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Journals: Tapping into the Creative Process

My Moleskine Pocket Notebook and Cross Beverly Fountain PenHandwriting is a skill that tends to be overlooked in our day and age. We spend much of our time typing on keyboards or poking at screens with fingers. The art of putting a pen to paper seems old-fashioned. Many people have given up on this quaint practice of putting pen to paper. Yet, many studies have shown that the human brain is more apt to remember details that are written on paper than on a computer screen and when we write by hand, the parts of the brain more connected with creativity are stimulated than by the act of keyboarding.

There is a real advantage for those who continue to use paper bound journals in their writing process. One of the first benefits is you will be practicing your handwriting skills. If you know cursive, use it! When I first moved to using paper bound journals, I noticed that within a month my handwriting became legible after years of only printing. My cursive is readable again.

Whatever you write with a pen stays in your memory longer. When I take notes at seminars or write down information in my pocket notebook on the fly, I remember where the information is stored and can find it easily based on knowing its place in my notebook. This is not true with programs such as Evernote or Onenote. When I take notes electronically, I must use the search functions because the information moves on the “page” to different locations.

Many studies have shown that when you write with a pen and paper, you tap more deeply into the creative places of your brain. This makes paper journals perfect for brainstorming ideas or even writing the first draft of your book. Writing by hand is slower than typing. It allows you to engage your thoughts into your writing more fully than if you are flying away on a keyboard.

There are many different ways to use a journal. Each type serves a different purpose, but all of them will help to preserve and improve your handwriting skills, offer a writer insight into their creative process or create unique archival opportunities. Below I will list a few of the different types of journaling you might consider.

Travel

When you travel it is always a good idea to keep your tickets, hotel information, travel documents and itinerary in one place. This is the first purpose of assembling a travel journal. Before you go, you can research all the fun things to do in the location and plan when you can experience all the region has to offer. There is a second function to a travel journal, keeping a record of what you did on the trip. Many people like to write down details of their day, take photos or sketch images of where they are, gather small tokens or papers along the way and store them all in the journal. Even if you don’t have time to write while on the trip, if you take a few notes, you can put together a beautiful presentation of the trip afterward with all the materials that you collected. It can become an instant art journal of your experience.

Dream

As a writer, your dreams are often fodder for future stories. There we develop places and characters that spring to life from our unconscious. Keeping a dream journal is a great aid for capturing this information. It helps to keep a journal at your bedside and to write down your dreams the moment you awaken. Don’t be surprised when a glorious plot you spent the night with evaporates with the dawn, but a dream journal is a way to capture that glory before it fades.

Daily

A daily diary is often the first form of journal that people think of when they consider journaling. It is the act of writing down what you did, felt and saw on a given day. Sometimes such journals are filled with emotions and angst, but when used correctly, a daily journal can provide much insight into your past and can evoke memories. When I write in my daily journal, I tend to be more factual. I try and record what I see and where I was. What thoughts and feelings the events provoked in me and who I spoke to, where I went and what sort of media I was engaged with. I make a point to write down descriptions of people and places in order to recall them more clearly at a later time. If I am trying to recall an event of the past, I can look back and see what thoughts were important to me at the time and sometimes this helps me remember more clearly.

Gratitude

Have you ever lost perspective on all the blessings in your life? That is an issue that a Gratitude journal addresses. The concept is to write down three good things that happened to you each and every day. Later on, when you look back at the positive things in your life, it can be uplifting to your spirit. This is a good type of journal to use a dated planner with.

Commonplace

The commonplace journal used to be a very typical journal style. It would be a book where the author would write down what they had learned and their opinions on the information. For instance, if the author was reading a book, they might write down passages in the book that they found interesting and then write their opinions along side the passage. This gave two benefits. First, they were copying work from the “masters” and getting these words into their minds via the process of copying by hand. Then they added the element of their own dissertation to add more meaning to the work. Jack London was known to use this type of journal style to improve his writing without the benefit of schooling. By exposing yourself to literature and copying it, you tend to pick up those writing styles into your own writing. These commonplace journals were great aids in the education of people for many centuries.

Morning Pages

The concept of Morning Pages was developed by artist Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way. The concept is to write three pages of writing in the first hour when you wake up in the morning. This is not to be confused with a dream journal. Your morning pages can be about any subject you choose, the writing doesn’t need to be proofed in anyway and in fact, writing in a stream of conscious manner is the idea. According to Cameron, the morning pages allow you to warm up your writing for the day and lets you dispel negative feelings or thoughts that might be accumulating within you. So it has therapeutic value as well as limbering you up to write your prose for the day.

These are only a few ways that a paper bound journal can be used to aid in the creative process. You can do any of these types of journals on the computer screen if you wish, but you will be missing out on the tactile sensation of handwriting, seeing your script improve, and losing the benefit of slowly down and giving yourself time to think more clearly about what you are writing.

