One of the early pep talks for NaNoWriMo this year was from Daniel José Older. His whole pep talk is great; this sort of writing about writing is something I just devour and something I’d one day like to really contribute to myself. In particular Older talks about his writing journal, something that he’s only recently started using, and how helpful it has been to his process.
I’d heard about writing-specific journals before from Brain Pickings, that glorious gallery of all things art and intellectual. The idea appealed, because frankly any idea involving a notebook tends to appeal to me, but I wasn’t entirely convinced. I hadn’t seen other writers doing it and wasn’t sure how useful it would be. It’s also not the world’s easiest thing to Google more information about, as most types of journals tend to involve writing. I like having a nice foundation of information before starting new little projects like this. Older’s pep talk got me thinking about it again, and I decided to give it a try during November when I was, at least theoretically, going to be writing every day.
Older writes his journal before the day’s work, but I decided to do it at the end of the day, mostly because – let’s be honest here – I get my writing done by about ten minutes to midnight. I’d forget to write in my journal earlier, and remember just as I was sitting at the keyboard, at which point I would be anxious about not getting my actual writing done. Afterwards seemed a much better idea: to use the time after writing to record what I got done on a given day, how the writing went, and my ideas for tomorrow. I slipped a new insert into my traveller’s notebook and started on the 29th of October.
It’s been going really well. I don’t write every night, but most nights I do. It’s actually quite relaxing, a way to wind down after an intense couple of hours at the keyboard. I expected to just use it for “what I did today”, “terrible writing but at least I got it done” and “this worked, this didn’t”. And I do use it for that. But I’ve also been floating ideas, possibilities for the second draft when I can tell something hasn’t worked the way I wanted it to, sketching out the scenes I’ll be writing tomorrow, comparing my progress to my Save-the-Cat beat sheet to see if I’m on schedule. (I’m behind. Shocking, I know.) I’ve been unravelling plot dilemmas. I’m working out where I’m going tomorrow before I sit down at the keyboard the next day to write it, and that saves time on the one hand and gets me excited about the next day’s work on the other. I do, after all, think better on paper than in my head, so the writing journal has been a great tool, and writing in it regularly, even if it’s just to say “good writing day today, I managed to get that scene written”, gives me the opportunity to think about my novel in a very practical way.
The hope is that the journal will keep me writing on a more or less daily basis moving forward from November. If you want to have something to record in your writer’s journal, you have to actually be writing. I’m also hoping that it will provide the introspective element to help me work out what I want to be writing come December 1.
In all likelihood, I’ll have a couple of scenes left in my novel to go back and get written; I’m within spitting distance of 40,000 words and I still have the “all is lost lull” to get through before the Big Finish. My plan at this point is to sketch out scenes that are less important and get back to them when I’ve reached 50k. I really want the end all wrapped up on the 30th. I want to type those beautiful words, “The End”.
And then CELEBRATORY WINE.
After that, I don’t have any earthly idea what I’ll be writing. The novel needs to sit in a metaphorical drawer for a couple of months, so I have more objectivity about it. I already have ideas about how to shape it further, what characters need to be changed and how and why. What scenes need work. You can’t always know this stuff ahead of time, you need the whole draft in front of you, the big picture, before you know entirely how things need to be changed. But that’s months away. I’m not going to be slacking off all summer. It may be time to go through all my old writing notebooks, and see if there’s and idea in there whose time has come.
But first, CELEBRATORY WINE.