10 Tips for turning your daily journal into good writing

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.

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. 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
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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?
  10. 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.

10 Really Long Books You Should Read Right Now

By May Huang

Most readers will own one book that is truly the ‘elephant on the shelf,’ a volume that doubles or maybe even quadruples the size of its counterparts. Indeed, we all know one 1,000-ish page novel that is either a nightmare to get through or a genuine pleasure to read. At around the 500-page mark, the following question always emerges: is the effort really worth it?!?!

Below are ten books for which the answer to the question above is a big, resounding: YES.

1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – 784 pages

The first novel to top this list is no other than this year’s Pulitzer prize winner: The Goldfinch. Although relatively shorter than the other books on this list, the Goldfinch is still a good 700+ pages long and a reminder that large books are still being appreciated by critics today. Told in the memorable narrative voice of Theo Decker, The Goldfinch is a story about a theft and the consequences that follow – but it is above all a spellbinding bildungsroman that captures a young boy’s transition from childhood to adulthood.

2. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien – 1137 pages

The Sunday Times wrote once wrote, “the English-speaking world is divided into those who have read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and those who are going to read them.”

Indeed, Tolkien’s universally cherished novel – which celebrates its 60th anniversary this year – captures a beautiful tale of friendship and bravery through two young hobbits’ journey to Mordor, as well as the combined efforts of men, elves and Ents alike to save Middle Earth.

3. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust – 4,215 pages

When one thinks of long books and then considers the impressive canon of French literature, Proust’s chef-d’oeuvre immediately comes to mind as a work worth perusing. Although some will decided to tackle Swann’s Way and then leaves the remaining six books untouched, In Search of Lost Time remains a timeless exploration of involuntary memory – and testament to the merits of run on sentences.

4. Middlemarch by George Eliot – 904 pages

Considered by AS Byatt, Julian Barnes and Martin Amis to be possibly the greatest English novel ever written, George Eliot’s Middlemarch certainly has a well-earned place on this list. Its complex plot and often idealistic characters converge in the span of eight books as Eliot takes readers on a thorough examination of subjects such as provincial life, womanhood and the impact of education.

5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy – 864 pages

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” is the famous opening line that launches readers into the Russian, autocratic world of Anna Karenina. If you’re looking for something more historically rooted in war, however, Tolstoy’s famous, 1,000+ page War and Peace is even longer!

6. My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard – 3,600 pages

Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard took over bookstores this summer as many scrambled to buy the first three translated editions of his six volume autobiography: My Struggle. While many of the episodes recounted in My Struggle could be considered ‘mundane,’ they are fleshed out with such remarkably meticulous detail that one cannot help but marvel at Knausgaard enduring capacity for recollection. Having had a significant impact on Knausgaard personal life, My Struggle also shows that literary acclaim sometimes does come at a price.

7. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace – 1079 pages

Set in the future, David Foster Wallace’s best-selling novel Infinite Jest is an extraordinary exploration of happiness and entertainment. As Dave Eggers writes in the foreword, Infinite Jest “will help future people understand us — how we felt, how we lived, what we gave to each other and why.” Although the many endnotes in the novel send you flipping back and forth between pages, Wallace’s humour guarantees that he won’t make you go through 1000+ pages without also giving you a few good laughs.

(If you’d like to receive some David Foster Wallace wisdom in condensed form, his timeless commencement speech for Kenyon College can be found here🙂

8. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – 928 pages

Originally written in Japanese, Haruki Murakami’s IQ84 has now been translated into over 40 languages. Just as in Orwell’s 1984 (the similarity between the titles is no coincidence), the characters in IQ84 live in a dystopia – but one that is based in Japan, not Great Britain. As its protagonists take us into  “a world that bears a question,” IQ84’s mystery and magic are bound to keep readers hooked.

9. The Recognitions by William Gaddis – 956 pages

There is no doubt that William Gaddis’s first novel is a challenging read. With convention-defying prose and many characters to keep up with over the course of nearly 1,000 pages, The Recognitions was even initially disregarded by critics. Now, it’s undeniably relatable to modern society. After all, as Gaddis writes: “Paintings are metaphors for reality, but instead of being an aid to realization obscure the reality which is far more profound.” Isn’t society today also struggling to distinguish between reality and that generated by mass media?

10. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand – 1957 pages

Strongly rooted in her objectivist philosophy, Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged has attracted both praise and controversy since its publication. In just under 2,000 pages, Rand fleshes out the story of Dagny Taggart, an independent woman who is set on happiness and productive achievement  but finds herself surrounded by those who are incompetent and unaspiring. Who is John Galt? What happens when the ‘Atlases’ of this novel decide to shrug? These questions are answered, and provoke response, in Atlas Shrugged.

Did we miss out one of your favourites big books? Or, conversely, are some of the novels in the list above ones that you consider to be overrated? Leave your comments in the space below!