Do you already use a paper journal? What sort of journaling do you do and what is your notebook of choice?

Novel Reference Journal

Neo and Notebook

Every author has their own process of writing a book. Mine has developed over the past six or seven years to use National Novel Writing Month to jump start a single long term project each year. I use the energy of my fellow wrimos to push myself to writing, but there is more to the process than simply showing up for write-ins during the month of November. I also set aside the month of October to plan my novel and December to do the first rough editing of it.

One of the first things that I create for a new novel project are an outline, character sheets, location and object descriptions. I start by brainstorming ideas in a composition book, writing these down by hand with my fountain pens in ink colors that suit my mood. I condense these ideas into plot points in another section of the notebook until I have a rough story line.

At this point, I move the plot points into my computer, using each bullet point as a scene file in my Scrivener program. I don’t name chapters or try to lock them into position, I’ll wait and finalize that once the rough draft is completed. My file names are simple descriptions of what happens in the scene with a little more detail written into the “index card” portion of the Scrivener file. In the research section of Scrivener, I set up my reference files. This is not the final step in my process, although I realize that for many people this is the point where they would start drafting because they write their stories in Scrivener via a laptop.

I find that I do not enjoy writing my novel draft in Scrivener, there is too much temptation in the internet or other distractions if I am in front of a computer. Instead I like to draft with a digital typewriter, a machine known as an Alphasmart Neo. The Neo has several advantages in the drafting process. First, it has zero internet connection and it keeps me from distraction when I write. The machine is difficult to edit on so it keeps me moving forward in the writing process. I tend to write around 50% more words when I use the Neo as apposed to writing a draft on my desktop. Finally, the Neo has the advantage of not needing a power plug. I can write anywhere on a couple of AA batteries for 700 hours. However, without a laptop to view Scrivener, I also have no access to my reference notes when I’m on the go. This is especially critical when I’m out at write-ins for Nanowrimo in November.

Filofax Writing Journal with NeoMy solution is to create a second reference book, but instead of keeping it digital, I write it on paper. This way my information is always available to work along side my Neo and I don’t need to rely on finding a power plug or to rely on my smartphone. In years past, I’ve used a personal sized Filofax to organize my notes. The personal size was small enough to tuck into my writing kit and the rings allowed me to move the papers into a different order. However, after a year or two of this system, I began to discover that the smaller page size was too small for all the notes that I like to bring. It forced me to write everything smaller or to print my information by cut and paste onto pre-punched paper that was not suitable for the fountain pens that I enjoy writing with. I longed to move up to an A5 size Filofax, but the binders are rather expensive.

This year, I was browsing the A5 sized Filofaxes, intending on picking one up for my yearly reference journal, when I happened upon the Staples ARC system in Junior size. Junior is the same size as A5. I could choose covers of polycloth (plastic) or of leather. The pre-punched paper came in lined notes, quads, or projects. A “notebook” purchase with a polycloth binder came with .5” rings and 60 sheets of notepaper. It was the right size and more than enough pages to create a workable reference journal for my novel project, with room to expand if need be. The price was a mere $14. I decided that it was time to try something other than a Filofax.

I purchased the following for my 2014 Nanowrimo Journal:

    A black and white polycloth cover
    .5” black rings
    Black A5 plastic dividers with stickers
    One plastic ruler
    A pair of large rubber bands designed to keep the journal closed

When I brought the journal home, I organized it with the black section dividers and labeled each section with the following:

    Outline
    Characters
    Locations
    Objects
    Notes

ARC Journal - Outline IndexAt the front I placed a 2014 Nanowrimo Sticker to decorate the journal a little. I labeled the project, my name and the year. It will make this easier to look over years later when it is in storage. My Outline section has two parts. The front of the section has a checklist of all the scenes of my novel. Behind this index, I write the scenes again, but I also put in a paragraph description of what the scene is about, basically the information that is in my Scrivener “index card”. My ruler stays in the scene summaries at the point where I’m writing the story to make that section easier to find.

At the end of each writing session, I will upload the text from the Alphasmart into Scrivener on my desktop. I check off each completed scene in the journal index so that I know it is done when I’m away from my computer. No more accidentally writing the same scene twice, I can see my progress in my work, and I gain the satisfaction of writing that check mark. It is a little reward for me.

This year, I’m continuing work on a novel I started back in 2011. Several of the scenes for the story are already completed. They are in a different Scrivener project file so I don’t count them toward this year’s word count, yet I want to see them in my outline so I get a good idea of where all the scenes fit in the story. They are incorporated in my checklist and summaries, but I have pre-checked them in the index and wrote a note in red ink in the summaries to let myself know that these scenes are already finished. Again, I don’t want to accidentally write scenes that I do not need to.

