Keeping a daily journal has many benefits. But there are several ways to turn a daily habit into something bigger.
Blogging has been around long enough for it to shed its quotation marks for a place in Webster’s dictionary. And while there have been countless pieces written on how to blog well, or how to attract an audience, few pieces have been written on how to turn your blog into a useful tool to both improve your writing and retrieve good material every day.
Journaling is nothing new. Some novelists journal ceaselessly before undertaking their manuscript. Other wrote hundreds of thousands of words under duress, and even in wartime (Sartre filled almost 15 notebooks worth of material during WWII).
The personal memoir is huge right now. A true testament to the selfie generation, if you want to call it that, authors like Karl Ove Knausgaard and even Lena Dunham have used personal reflection to their advantage, crafting hugely popular work in the process. Setting up an online journal and establishing the right guidelines may not seem like much after a couple of days, but over several years, you may have enough preliminary material for a full book.
- Jot down things you notice during the day, and record them at night. Ever notice how certain foods make you feel weird, or certain words that certain people use annoy you to no end? There’s a reason why so many famous authors carry a notepad with them—to notice the little things can add rich detail to your scenes, and using them in recollections help stamp your work in other people’s memory.
- Set a specific numerical goal for your journal. While it may not be for everybody, setting a numerical goal will force you to seek out a certain amount of content for your journal. It will also force you to write daily. Even if it’s as low as 250 words, at the end of the year, you’ll have almost 75,000 words racked up. At the beginning, it may feel like you’re extending your sentences or repeating yourself, but if a major even does happen in your life, you’ll be in the habit of writing a full piece without interruption.
- Setting guidelines is a form of training. Once you’re in the habit of writing a certain amount of words, test yourself with easy writing challenges or writing prompts, but of course, bring them back to events in your daily life. Try writing 500 words about one specific moment, or write a certain amount of paragraphs about the way someone was dressed. Or even turn a regular dialogue into a play. My point is that you need not worry about making up the material while honing your craft
- If you’re lost, start with the senses. What are some sights, sounds or smells that you encountered that day? Is there a restaurant you pass by everyday that smells like smoky mesquite? Is there a noise or an expression or a song you keep hearing that’s ticking you off. Just as memory can be unleashed by a sound or smell, description of the world from the raw perspective of your senses can enliven a scene, and get your writing moving.
- If people tell you stories, write them down. Most writers are, by default, storytellers, but hearing someone else tell a story is beneficial for several reasons. For one, they’re good for basic inspiration. Secondly, you can learn a lot about what makes a story engaging or boring my training yourself to pay close attention to it. What has you hooked? Why are they telling this story in the first place?
- If you feel like your inkwell has truly run dry, think back at events that happened in the past. They don’t have to be especially traumatic or even defining moments in your life, but they should be moments where you can adequately describe what’s going on. What’s great about doing this is that it can reincarnate past memories or help you remember people you may have forgotten. Also, the more you search through the past, the more memories you’ll discover
- If you need to rant, rant. I know that ranting is the basis of most bloggers’ material, but for those who are more reflective, use the opportunity to turn your emotions into strong-worded, convincing paragraphs. Letting off steam is a good way of gauging where you stand in relation to a certain topic, and of seeing if you are taking a level-headed or irrational approach.
- The mundane can often be richer than the melodramatic. Instead of waiting around for major “life moments” or divisive conflicts to fuel your writing, look the other way. Observe the way someone prepares a meal, or how someone acts when they’re pretending to work. Sometimes, the most refreshing thing to read is a slightly different take on day-to-day life.
- Write in heat, edit in coolness. It’s okay to let yourself go if you’re writing with a lot of emotional intensity, but sometimes, combining that intensity with cool-headed retrospection gives your writing a layered quality. Also, the words you originally considered gospel probably seem a little ridiculous with a level head. Go back to one of your old rants and edit it and furiously as possible. What did you change? What do you now think of your original opinion?
- Do not spread your journal around. Keep it to yourself. The biggest mistake you can make with a journal is if you spread your material to as many people as possible. Not only are you necessarily hindered by the pressures of an audience, but you will automatically put pressure on yourself to write pieces of substance or general significance. The point of a journal, in my opinion, is the opposite. What you want, ultimately, is to craft your own perspective of the world independently of others.