The Sunday Salon: Keeping Separate Journals

This morning I spent a few minutes browsing Amazon, having fantasies about books I want to buy, borrow or steal (jk), and thinking in particular about books on writing creative nonfiction.

Of course that means browsing books by the “godfather” of creative nonfiction Lee Gutkind, coming upon a listing for The Art of Creative Nonfiction, and clicking the Look Inside link on the book cover to get a taste. I scanned the Table of Contents and saw a section titled “Start a Writer’s Journal,” which was intriguing because I’ve kept journals for years, writing not only personal stuff, but also stuff about writing, observations, notes, etc.

Often, though, when I’ve gone back through journals, I find it hard to sort through the personal and pick out the “writerly” entries, things that might make a good story or a good detail in a story. It really never occured to me to keep separate journals, a personal journal and a writer’s journal. Or, it did, but it seemed to be a “why bother?” thought. Wouldn’t that become confusing? How many notebooks do you need?

But Gutkind advises writers to keep a separate journal. A personal journal, he notes, can be, well, too personal, divulging too much of his or her life, too much that may not be fit for public consumption. Or maybe it is?

A writer’s journal, Gutkind says, is a little less personal, though not lacking in personality. It’s where “you conduct an ongoing, spontaneous dialogue with yourself about writing, developing the subjects you intend to or are actually writing about.” Gutkind compares the writers journal to an artist’s sketchbook: “It’s where the masterpiece begins.”

It’s certainly something to think about, though at the moment I’m confined to one notebook because that’s all I can afford. I suppose I could open a new blog, but then that would confine me to the computer, wouldn’t it?

So, do you keep a separate writer’s journal? How do you use it?

Slow Hand

I’m reading William Least Heat-Moon’s Roads to Quoz, and in the process of describing a trip through Arkansas, he writes about meandering through settlements named Ink and Pencil Bluff and, in turn, those names remind him of his method of writing:

Considering my method of writing, driving through that territory gave new meaning to autobiography: I write a first draft in pencil, the second in ink from a fountain pen, and only thereafter do I enter the realm of binary digits (although six drafts — three-thousand pages — of my first book came tickity-tick-tick out of a typewriter.)

Reading that really struck me how impatient my mind is sometimes (all the

William Least Heat-Moon

William Least Heat-Moon

time?), especially the johnny-deadline (to steal a phrase from Stephen Harrigan) mind I acquired from journalism. It’s hard to imagine writing any nonfiction piece, even a book-length piece, at such a slow-handed pace as Heat-Moon’s describing here. Although at one time drafting furiously at a computer seemed horrifying to this owner of a Royal manual typewriter. (Though my fingers aren’t kind to the computer keyboard, as I hunt and peck and pound, to my wife’s 1,000-word-a-minute-light-touch consternation when she listens to me type. I also recall whacking to death at least one keyboard in my newspaper days.) It’s now hard to imagine composing anywhere other than at a keyboard.

Though I do write longhand in a journal. Which brings to mind a series of tweets from yesterday, when after a few minutes of writing in my journal, I complained about writer’s cramp: I wondered how those who still do write in longhand sustain their writing for long periods.

One response: “As a longhand rough-drafter, there are moments when I have to drop the pen and give my hand a shake.”

I wish I had the patience to draft in longhand (I occasionally do, but not often enough to say it’s a regular practice). I wonder what difference it would make in my writing. I wonder what it would be like to draft a 1,000-word feature article in longhand before zipping it into the bit-and-byte-o-sphere?

Karen Armstrong on Fresh Air

Via Bookslut today found an interview with Karen Armstrong on NPR about her new book The Case for God.

Armstrong’s been a favorite of mine since reading her memoir  The Spiral Staircase, which chronicles her spiritual journey from nun to skeptic and religious scholar. It’s one of the best spiritual memoirs I’ve read, and from the NPR interview it sounds as if Armstrong has another good book out.

So, go now, listen.

Whither Thou Goest Story?

On Monday I was reading Richard Gilbert’s Narrative and his recent post on the evils of PowerPoint, and was reminded of a comment I read while browsing posts on Facebook: The commenter was a professional editor who was told by a reader about the difficulty of reading in blocks of text rather than in bullet points — even a four-sentence paragraph was difficult.

First, reading that comment made me wonder if that reader’s  head would explode reading The New Yorker. Second, it made me wonder if reading something more than bullet-pointed text is a dreadful chore for most people. And if it is a chore, then what’s the fate of stories?

Stories are necessary for memory,  as Diane Ackerman explains in An Alchemy of Mind, and memory is necessary for survival, cultural and otherwise. If stories are becoming bullet-points, then what happens to memory?