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Journalling without the journal?

Now, Matt has written many posts about keeping a journal in the past, and it isn’t something I’ve felt I could contribute to. Yes, I am admitting here that – shamefully – I don’t keep a journal for ideas.

leather bound journal

Where do you keep your notes?

Ok, that isn’t entirely true, I do have a writing notebook. I even have it divided up into different sections, so I can scribble notes and ideas for my various ultra-projects. And in the back of this notebook, I even have a name bank. That’s right, I list names. This is because I have a terrible time with character names. Anyone who has read through a large portion of the body of my writing will no doubt come across the same names over and over. Which is why (back when I actively kept this journal) whenever I came across a new name (I’m not a fan of using the “everyday” names, you see) I would make a note of it.

The problem with my notebook is that I never take it anywhere (it’s a little cumbersome to carry a notebook around all the time), and therefore never jot anything down.

No, I do something much worse…

It’s All in His Head!

Yes. Whenever I “make notes”, I keep them in my head. Terrible writing practice, I know. This is, I believe, one of the reasons I have such an ‘up/down’ cycle with my writing. I imagine that someone who keeps a journal, or a notebook, and is constantly jotting notes, is far more likely to maintain a consistent flow of writing. Similar to my much used gym analogy, or Matt’s dieting analogy. If you don’t keep notes, or don’t maintain a journal, then yes, you may go through periods where you can get a lot of writing done. But without that small element of daily practice, you can get complacent, and go through long periods of inactivity/over eating/not writing.

Fortunately I have been blessed with two things: An overly obsessive personality, and a very good memory. Now, I’m not claiming to be some kind of mega-mind here, and I am not condoning this practice for other writers (we all know we should keep track of any notes and ideas we have, and the best way to do so is to write them down!) but I can honestly say that out of the many random ideas and thoughts that I have to do with my writing every day, I can retain at least 85% of them. Yes, I know, writing them all down would allow me to retain 100% of them, but it’s not easy to write things down if you’re on a treadmill, or somewhere equally writer unfriendly.

So yes, I have developed the practice of ‘taking notes’ in my head. Yes, again, I know, terrible practice. You can put those pitchforks and torches down. I’m also getting to my point, if you’ll bear with me.

The advantage (and I guess this could be said to be the only advantage) to such a practice is that you can cultivate ideas at the speed of thought, so to speak. Don’t worry, I’m not being overly pretentious when I say this, at least I’m not trying to. If you think through your ideas, then you can scrap the bad ideas you have instantly, without having to take up the time of writing them down, before realising that they’re, well, rubbish.


Once again, I admit, this isn’t something that I do on a regular basis (at least not on paper), but it is related(ish) to keeping a journal. It’s a process of making notes, just jotting down anything that comes into your head, and then wading through all the material to get to the good stuff.

Over the past year or so, I have been involved in an on-again, off-again collaboration with one of my non-writerly friends. And this is what has led me to the brainstorming. Because we can throw ideas around at each other, and just go off on tangents with different ideas and so fourth. Now collaboration is itself an entirely different topic, but I bring it up here because this experience has taught me something, why it’s always good to bounce ideas around and get feedback. Because this friend of mine is totally unafraid to tell me that an idea I’ve just come up with is moronic, and should be burnt (You can tell he’s not a writer, because he has no concept of my sensitive writerly feelings!) I try to keep him away from my other projects, just in case he tells me, ‘well, this is just crap!’

Brainstorming though (in terms of the thought process, as opposed to the writing it down) is a little more sketchy. Just letting your thoughts flow freely might throw up some really good ideas (I know I’ve come up with some killer dialogue from this in the past), but as opposed to the more direct thinking about your work (which is what I usually do) then it is very easy to forget (and I have forgotten a lot of this killer dialogue – go figure), so you should of course write it down! If you can’t do it there and then, try to retain it until you can write it down, and do so! There has been many a time when I myself have thought ‘Nah, I don’t need to do that, I’ll remember it.’ Only to – you guessed it – not remember it.

So what can we take away from this? Yes I suppose it is much easier to take notes in this modern world we live in. You can take notes on your mobile, or your blackberry, or palm pilot, or whatever other technical knickknacks people carry around with them nowadays. So it isn’t as necessary to carry around a leather bound journal, and so announce to the world ‘I’m a writer, damn it!’ You can tweet to yourself, or add a note to yourself on Facebook, or hell, email yourself, so you can take stock later. We have so many ways of taking notes now, so I guess the question is, why don’t I? Because I stubbornly refuse to take advantage of all these technological marvels that we have? Well, yes, really.

I hang my head in shame.

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