Why Keep a Journal?
As promised, this month's subject
is "Why Keep a Journal?". I believe that one of the greatest benefits
in keeping a journal is not necessarily found in the act of writing it. But before
describing what that benefit is, I'd like to say something about what a journal
is and is not. A journal is not a diary. Even though both are types of personal
writing in which the language is informal, the point of view is distinctly first
person, and the mood is reflective, a diary is the place to write about intensely
personal things. A diary is private writing.
In a September email
message, writer and musician Tom Ewart expressed his thoughts about what a journal
is. He wrote, "I think the most important thing about a journal is having
it be a place where you can let yourself go---no holds barred, no censor on your
shoulder, damn the torpedoes and whatever damage they might possibly inflict.
If that's not the case, it won't be you on the page; it'll be the you [that] you
would be willing to let others see if they ever chanced upon what you have written."
I like Tom's idea of the journal being "a place"---it sounds tangible,
even though what ends up there are thoughts. Keeping a journal becomes a way to
use writing to uncover, not discover, what's on your mind to write something for
a future audience. That's what writers do: arrive at a point in time where what
is on the page seems important enough to say to someone else. I use my journals
to talk to myself about what's captured my attention and imagination, to write
in that mixture of observed fact and response known as the personal essay. Because
journals are rooted in Tom's "no holds barred" territory, parts end
up in poems and/or paintings.
I keep three different kinds of journals
going because writing is essentially need-driven for me. I do not write in them
every day, but when the need arises (which it does almost daily), I have a place
to go to fill that need.
DAY BOOK: Donald M. Murray (A Writer Teaches Writing;
Crafting a Life in Essay, Story and Poem; Expecting the Unexpected) taught me
about keeping a notebook dedicated to capturing thoughts, sparks of speech, phrases
and descriptions from newspaper articles that radiate enough heat to write or
paint about in the future. It's also the place where those middle-of-the-night
ART JOURNAL: This is where I make space to wonder. A look
inside reveals thoughts or sketches about:
· my motivation (the question
Why do I need to make art? comes up a lot),
· my process or someone
else's (What makes me know it's time to paint over an earlier work, and that I
can let go of it to make
· an illusive goal (Where is the publisher for a manuscript?),
· a rejection (Why wasn't my painting or poem accepted?),
a troublesome painting (Look at that whole area with nothing---or too much---interesting
going on in it!),
· where I am in the process (I can't believe I painted
forty pieces on the same subject!),
· notes from painting classes and
· plans for new pieces,
· predictions about
revisions that are sure to solve some pesky problem,
· cartoons about
writing and art that are clipped from newspapers and magazines.
Here is the heart of my continuing art education. I received one as a gift in
December1999. With a page earmarked for each museum and sections for sketches
and notes, it is almost filled. At first, I was perplexed by the limited space
I had to write about an entire morning or day of blissful looking. Being confined
to a page forced me to say what stymied, stunned, or satisfied me about each museum
or exhibition visit in a concise way. Because it takes only several minutes to
complete, it gets done and not put off.
Writing in these journals fulfills
my "need to know what I think," as Tom Ewart put it. Now, what is that
major benefit of journal writing that I mentioned in the first paragraph? It comes
after I write in them. I make a point to read through all that I've written two,
four six---weeks, months, years ago. What seemed so important and/or stressful
six months ago has either been resolved or taken its place among the I'm still
doing the best I can about this or I couldn't do anything about this, so I let
it go categories.
The advantage of having written the way I felt about
an issue or problem is that it stares back at me on the page today. I remember
writing the entry, and I know what has happened since. I see knowledge and experience
building. Reading over past journals serves as a reminder that work and time will
solve some problems, while those that are still unresolved will seem different
in today's light. That helps me to get on with the work of creating. And I find
that very useful.
November's journal will be my tribute to the Albright-Knox
Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. If you would like to email me your ideas, questions
and/or comments about the creative process, please do so: firstname.lastname@example.org