Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Good Night, John Boy

Earl Hamner, Jr.
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 writing?

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 your story.

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.

Until then, Good night, John Boy.


  1. Journaling. A voice needing to be heard. Not necessarily by any breathing soul other than ourselves. I've lost my voice. Is God closing doors from verbal to written word? Will I ever regain it. Is this dysphonia for life? These were questions in my heart today. I have been too afraid to write them.
    I thank you for reminding me. Use the vehicles available. Pen. Paper. Computer. Crayon.

    1. Even when you feel you've lost your voice, God hears your heart. My prayers are with you as you put pen to paper today. One word at a time.

  2. I love this post. I'm so busy working and with two kids that I rarely journal anymore. But when I read my old entries, I always get the opportunity to grow a second time through the words that were so close to my heart when I originally wrote them. I'm going to make time to reflect and grow again through journaling.

    1. What a great goal. You may recall, Kendall, how I recently laughed at a journal entry I made 43 years ago. It was funny, but healing-- and gave me insight into how much I had grown through the years because of experiences I recorded even as a newlywed.


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