This is the time of year I reread my journals. I keep two of them.
One is larger, kept on my bedside table, for the purpose of collecting my thoughts at the end of the day. The other is small enough to fit in my back pocket, accessible at any time, to capture whatever thought may come at me unexpectedly any place I happen to be.
I do my best to avoid doing this while in traffic.
One reason I do this is because of another journal entry, written by Søren Kierkegaard. He writes:
In Danish –
at Livet maa forstaaes baglaends. Men derover glemmer man den anden Saetning, at det maa leves forlaends.
In English –
… life must be understood backwards. But with this, one forgets the second proposition, that it must be lived forwards
When I review what I’ve written, I wish to know:
What events or themes cropped up in my life that might need to be explored further?
What have I’ve been most concerned with?
And, how am I tracking toward those goals that are difficult to measure?
Kierkegaard does go on to write that because of this issue of reviewing the past while living in the present, “life, therefore, cannot be fully understood” so perhaps my time is wasted asking these questions.
I began my first journal over seventeen years ago. Since then, I have always enjoyed taking the time to look back.
I read and consider what I might need to change about who I am. I also read and am thankful for the year of life, whether good or bad, I have been given.
It started with a halfhearted promise to my wife. I wanted to do something significant for my newborn daughter so I promised to write in a journal every day for the first year of her life. Today I am writing in one for my fourth child.
Writing can be a funny thing. Like anything we want to change in our lives, a simple daily routine can seem monotonous, minuscule drops in a bucket.
One paragraph, one page.
Nothing of importance.
But what began with a single word is now a little pile of journals.
I don’t have a lot of words packed in the bindings of these books but I hope they will be cherished. After all, they are about birth, the struggle for sleep, trying to slow down and savor the quiet moments, and the joy our brief lives can have.
I have written hundreds of thousands of words and will certainly write more still, but there will be nothing I am more proud of than these simple looking journals.
I wrote in a journal for my first two children every day for the first year of their life. I am doing it for my son now, he’s 6 months old. I love the fact that the last thing I do each day is write and write about something that matters very deeply to me.
I don’t pretend to be C.S. Lewis in my ponderings, I just try to intermingle my sons daily activities, milestones, and offer advice and thoughts about life. It might not be brilliant, but I hope it shows how much I love my children and how much I want them to have a deep rich life. I love doing something I love and using it in a way to honor my family.
I can also see the benefits of writing every day.
I believe writing is a lot like learning a language. Take the Spanish I used to know for example. While I took classes in high school and college and even went to Mexico and Honduras, now, I can barely bumble through a conversation. Sure it might come back after a while but for the most part it’s gone my friend.
When I could speak Spanish I was learning and speaking it often. I was immersed in the language. Our creative muscles work a lot like that too.
If you can’t find the time to write for a good chunk of time each day, though I’d argue we could all find at least an hour, keep a note pad by your bedside and write each day before you go to bed. Write four sentences. Write a page. Do what you can but do daily so you train your mind and don’t lose those writing muscles. After all, if your goal is to be a writer and to write for a career it might be wise to see if you can both do it and stomach it.
If there is anything a writer (or any artist) needs, it is that. After all, you are placing a short story, essay, painting, poem or some other original work out in the open for someone to love or scrutinize.
Though I have written for years and published a little, I still wrestle with small bouts of insecurity. The shadow comes when I blog, tell people I am a writer or submit the latest short story. I think I am not good enough, original enough, have not lived and experienced enough to put something amazing or meaningful together.
Over the last few months I created a writing space. I built bookshelves, put pictures up of my wife and kids, in order to have a place to write and keep my writer-ish things (like a sailboat, family heirlooms, hockey pucks and, most importantly, my leather bound journals).
Every once in a while I crack open a journal entry or two to review an important date of my life. The entry at 5am before I was married to my beautiful bride. The birth of my first daughter. The day I graduated college. The day my second daughter was born. I reflect and remember how much I have grown both as a writer and a person. Recently, I read my very first journal entry and smiled.
This “entry” consisted of a date, title, and a scrap from a devotional book. That’s right. My first attempt at a journal entry was also my first attempt at plagiarism.
Be what it is, I learned something. Something significant and comforting that I consider each time I embark on a new project.
I have come a long way.
I can see progress and joy in my entries and short stories. I see the love of something good and, even in the rarest of occasions, profound.
There are many things we build on. But they all come from the first word, the first step of trying something new. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t.
That is not the point. The point is the step.
After a while you can see just how far you’ve come.
If there is any doubt in you writer – think about the piece before. Think about how far you’ve come. I did and find I am a lot further down the road than I could ever have expected.
I am NOT a runner. However, after much contemplation I signed up to run a 5K race here in Grand Rapids called the Fifth Third River Bank Run. I did so because I have not done any strenuous physical activity since my last days of hockey at a charity ice hockey game at Van Andel arena over 2 years ago, and I wanted to get back in shape. Also, my work was paying, so I figured why not?
There is one catch with the company paying for the race, there was no backing out. If the employee recanted, woke up from the delusion of wanting to be a runner, or decided the 5K Kool-Aid wasn’t really THAT good, the individual would have to pay the company back for withdrawing from the race.
I know, I know. You were under the impression that I was writing about overcoming writer’s block. I am getting there.
Consider, what’s at stake if I withdraw. If I don’t do it, I have to pay back the $30 – $40 in registration fees I don’t want to pay. That’s a motivator. If I run the race with my coworkers and do awfully, that’s a motivator too (I know I shouldn’t care what other people think, but you take showers when you go to work, don’t you? Now back off!). Because I want to do well and have a tendency to be competitive, I am training to run it well as all of the times are posted for the wide world to see. So, there are a lot of motivators for me.
Now, on to the writing part.
You are struggling. Life is a static buzz right? Dragging yourself to the keyboard carries so much weight you’d rather just sit on the couch. I know for me it was that waynot too long agoand I had to challenge myself. That was the only way out for me.
Now, there are many reasons why you might be stuck and I bet they have nothing to do with the story. It could be a plot thing, but if that is the case, read a couple of books in your genre. If that doesn’t help, talk with a few writing friends about your struggles and in time, you’ll be fine.
It could be a life event. A death of a friend or family member, trouble at work, being fired from work, depression, an accident, or many life situations that cannot be changed or muscled through. These are terrible and inconvenient life happenings that suffocate anyone let alone someone trying to be creative in their free time.
To these two things I offer two responses.
Being Stuck in Your Story – When you are mired in a convoluted plot point and not wanting to face it, just race ahead to a part you want to write. It’s true that the main idea to keep in mind when you are writing your novel is your audience, but writing something you are passionate about is important too. Also, will you have an audience if you don’t have a novel? To this I say, get a little tenacity. Buck up mate!
When Life Events Derail – There is probably nothing that can be done to alleviate the uncontrolled stress or unfortunate circumstance in your life. There is no mucking through depression or a death of someone you care deeply about. There is nothing that can be talked through, though it might help a little.
If this is your case I have one suggestion. Be consistent. Set a time to sit down wherever you usually do to write your novels, short stories, sonnets, or blogs and go there at a set time each day or whatever time schedule might allow. If you don’t have time, elbow something out. You may find the rhythm of just being in the place you write helpful. If you cannot write anything you may find keeping a journal helpful. Plus as writers tend to share what they write, you might find someone in a similar circumstance that would find your thoughts helpful.
I hope you do not find these responses insincere or comical. I hope you are encouraged and clear some time to write today.