ARC Journal - Outline SummariesThe other sections of my notebook contain my character sheets, location descriptions, object descriptions and a section for notes. Mainly the note section holds blank pre-punched note paper for the ARC Journal so that I can add new pages on the fly.

One of the surprises I had with the ARC Journal is that the paper is of a heavy grade that is very friendly to my favorite fine nib Platinum Plaisir fountain pen. The Coleto Gel Pen that I use for color coding also works well with the paper. I like the way the note paper is printed. I feel it gives my journal a more professional look. The final extra I purchased for the journal were the rubber bands. I use one to keep my ARC Journal closed and it works flawlessly. The ARC tucks into my writing kit smoothly, never opens or mangles the pages, and the polycloth seems to slide into my bag far easier than the composition notebooks or Filofaxes I’ve used in the past.

I write with a lapboard under my Alphasmart Neo and I’ve discovered that the pull out mouse board that comes with it makes a perfect ledge to hold my ARC Journal. It keeps it off the tabletop at coffeehouses so my notebook doesn’t get smudges or wet if a coffee drink happens to spill nearby. I’ve been very pleased with this year’s journal during my writing adventures.

What sort of notebook do you use? Let me know in the comments.

Guest Post: The Jewelry Project Part 2

Jeweler's Bench - Indigoskye Bead Fashions

I received a beautiful leather A5 Burde Binder that I am turning into a project binder. I will be writing a five part series about how I am turning this binder into a design journal for my artisan jeweley business. In this second edition, I explain what a design journal is and why they are useful to artisans like myself. Please, stop by This Bug’s Life and read part 2 of my post series.

Recommended Writing Programs of Nanowrimo Authors

Computer ProgramsNanowrimo is a wonderful month of the year. You join together with other writers to write that novel that has been inside you all your life. One of the other aspects I enjoy about Nanowrimo are the forums at nanowrimo.org. There are a myriad of topics discussed from story adoptions, cafes where you chat with other writers your own age and recommendations about software, hardware, and resources for writers. One thread that caught my eye was about the favorite writing programs used by my fellow wrimos. I will be listing the top five below and giving my opinion about each one. I am not being asked by the company to write a review or paid any money to do so. This is simply my own view on each of the programs.

Scrivener
$45
PC or Mac

Of all the writing programs out there, Scrivener has taken Nanowrimo by storm. The company makes both a Mac and a Windows version of the program, with an iPad version on the way. The program allows you to organize your files in a myriad of ways. You do not have to write from beginning to end as you did the past with word processors and there are plenty of features that make this program ideal for writing novels. One my personal favorites is the project target where it tracks my daily word count and the entire word count of the project. The program does not have an easy learning curve. You will need to ease into the program, grow used to it and explore the hundreds of features to find the subset that works best for your writing style.

If you are a participant of Nanowrimo, you can get a 20% off coupon for the program and if you write the full 50K words and “win”, you will be given a 50% off coupon for the program.

This year, there is a new Timeline program called Aeon that integrates with Scrivener to add to its functionality. If you win at Nanowrimo, there is a discount to purchase the Aeon Timeline program as well.

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will realize that Scrivener is my writing tool of choice. In fact, I’m writing this blog post with it. I first learned of Scrivener via my first Nanowrimo and I used my first win to purchase the program the follow year when it finally came out of beta testing.

YWriter
Free
PC

While YWriter is similar to Scrivener in the way that it organizes your work, it has fewer bells and whistles. For some people this is a positive aspect, making the learning curve of using YWriter much easier. The program is also free to download, which for some makes it a real writing winner! I have a wrimo friend that uses this program for her writing exclusively and really seems to love it. The price is certainly right!

MS Word
Price varies, starts at $99 for student version
PC

MS Word is the old gold standard of writing programs and most writers do have a copy of it on their computers. It is expensive, but because of its universality, it is a program that is recommended to keep in your tool box. A few aspects about Word that make it a little more difficult is that you can’t organize your files in a binder, you must organize them in your computer’s file program. For me, this meant that sometimes my projects got lost. However, I find that as I write professionally, there are times when a client requires the file to be in MS Word. For this reason, I do keep the program on my desktop.

Write or Die
$10
PC, Mac, or Linux

This word processor has a built in timer. When you stop writing, it creates annoying situations to prod you back into writing. Many wrimos love this program because it boosts their word count. It is certainly inexpensive enough and works on many platforms. I have used this program myself and find it fun to use, but I wouldn’t use it as my everyday writing program. It is more something that I pull out for Nanowrimo only.

What is your favorite writing program?

