has to see it, and even if they do, no one will judge it as harshly as you will.

4. Stop de-valuing yourself.

Your words, your creative thoughts, are worth writing down. Trust me, even if you think they are rubbish, they’re not. Besides, as number one says, a journal is just paper. Without your human touch, it will be wasted paper. So put it to use.

5. Just have fun.

A journal is a writer’s playground. In our technological age, you will not publish anything that comes directly from the pages of your journal. At the very least, you must type them into a word processor, which will give you a chance to edit. With that in mind, just brainstorm and experiment and play. Save your genius for Scrivener.

Perhaps my writer friends and I are alone in this phenomenon. However, whenever I receive a new journal, I feel a deadly combination of excitement, nervousness, and insecurity. I know I need to take it less seriously, and perhaps an unofficial new year’s resolution of mine should become to allow journals to be a playground rather than a breeding ground for my self-doubt.

In fact, I am going to combat that this week by using a new journal to hold the story beats for my next manuscript. What about you?


How do you feel about writing in inspiration journals? Do blank journals intimidate you or bring out your creative best? Share your experiences and tips below!

 

Fiction Blog, Writing Updates

My New Year’s Resolutions for 2015

I love making new year’s resolutions. If I were to claim two nerdy, organizational hobbies, they would absolutely be making lists and setting goals. There is something so intrinsically satisfying about writing down meaningful objectives and then crossing them off, knowing that your life is incrementally better for it. Needless to say, I’m stoked it’s that time of year again.

In our household, we follow my husband’s new year’s resolution tradition. His rule is that you make one resolution for every year you have been alive. Last year, I made 21 resolutions and completed 12. The goals I failed to meet were ones where I ignored my own resolution-making advice. They were either out of my control (as in the case of immigration paperwork), difficult to measure, or unrealistic for my stage of life. This year, however, I believe I have crafted 22 resolutions that follow my criteria of intelligent attainability while still being challenging.

And of course, because it’s me, they are categorized.

WRITING

This section of my goals is probably the most important to me, as well as the most difficult. However, I think they are still attainable. After all, if I can write an 80,000 word novel in one month with moderate challenge, surely I can manage half that pace. Again, super challenging, but still possible.

1.       Write for 30 minutes at least 5 days per week

2.       Write manuscript – April CampWriMo

3.       Write manuscript – July CampWriMo

4.       Write manuscript – November NaNoWriMo

5.       Write manuscript – January to March

6.       Write manuscript – May to June

7.       Write manuscript – August to October

As you can see, I am centering my writing goals around the National Novel Writing Month events, because that is a proven method by which I can produce a manuscript. You may also notice that I am not including editing in my goals. This is because I want to focus heavily on production in 2015 and more on publication in 2016. Edit: Obviously I had no idea how long the editing for The Cogsmith’s Daughter would take. But hey, we live and we learn!

BUSINESS

While writing is the most important component of my author business, I have decided to separate these goals into different categories. These are the more “business-y” things I need to accomplish in 2015.

8.       Establish my LLC (opted for a sole proprietorship instead)

9.       Publish my first novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter

10.   Update author website and platform (and then revise each quarter)

11.   Write at least 3 blog posts per week (On average, I think I met this goal.)

12.   Send 2 email newsletters per month

13.   Read at least 40 books

MARITAL

Daniel and I have gotten off to a relatively slow start to our “real” adult lives (thanks immigration). Last year, I made the mistake of setting goals that were flat-out unrealistic for a recent college graduate and her attempting-to-immigrate, graduate student fiance. Therefore, this year, I am focusing on goals that are more within our reach.

14.   Go on a mini-honeymoon/vacation

15.   Sell/donate any belongings not moving with us

16.   Move into our first (rental) home

17.   Set up savings account or invest in a mutual fund

HEALTH/WELLNESS

These are the goals that are more for my personal well-being. However, I know that Daniel will join me in a few of them and that all of them will benefit my other goals by making me a healthier, happier person.

