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JournalsOne of my all-time favorite quotes is from the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. He told his writing students: "If you want to work on your art, work on your life." That's what we're about during this Lenten season -- deepening our lives so we can deepen our writing.   

LILY is doing it this way. "For the Lenten season this year, my plan is to observe, describe, and write down how the Lord is present and working in our lives on a daily basis. I'm pretty sure this will also impact my writing as I work on book 2. I'll be in a better position to see the magic and to notice attitude and related issues that need to be explored."

SARAH... recently attended a blogging weekend with some awesome ladies and is tentatively trying to start writing one.

AMANDA, like me, is also developing an at-home yoga practice.

In her new blog, HEIDI is appealing to something deeper by making sure that her time with God's word is more important than her own words.

HeidiWait for it ...

Some of you are going to cringe, roll your eyes, etc. when I say this, but one of the almost magical ways to arrive at that "something deeper" is through journaling. I know just because you're a writer doesn't mean you're drawn to keeping a journal. And most writers aren't as into the whole thing as I am. The picture above shows just four of the journals I have going at the moment (one for my protagonist, one for yoga, one for just me and one for my deep spiritual study.) Don't click off here -- I'm not going to suggest anybody else has to chronicle every moment of their lives the way I seem to. Seriously.

However ... I'm putting this out there. According to Socrates, an unexamined life is not worth living. Before you come back with: And an unlived life is not worth examining, hear me out. If we're to write in a way that goes deep into the soul of our characters (in fiction) or the very spirit of our readers (in non-fiction), I think we need to be able to write into our OWN souls and psyches and spirits as well. And besides, you never know what you're going to discover in there.

Spiral journaling

Will you try something with me? One of the things I love most about being alive is that there is always something new to be learned, and just this week while reading a book on women and journaling I came across this scathingly brilliant idea. Here's how it works:

  • Write one page  -- in your own handwriting -- on a topic that's personal to you. I've offered some prompts below but absolutely feel free to do your own thing. It IS a journal, after all -- the freest kind of writing you can do. Write without stopping until you fill up a page. And 8 1/2 by 11 page, ladies ... no itty bitty pocket journals for this exercise.
  • Read through what you've written and highlight or underline one sentence or phrase that stands out for you. I promise you that in the midst of your rambling you'll find at least one pithy, jarring or shocking word or passage.
  • Write just that at the top of a clean page.
  • Now write one page on THAT. A whole page, without stopping.
  • Read THAT page and highlight or underline one word, phrase, or sentence that practically leaps off the page at you, waves its hand and says, "Pick me! Pick me!"
  • Write just that at the top of a clean page.
  • Write on page on THAT. A whole page, without stopping.     

Donald-Maass-1-AThis is called spiral journaling, and it's kind of amazing. It reminds me of an exercise Donald Maass has writers do in his workshops. You list five things that might be a protagonist's motivation for doing a particular thing or having a certain goal. Then you write 5 more. Finally, you choose the last one you listed and try that as the character's reason. Somehow, doing that takes you deeper. I share this with you in case you are still balking at the idea of recording your thoughts in anything resembling a diary.  You can just write a list. 

If you've ever worked with me in a writing class or as a client, you've probably been asked to journal with your protagonist or your antagonist. If you come to any in the future, you'll experience spiral journaling for your character. I'm finding it to be really, really telling.

Other options

First, though, I'm convinced we need to go deeper into our selves. If you save all your writing for projects, try spiral painting or drawing. Sketch or free paint a symbol for something you're struggling with. Find what strikes you most about this piece of art, hone in on just that in your next piece, and so on. I mentioned yesterday that KATHLEEN does something visually creative before she sits down to work on her non-fiction book, and I can personally tell you the results in her writing are like quantum leaps.

To get you started

If you'd like to try this but you're not sure what you want to write about (and by the way, it could be the thing you're most resisting...) these are some prompts that might get your inner wheels turning. SARAH says hers are a little rusty, but give them some mental WD-40 and you're good to go. Nobody is going to read this except you. It doesn't have to be "good." It just has to be you.

    * What's putting you on the interior hamster wheel right now? Or up the crazy tree? Or listening to that tape that keeps looping in your brain? 

    * What do you need to talk to someone about but you're afraid to for whatever reason? Olivia's journal

    * Is a "what if_" occupying your thoughts right now? 

    * Do you want to have a specific conversation with someone but you're putting it off? Losing yourself in Facebook or polishing the door handles instead?

    * Do you have a hope that you think sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud, but you want to explore it anyway? 

Want to comment?

If you want to comment this time, of course tell us anything you want to (except maybe, "Nancy, this is the all-time worst idea you've ever come up with.") But I would LOVE to hear:

                    How this exercise went if you tried it.

                    Your other experiences with journaling.

                    What other methods you use for exploring interior territory.

AND -- if you want me to include a picture of your journal in my next post, by all means email it to me

Meanwhile, enjoy this exploration. It think you'll find it's not as scary in there as you might think.



Nancy Rue     


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Sarah A Greek

Wow! I'm really excited to try this! .... And I HATE journaling. HA! So that is an interesting reaction for me!

Nancy Rue

I agree, Colleen!


Wow. I love that spiraling idea. I’m going to try that. And the prompts—all of them—are going to help. Love interacting more often. What a great community!

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