First of all, I have no idea why this photo of my journal (AKA my secret weapon) turned out so *green.* I promise I wasn't in an alien space bar or anything, I was just at Starbucks (which, forgive me, was the only coffee shop close to Penn as I waited for my train yesterday. Not that I drink coffee. Or beer at 2pm. That's tea, people, for some girl named Melony).
So, back to the secret weapon!
I tend to write quickly. As in, when I've opened my laptop and launched Word, my fingers take off, and heaven help me if I don't have a distinct plan for where they're going, because my fingers don't stop for anyone. They write. Fast.
Because of my tendency to vomit words (and my OCDish desire for order), I don't start writing unless I have a plan. Please note, there is one exception to this rule: the beginning of a project. At the beginning, I let my fingers fly. I let them show ME what we're going to be writing about. But as soon as I get an inkling of the story unfolding before me, I step back and plan.
Which means writing in my journal.
And honestly, I shouldn't say journal as though there's only one singular receptacle for my thoughts--there are several. I keep a separate journal for each novel-length project, as well as a spare "ideas" journal to keep all of the pesky, shiny new ideas away from my WIPs.
What do I write in the journal?
Well, this is where we get to the secret weapon bit. When I'm writing in Word, or on a printed draft, or even on a post-it note, I feel a little precious about the words I use. I second-guess them. I try to write only the very best ones. And that keeps me from thinking. But in my journals, I write everything. I mean EVERYTHING. I spell everything wrong, I cross stuff out, I blast through paper like it's my mission in life to use every page up.
How does this help my writing?
Say, for example, I'm trying to build a backstory for a secondary character. I'll doodle that person's name (or a question mark if I don't know it yet) at the top of a page and write: who is Mr. BananaPants? Where does he live? What does he look like? And so on and so on, until I strike upon a question that has an obvious answer, like: what does Mr. BananaPants eat? Well, anything but fruit salad, obviously. His mom caught him gobbling fruit salad once when he was five years old, and she scared him to death when she said he might be eating his own cousin.
And there you have it: the journal fills up, and the answers fill in, partly because I'm making myself focus, but mainly because I'm giving myself the opportunity to think without consequence--to throw words at the page haphazardly and in great abundance, with no worries about where they will end up. I think it's that very sense of freedom that leads the words to the right place as I journal.
Once the journal is full, the writing begins in earnest, and a draft emerges, only to be journaled and revised again and again until, finally, it's done. Without my journals, I'm absolutely certain my path to a solid draft would be a much longer and winding road, and though the end result might be similar, the journey would be a lot less fun.
What about you? Do you keep a writing journal, too? I'd love to hear your ideas about journals in the comments.