Sunday, February 8, 2015

"A Junkyard of The Mind"

It wasn’t until I was half way through my first novel that I first began keeping a writer’s journal. At the time, the act of recording my writerly journey seemed at best self-important,
and a worst, a drain on creative energy. After all, there are only so many productive, not to say energetic, hours in a day, and I thought it best to funnel any inspiration I had into the work at hand.

But a writer’s journal is not simply a record, though it may overflow with the incidental. It is not an artwork, though it often contains beauties. And it is not a diary, though the story of the writer’s life may be found there.

The writer’s journal is a repository, a treasury of ideas, emotions, notes, drawings, clippings, lists, quotes, scraps of dialogue (overheard and imagined), plotlines, poetry, descriptions, images, photographs, notes on craft; anything and everything that is of interest or use to the writer.  A junkyard of the mind, the fiction writer, Lawrence Norfolk calls it, part dumping ground, part recycling station. And as anyone who has ever visited a junkyard knows, it’s a place rich history and possibility.

A journal serves as a supplement to memory, a kind of low-tech ram, where information is stored, readily available to the working writer. But it is also a kind of breeding ground where unexpected connections occur, revealing new narratives and themes. Like doodling, journaling primes the mind for creative work. It is fragmentary and undirected in a way that frees up the unconscious and tempers our inner critic. As Linda Berry, the cartoonist and teacher, notes:

            When we are in the groove, we are not thinking about liking or not liking…   and it isn’t thinking about us either. Yet something shows up… The practice is to keep our hand in motion and to stay open to the image it is leaving us: a message fragment we may not recognize until we have  enough of them to understand.

In that sense, journaling is an activity similar to the idea of “clustering,” a technique that Gabriel Rico describes in her book, Writing The Natural Way. It is an associative process by which ideas and connections accumulate and expand, more chrystalline than linear in nature, the result of a hand and mind free to wander.


Journals are as individual as the writers who use them.

 J.K. Rowling made graphs and outlines.


                                             Rudyard Kipling drew pictures.

  Charlotte Bronte drafted, in a tiny script that revealed frugality, if not intensity and passion.

 Just as style is the man himself, our journals reflect our approach to craft. They reveal the shape and direction of our work, and perhaps our lives. In this way, the writer’s notebook is a kind of incubator, where patterns and meaning form, though we may not see them until days, weeks, or even years later.

Finally, journaling is an antidote to perfectionism. Intended for no audience, it a safe place for the writer to experiment and explore. It is a tool, and no more self-important than a plumber’s wrench or a gardener’s shovel. And though keeping a journal may take up energy and precious time, it never takes away.  All the hours we spend there are returned to us, like straw into gold, whenever we face the blank page.

Hollis Shore is a co-founder of the Seven Bridge Writer's Collaborative, and graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults program. She was the 2012-13 Boston Public Library Children's Writer in Residence, and a winner of the PEN New England Discovery Award for her novel, The Curve of The World, out for submission shortly. Contact her at

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