18.   Record 3 daily gratitudes

19.   Reduce migraines to under one per month (12 or fewer for the year) (SO close!)

20.   Exercise for 30 minutes at least 3 days per week

21.   Learn to cook (at least one week’s worth of meals)

22.   Reduce junk food intake to one serving per day

That’s it! Those are my 22 new year’s resolutions for 2015. I know that some of them will be a little easy and some of them will be really damn difficult. However, I also know that I have plenty of people in my life (you all included!) who can help keep me accountable for my goals. Seriously, though, feel free to pester me about any of these at any time. I need it! More importantly, I know that I have chosen goals that are challenging, attainable, and meaningful to me. And that’s all I can do for 2014!


What are your new year’s resolutions? Do you think 2015 will be a better year for achieving your goals? Share your thoughts below!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

How to Make New Year’s Resolutions You Will Actually Keep

It’s that time of year again. As the new year approaches, we begin to think ahead to what it may have in store for us and what we want to accomplish for ourselves. The television is flooded with commercials for dieting products, nicotine patches, and storage crates. The air is buzzing and hope begins to balloon in your chest. Even though January 1st is just another day, we have given it social and psychological meaning, and it marks an almost-tangible transition. You have goals, resolutions, and you will keep them.

new yearAnd then the magic dissipates, the champagne goes flat, mid-January or early February hits, and you suddenly do not care about those resolutions. And even if you do care, you convince yourself that you do not have the time, energy, or resolve to stay committed. Is this just the hectic reality of life? Maybe. But it may also be that you simply did not set the right kind of resolutions.

If you want to make new year’s resolutions that you truly will keep, follow the steps below. I’m using these with my own resolutions, and they have proven to work for me in years past.

Step One: Dream BIG

The dawn of a new year is the perfect symbolic time for refocusing on your dreams. However, most people stop at this step. They say to themselves, “I will be healthy this year.” That’s a great dream! But if that is the resolution you use to represent that dream, you aren’t going to get very far in achieving it.

Step Two: Get Specific

Okay, so you want to “be healthy.” Awesome! Now, what does that mean for you? There are several kinds of health: physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, psychological, financial, etc. Whatever your resolution is, make sure you know exactly what it is you plan to accomplish. Without a clear picture of what your dream looks like, you won’t be able to make it a reality.

Step Three: Get Real

Let’s say your dream is to “get rich.” Okay, fine. And you specify that to be “make one million dollars.” That’s all good and well, but is that goal actually realistic for your current and projected situations over the next twelve months? Chances are, it’s not. A few more realistic ways to work toward your dream of riches would be to receive a raise, find a higher paying job, invest, or create multiple streams of income. While it may take you longer to reach your dream, I guarantee this approach of small realistic goals over big unrealistic goals will help you stay motivated and get you much farther in the long run.

Step Four: Get Quantifiable

So, you have your dream and your specific goal, and you’ve made sure they are realistic. Great. Now it is time to make your goal(s) measurable. Going back to the “be healthy” example, let’s say you decide that means to have better nutrition. Lovely. Make that into one or two even more specific goals that you can quantify. These could be: eat one serving of vegetables every day at lunch, only eat one serving of junk food per day, or drink less than five sodas a week. The choice is yours, of course, but make sure that you can track your successes and failures clearly and without negotiation.

Step Five: Get Tough

But not too tough. If you set a goal for yourself that is too easy or too difficult, you are bound to fail. For example, I drink maybe one soda a month. Tops. So, if my healthy resolution was to cut out soda altogether, that is a healthy decision, but it would not be difficult for me at all. However, I LOVE chocolate, so if my goal was to cut out chocolate completely, I would fail within a week. There has to be a balance. If your goal is not challenging, you are deceiving yourself into believing you are moving farther than you are. Likewise, if your goal is too challenging, you will never reach it and feel like a failure.

Step Six: Get Honest

Selecting your new year’s resolution(s) is a deeply personal decision. However, so many people choose their resolutions based on what others do. Is this a product of social groupthink, social pressure, or just a lack of creativity? No matter which way, make sure you are only taking on resolutions that you actually want to try and that you truly believe will benefit you. Don’t feel like losing 10 pounds? Don’t resolve to lose weight. Don’t want to record every second of your life? Don’t resolve to keep a journal. It’s that simple.

In the end, the keys to making new year’s resolutions you will actually keep are these: know yourself, your situation, and your dreams. Be smart, be logical, and be entirely honest.

And remember: the only judge and the only victor is you.


