My middle school diary put me off journals forever. When I look back on the utter drama, the things I thought were so important but really weren’t, I cringe. Hard. And I remember again why I’m waiting for the first opportunity to burn that thing. I will never look with fondness on my past thoughts, nor do I want anyone else reading them.
As a writer, though, I had to get back into the practice of journaling – sort of. As I’ve said many a time, your own experiences will influence your writing. How else do you get ideas? Sometimes, just remembering events isn’t enough. Memory fades quickly, especially when it comes to details – but those details can make all the difference when you’re trying to write a realistic scene that will resonate with readers.
So, if you hate journaling as much as I do or just haven’t done it before, how do you capture these experiences? It took me a long time to realise how simple it is: just capture the important things. I like to call it spot-journaling. Of course, with some events, you might not realise their importance until later on, but in many cases, you’ll know.
For example, I got to see the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in concert a couple weeks ago. For those of you not into orchestral music, that’s a pretty big deal. When you look up staple orchestral pieces on Spotify, half the time the top search result is a recording by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. They’re not only one of the top orchestras in the United States, but one of the top orchestras in the entire world. As a musician myself and a lover of orchestral music, I could pretty much guarantee beforehand that it would become one of the highlights of my life. So, as I’ve tried to get into the practice of doing, I took notes immediately after the concert was over.
I’ve always been rather stumped when trying to describe music in writing, but I sure enjoy trying! Recording my musical experiences helps me to nail down better descriptions in my writing. A traditional journal would detail how my husband and I went to dinner before the concert, got to the hall early and grabbed coffee so we could stay awake, experienced someone’s alarm going off through half of an entire piece during the performance, etc. But my “journal entry” simply looked like this:
- Clear, full tone—almost tangible. Feels like I could touch it
- Decay—sound turning to silence seamlessly
- Crunchy chords!!! Beautiful conflict
- Melodic, smooth, full, delicate, gentle, like a breathtaking sight that I can hear, so gorgeous it brought tears to my eyes
- Not loud, but full—fills the entire space until there is nothing in the hall but the sound
- See pictures and stories in my head with only music to guide
- Anticipation as I feel the finale around the corner
Rather than a specific journal of what I did or heard, I now have notes on my emotions as best I could describe them. Do they make complete sense? No, but they’re raw, and that’s exactly the kind of emotion that readers will connect with when I put these feelings in a scene.
Using your own experiences in your writing draws the reader in because it makes your book that much more realistic. You don’t have to record everything, but if you jot down some notes on your travelling writing instrument of choice, it’s almost guaranteed to be useful in your writing forays at some point.
Get in the habit of spot-journaling. It’s efficient and still preserves all the best experiences. And if you’re still having trouble making your scene or story realistic, I can help with that!
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