May 13, 2009

Keep a journal (blog): practice your writing

Many writers keep some kind of notebook or journal in which they write down their thoughts for later use. Some writers call it a journal, a place for their day-to-day thoughts. Other writers call it a daybook, a place to record ideas, collected information, possible outlines, titles, questions — anything related to the process of writing, thinking, and learning.

Scientists keep daily logs in which they record data or describe behavior. The word "journal" is the general term referring to "a place for daily writing." Whatever you call it, it should become part of your writing ritual. In it should go all kinds of anting. Bits and pieces of experience or memory that might come in handy later. Reactions to what you're reading. A log of the problems you face as you write. Memorable sayings or quotations. Short summaries of what you're reading in your classes. Your journal is a place to practice, a closet where all your "fish paintings" go.

For maximum flexibility, your journal should be a loose-leaf notebook, so you can add, take out, or rearrange materials. Some writers, though, prefer a spiral notebook, a manila folder with pockets, or a computer disk. Whatever format you choose, make sure that you feel comfortable with it. As the following list indicates, there are many kinds of journal entries.

  • Warm-up writing. Writing, like any other kind of activity, improves when you loosen up, stretch, get the kinks out, practice a few lines. Any daybook or journal entry gives you a chance towarm up.
  • Collecting and shaping exercises. Some journal entries will help youcollect information by observing, remembering or investigating people, places, events, or objects. You can also record quotationsor startling statistics for a future writing topic. Other entries will give you a chance to practice organizing your information. Strategies of development, such as comparison/contrast, definition, classification, process analysis, and casual analysis will help you discover and shape ideas.
  • Practice in writing for a specified audience. In some entries, you need to play a role, to imagine you are in a specific situation and writing for a defined audience. For example, you might write a letter of application to a college admissions officer or a letter to your employer asking for a week's vacation.
  • Identifying and solving writing problems. Your journal is also the place to keep a log, a running account of your writing plans and problems. The log helps you record your progress and identify and solve problems as they occur.
  • Summarizing, responding, and recording vocabulary entries. A journal is an excellent place to summarize articles for other courses, respond to class discussions, or record definitions of words you look up in the dictionary.

For most journal entries, try to let your ideas flow easily. Don't stop to fix spelling or punctuation. Focus on your train of thought.