Preparing Your Nanowrimo Writing Kit

Writing Kit 2013Every October I prepare for National Novel Writing Month. Nanowrimo promotes the act of writing 50K words toward the rough draft of a novel. People join together all over the world to support their fellow writers and to help all of us cross the finish line toward success. Most of the writers of Nanowrimo are beginners. The participation in Nanowrimo can be a submergence learning experience where new ideas, techniques, and tools are all explored at a rapid rate to get the beginner writer off in the right direction. Although I am now a published writer, I still look forward to Nanowrimo because it gives me that huge energy boost and camaraderie that keeps me going on a new project.

One of the main things that I do to prepare for the event is to put together a writing kit. It allows me to participate in the local write-ins that take place at various hotel lobbies, coffeehouses, and libraries. Every writer has a unique kit that they assemble to aid them in the writing process.

I start out my writing kit with a designated bag. I will keep this bag packed with all my writing gear at all times. It allows me to pick up the bag and go on a moment’s notice. I know that everything I will need will be available in the bag. I’ve used everything from a grocery sack to a cloth tote bag. My current writing kit bag is a Solo Laptop Tote. It looks like leather and is stylish, but not extremely expensive or heavy. It is large enough to hold all my gear and offers my electronic devices a bit of padded protection. Any laptop bag or backpack should work for this purpose.

Next, I pack in my Alphasmart Neo. I prefer the Alphasmart to a laptop for drafting. An Alphasmart has been my go to device for Nanowrimo for the past four years. I started with a $30 Alphasmart 3000 for my first Nanowrimo write-ins because at the time I could not afford a laptop computer. The AS3K has a run time of 700 hours on 3 AA batteries. Basically, I pop in the batteries and I’m good to go for the year. The screen is LCD and easy on the eyes, unlike bright computer screens or tablets, and it has no Internet capability. Unless I deliberately turn on a device to access the Internet, such as my cell phone, I am not distracted by Facebook or other on-line time wasters. I credit the AS3K for helping me reach my 50K word goal for the first time. The following year, I upgraded to the Alphasmart Neo. The Neo has a more ergonomic keyboard, the 8 built in files can hold more data and the screen is somewhat bigger than the AS3K. I find that my typing speed is faster on the Neo. It makes a great keyboard for computers and tablets, needing only an USB connection to operate. The Neo is about the size of a small Mac Air laptop, but is much lighter in weight and far more durable.

Mighty Brite Duet LED LightI store the Neo in the laptop portion of my bag and I bring along a few accessories to go with it. I keep my USB printer cable in the bag, it is the way that my Neo accesses my computer at home. I use it to upload my writing at the end of each coffeehouse session. I also have a Mighty Brite Duet light system that I clip to my Neo in dark situations or to write at night when I’m camping. The Mighty Brite has two LED lights that can light up my keyboard evenly. It was originally designed to be a music stand light for musicians, but many Neo owners equip their digital typewriters with this light because the clip is strong enough to grip the back of the Neo’s housing. Finally, I bring along a rubberized lap board. It provides a grippy place to perch my Neo if I’m writing on my lap or gives a more stable surface for my device when writing on a table. The Neo never gets hot, but the bottom is a little slick. The board keeps my Neo from sliding off my lap. The board I use is a Logitech Portable Lapdesk.

Logitech Lap Board

I bring several paper bound books with me. First is a composition notebook with the outline, character sketches and other notes for my novel. With it I have a pouch with a fountain pen and a Coleto Mult-pen for color coding. Perhaps it is old-fashioned, but I find that when I’m brainstorming new ideas, I do it better on paper. I index the front of my notebook so that I can easily find the sections inside where my notes are and I always have blank pages available for writing down new ideas on the fly. The other two books I bring are a Pocket Webster’s Dictionary and a Pocket Thesaurus. I like having the means to look up words without having to rely on electricity or wifi access in a pinch.

The final device I like to bring is my iPod Touch with earbuds. Usually, the general din of the coffeehouse is fine as background noise, but sometimes the PA system is not playing something that I find pleasing. When you put on earbuds or headphones, people also take this as a signal that you do not wish to chat and you can carve out more writing time for yourself that way. My iPod Touch is set up with several apps that I use for research, including a dictionary, thesaurus and an app called Lists for Writers. I also carry a cell phone, but I tend to not bring it out unless absolutely necessary because it is too easy to pull out a game or to read Facebook when I do so.

All writers have unique items that they like to bring to write-ins during Nanowrimo. The key is to keep all the items in a single, portable, bag and only bring what is necessary to promote good writing habits while you are away from home. Do keep in mind that local write-ins are a great place to talk about writing and gain advice from your fellow writers. Do not close yourself up completely when you attend a write-in. Most of the habits that I have as a writer were learned as a Nanowrimo participant. Open yourself up to the information available during the November writing push and most of all, have fun!