What are your new year’s resolutions? What factors do you consider when choosing your goals? Share your advice below!

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Should Writers Keep a Daily Journal?

As we approach the new year, I begin to think over my resolutions. For the past four years, I have resolved to keep a daily journal of my life. To the non-writing world, this seems like a natural extension of my status as a writer. After all, why wouldn’t someone who writes keep a written record of her daily life? However, as the writers who are reading this will probably know, the idea of keeping a journal creates a notable amount of debate among writers.

journal resolutionsThose in favor of writing in a journal say that it helps a writer’s abilities. After all, what better way to practice the craft of storytelling than recording the story of your own life? Likewise, writing of any sort can boost creativity and improve general craft skills like sentence formation and word choice. From an inspiration standpoint, the record of one’s life may prove to be a wealth of inspiration and character development when reflected upon in future years.

Those opposed to writing in a journal say that it hinders writers by taking away valuable writing time. Put another way, writers could use the time they spend scribbling in their journal to actually write their novels, poetry, etc. From a technical standpoint, some writers believe the skills gained by journal writing do not actually translate to fiction or other prose forms as well as some writers like to think and may actually hinder professional writing, because the writer becomes too introverted in style.

(On a tangential note, both of these arguments can be applied to the division among writers about blogging.)

Both sides of the argument make valid points. So how do you, as writer, decide whether or not keeping a journal is a good option for you? Well, as I say about most things in the writing world, you simply have to know yourself, your artistic style, and your professional goals. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of this debate, I guarantee there is a style of journal writing for you.

Abstention 

Don’t feel the need to chronicle your daily activities? Don’t want to take time away from your novel to relive your day? Then simply don’t journal. However, I would still suggest taking time for reflection every now and then to keep yourself centered on who you are and where you are headed.

journalDaily Journal Writing

If you are like me from 2011-14, then you like the idea of being able to reflect back and recall every day of your year. After all, when you take time to actually think about how many moments slip through our memories’ grasps, it really is alarming. If you feel like you want to hold onto these moments, then keeping a daily journal of your activities is probably for you. Just make sure that writing in your journal does not replace your professional writing and/or does not become an excuse for procrastination.

Spontaneous Journal Writing

Many writers who I talk to about journal writing say that they simply do not find their own lives interesting enough to warrant daily journal writing — hence why they write fiction. If the romanticism of journal writing appeals to you, but you find your life mundane, try breaking out a journal for the big moments. After all, these are the ones you want to remember, in more depth than a Facebook status. However, I still think it is worth it to chronicle a handful of the mundane days. There are plenty of “ordinary” moments that we take for granted every day, but ten years from now, you might find the regular routine more meaningful than you ever expected.

Freewriting

Remember in school when teachers would have you sit down and do “freewriting?” In case you don’t, it is an exercise in which you simply write whatever spills forth from your brain. By doing this, you will allow yourself to be creative, while still capturing the moods and themes of your daily life. For a more “journal-esque” focus, you could try to gear your freewriting toward whatever issues or events seem most prominent in your life. This way, you still keep track of what is going on, but you retain more creative freedom in the process and frequency.

happiness project journalMicro-journaling

With micro-journaling, you record single words or short phrases about your day — enough to jog your memory, but not take up too much time. This is the style of journal writing that I will be doing in 2015. Since 2009, I have been writing at least three positive things that happen in my life each day, whether I write a complete journal entry or not. As I become busier with work, blogging, and professional writing, I find that I do not have the time or creative energy to keep up with a daily journal. However, I still want to keep a record of my daily life. Therefore, each day of 2015, I am going to continue with my tradition of writing three daily gratitudes. I may expand this to keeping a “one-sentence” journal, but we’ll see how I go.

Writing in a journal takes discipline, a strong memory, and self-awareness. It can boost your creativity and writing craft skills, but it can also take away from valuable writing time and skew your writing style. If journal writing is something that interests you, give one of the styles above a try and see how you like it. Even though journal writing can seem like a restrictive task, there really are no rules. Write as much or as little as you like, in any style you like, and change at a whim. After all, it’s your life. Literally.


Have you ever kept a journal before and what style did you use? Are you resolving to keep a journal in the new year? Let me know your plans and tips!