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Anyone over fifty has probably watched John Boy on
television. He sat at his desk penning words of reflection over the events
taking place on Walton’s mountain. The Walton’s, a successful television
program of the seventies was based on author, Earl Hamner’s life experiences.
Many writers engage in journaling. While a diary often
records the day-to-day activity of a person, a journal usually offers more room
for the writer to reflect on the events of life.
As most of my readers know, I lost my husband the last week
of October. Nearly every site I’ve visited about grieving or book I’ve read on
the topic suggests journaling is the most effective tool the survivor can use
to move through the grieving process.
The process. Like meat or cheese. I do feel a bit as though
have been ground up and now I’m trying to become whole again. Perhaps that is
what journaling does. It makes us feel a bit whole again.
How? Journaling tends to capture our emotions in ways we
rarely express elsewhere. It chronicles our growth over time; our ups and
downs, and it gives us a vehicle to move through pain and suffering. Journaling
brings clarity to our story; our experiences.
So how might we as writers use journaling to improve our
Apart from drawing on our past experiences to retell a story
as Hamner did, I think we can implement journaling techniques to help us create
realistic characters and move our story along.
Remember last week's post when Michelle Levigne challenged
us to “show” rather than “tell?” Journaling about an event from your
character’s perspective may give you the words your character is feeling. The
inner voice through which your character filters the events you have created in
For example, in my current work, my main character crossed a
cow pasture, slipped in some manure, and scraped his hand on a rock as he went
down. I knew he was upset by all that happened. There was no one around or he
would have been embarrassed. Okay. But when I stopped to reflect on what he felt
in that moment, I realized an image of his father laughing at him came to his
mind and he was embarrassed.I could have left it there. Instead, he
emerged with a renewed determination to prove to everyone his toughness and
resiliency. He went from being an awkward city kid to being a young man with
attitude and personality.
Real people change their behaviors over time and with each
new experience, they understand more about themselves. Or they should. Take a
look at your characters. If they were to reflect on their own growth and
development what would they see?
Journaling will also help you create context. You can draw
from your own experiences to bring clarity to the storyline. How do you build
on past experiences? How do those contextual pieces build your own story? How
do you handle situations differently now than you would have in the past?
Journaling helps you see those connections.
Let me give you an example from my own life.
There is a depth of pain I have never before experienced.
Others have lost someone close to them. I’m sure I’ve hesitated. I may have not
known what to say or do so I did nothing. One of my daughters says “Err on the
side of being there. You can always leave, but at least let the person know you
are the sort who shows up.”
The evening Tom died, I remember looking out my front window
and seeing three friends from church all but running toward my house. They may
not have been moving as quickly as I remember, but in my minds eye, they were
rushing to my side. I will never forget that. Now I know what that means. That
one experience will forever change my behavior. I don’t need to have the right
words to say. I need to have arms that hold and ears that listen.
If you are a follower, you know this is the first post I’ve
written since that day. (Thanks again to my guest bloggers and my God who put
it on my heart to load all of November’s posts in before October 29th) I hope
my words will challenge you to journal on a regular basis –either for yourself
or on behalf of your characters.
Suffice it to say journaling gets you writing at a depth
that will enhance your descriptive language,
help you develop empathy,
provide you with a rich context,
give your writing purpose, and
help you build on past experiences.
What else? What have you learned through journaling? Share
your thoughts in the comment section below.