Mark Twain

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."

- Mark Twain

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Journal tips


They say that if you do something for 30 days, it becomes habit. Therefore, in theory, if you write a little something in your journal (or diary, or notebook, whatever you feel better calling it) for a month, it will become a compulsion. If you can't commit to a full month of daily reflection, at least once a week update your book. Or, if you really want, leave it until you feel you have something worth writing...this is just another procrastination technique however, since the point of learning to keep a journal means being comfortable with it anytime, not just at times when you're become overwhelmed. Even the most uninteresting entry ("Today I ate a sandwich. Then I went over a friend's house. Then we went to the mall. I bought shoes. Red ones.") is practice. Only with time and practice do you begin to realize that its not that you sometimes have something worth writing, but that you ALWAYS have things worth exploring inside your head. The point is to learn to listen.

Don't use a fancy leather-bound, handmade book that cost you 50 bucks at the local bookstore if all you need is a cheap composition notebook and a pen. Its not about using a fancy book, its about tapping into the stream of thoughts and writing them down. If you WANT to use a fancy journal, and it doesn't intimidate you to use one, then by all means, feel free. Whatever it takes for you to become comfortable with your material. This goes for writing implement as well. Don't bother with quill pen and expensive ink bottles if a cheap pen that you stole from work will do.

Don't have time to write by hand OR don't like your handwriting? Try typing your journal. There are several excellent programs for typing your journal (see "Sources and Citations" Below)

Relax. Find a place that wont distract you from thinking. Some people need music playing to get in the mood, some people need silence, some people need constant explosions. Again, the point is to sink into a habit of writing that doesn't feel like homework, but like an escape.

Find something to get you started. This can be anything, from a movie to a book to a recent event on TV or your life...for example, you can consider the philosophical implications of your favorite movie, or write an essay about why you find this or that character compelling...or not. Pretend you have an audience and you are the professor; give a lecture in what you want them to hear.

Of course, doodles are totally acceptable. Lyrics to songs, poems, book exerpts and newspaper clippings are also encouraged...the journal is the real life manifestation of your mind, so make it something that's completely yours.


A collaborative effort could be a unique way of exploring new ideas. The novel "Notebook Girls" is a good example.

"Never write what you don't want others to read". However...a notebook can be burned and a document deleted. Don't be afraid to unlease yourself if you must; a notebook can be locked if you're concerned about others.

Decorate a drab notebook into something you can bear to see everyday and makes you want to write.

Tape record yourself if you must and transcribe it later. You'll want to remember everything you think of for future refference.

Having your journal at hand is always a good idea too; you never know when the opputune moment will come when you want to write something down. Even just a random thought like, "Why do people always look at their kleenexs after they sneeze?" (I know; weird. But whatever) comes around, you'll be able to write it down, and show what you really think throughtout the day, instead of just reflections of what happened that day at the end of the day.

How to Keep a Book Journal

A book journal preserves your reactions to what you read. This can make you a better reader and writer. As time passes, you will love reading through your journal and charting the evolution of your tastes. It can also add an exciting dimension to your book group.


Decide how you want to keep your journal: on your computer, or longhand in a diary or notebook. Have fun with this! Experiment with computer fonts and graphics, or buy a snazzy blank book and pen. Choose a striking ink color.

Add stick-on tabs to your blank book or create different files in your computer directory if you want to organize your reactions to different types of reading material.

Don't be afraid to add doodles or paste in collage art or scan in photos for your computer files. Illustrations give your text a big energy boost.

Start with a basic reaction: what the book was about? How did you feel about finishing it? Sorry it ended? Inspired to change your life? Disgruntled at the waste of your time?

Add concrete details. How many pages was the book, and how long did it take you to read it?
Describe how you acquired each book: from your book group? Recommended by your mother? Assigned in school? Found in the seat pocket on the last airline trip you took? Rescued from a "free bin" at a coffee shop?

Add personal details. What was going on in your life while you were reading this? Possibly you were going through a dark and hard time, and you loved this book for providing escapism. Or maybe something in this book gave you an insight on a conflict with a family member. Books become a part of our lives, and it can be interesting to read back on how.

Artists, describe the cover art: good or bad? Science fiction novels are often burdened with the silliest cover art imaginable. Draw your own improved version. Sketch what you think the characters looked like. Create a map of the book's setting.

Writers, comment on the story's pacing. Did it drag anywhere? Could certain chapters have been cut out? What event formed the high-point or climax of the novel's action? How did you like the dialogue?

Critics, analyze the author's intent. What genre or literary influence did the book reflect? How consistent or different was the book in regards to the author's previous body of work?

Amateur psychologists, did you believe the actions of the characters? What do you think would have been more realistic? Which characters had what type of personality disorder, and which could have benefited from therapy?

Researchers, especially for non-fiction, did the author get her facts straight? What sources did she draw upon, contradict, or corroborate?

Film fans, how would you cast the movie version of the book? How would you adapt it to a feature film or mini-series? How faithful would you be to the source material, and where do you think you can improve it for a visual audience?

Write in your book journal whenever you feel like it, and never get discouraged because you've let some days pass between entries. Only you can set the rules for your journal, and anything you choose to do in it is valid. For increased fun, get a book group started and share your book journals!


If you don't have time to write, just note down the title of the book, and get back to it later.
Always date your entries! You're going to want to track the passing of time, and the changes in your outlook.
Have fun with this! Be proud of yourself for doing something creative.

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