Saturday, December 31, 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Journaling

In leiu of a best of list, I thought I'd write a quick bit about a writing life change this year.

I hate journaling or keeping a sourcebook or writing in a diary. I had, in the past, tried. Here’s an entry from the diary I got for Christmas one day after January:

There are no entries. Point is I have often felt writing in a journal is…how can I put this without seeming like a jerk…journaling is idiotic—it’s a waste of time. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been a write everyday person, but on particular projects—not in some touchy feely journal where we discuss our feelings and our day’s events and work out our issues about how we felt about the events of the day. So you can tell I’m perfectly well adjusted—in no need of therapy writing or otherwise.

Point is that at the beginning of every academic year the college I teach at hosts a speaker on more effective teaching. This year it was on creativity. Cathy Anderson (a.k.a. the mystery novelist Cathy Pickens) had done an amazing study of the scientific research. My feeble takeaway was: It takes 66 days to create a habit. She made her students journal for 66 days and found that this was one of the most powerful exercises she had tried.

So this semester for my intermediate fiction students I made them journal for the semester, well over the 66 days. I called it keeping a notebook because I still can’t stand the term journal. And here at the end their stories seem stronger (mostly) and more developed (mostly)…well we’ll call them longer anyway.

As for me. I, for once, took my own advice and did the journaling, too. It’s well beyond the 66 days. And I’m into my second journal. I mean, notebook. I feel the itch. But I’m still a lazy person, a procrastinator at heart so I end up waiting to right before I go to sleep to write in the notebook. Currently I’m writing this right after brushing my teeth.

Over the Thanksgiving break, I picked up The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates 1973-1982. Of course, she’s the queen of words, so hers ended up being 4000 single-spaced typewritten pages. I’m averaging 1 ½-2 pages (clumsy cave-man scrawl-like handwritten), so let’s pretend it’s 2 a day, so that’s 730 pages a year x 9 years into the future if I keep it up = 6570 pages. See if we don’t account for that single-spaced typewritten verses elementary-schooler handwriting then I look pretty prodigious. So basically what I’m saying is that I’m better than Joyce Carol Oates.

Let’s also ignore the fact that unlike my notebook which is full of working out stories and a novel, hers is all in addition to all that insane amount of work she produced. Plus there are these highbrow/mystical thoughts. For example:

“Nietzsche’s loneliness. Stocism; and then frenzy. (Doesn’t stoicism lead to frenzy, in the end?) To aspire to Nietzsche’s aloneness in the midst of love, marriage, family, and community. A feat not even Nietzsche himself could have accomplished.”

As opposed to my somewhat less:

“Sleepy Steven had on an armorall patch.”
Let me explicate: I was sleepy, but I write fiction so I cleverly put that feeling into a persona character, Steven. My first name is Stephen so I went with the alternate spelling to throw people off the trail. I’m not really sure what an “armorall patch” is. I’m pretty sure I was asleep by then.

Point is I’m keeping a journal. Notebook. Whatever. Now to figure out what I want to get hooked on in the next 66 days.