So, you want to write a book. We have been tackling the five Ws and the H … that’s What, When, Where, Why. Who, and How. We’ve already delved into the five W’s — What, When, Where, Why, and Who. And we’ve already started discussing the odd letter — H — How. This week, I’ll discuss journaling, poetry, and prose — part of the How.
I’m not a big fan of journaling. In fact, we used to call it a diary … and that was for girls. But journaling is a way to put your life in perspective. It’s personal It goes behind the mere events written down and into your emotions and circumstances and soul.
There are a couple of rules for journaling. First, decide what to write about. Why do you want to keep a journal in the first place? If you’re keeping a journal for a practical purpose — to remember events about your day or at work — then the answer is simple. Write down the events of your day. But, to reap the full benefits of journaling, you’ll have to dig deeper than that. Expressive writing — that is, exploring your thoughts and feelings while telling a story — or redemptive narratives may lead to emotional and physical health benefits. Researchers explained “the whole point is to bring up issues that are emotionally charged.”
The researchers told participants not to worry about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. The only rule they had to follow was to continue writing until time was up. Thus, if you want to extract the mental and physical health benefits of writing, you’ll want to write expressively.
While I understand the thought and rationale — the directions are the same for my Five Minute Friday assignments on my blog — I do have a little problem not worrying about spelling, grammar or sentence structure. You might be able to get away with the shorthand writing for yourself, but to a wider audience, spelling, grammar, and sentence structure matter.
In my opinion, to get the full emotional benefit of journaling, it’s best to tell a narrative, not just recap your day, and write through your emotions. Write about a few things that happened during the day and, more important, how those events, epiphanies, or interactions made you feel. If you’re trying to journal your way through distress, it may help to focus your writing on positive outcomes as well.
If the idea of recapping the emotions of your day seems like too much, you could even just start a gratitude journal, which is a simple, daily list of things you’re grateful for: a cup of peppermint tea, sunny mornings, comfortable slippers.
Believe it or not, finding the right medium is part of the decision. Pick a medium that works for you, whether it’s your computer, an app on your phone, or old-fashioned pen and paper. The reason for that is it breeds consistency. You get more comfortable the more you write.
Blogging is a form of journaling. It’s sharing your thoughts. The difference is a journal are generally thoughts for you, while blogs are thoughts shared with a wider audience.
To give you an example, a simple journal log might be, “Went to grandma’s.” Expanded you might add, “We took a long ride. I was bored sitting in the car. Grandma gave us cookies and milk and I got a chance to visit the cows. I fell asleep on the ride back.”
Poetry is literature that evokes a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience or a specific emotional response through language chosen and arranged for its meaning, sound, and rhythm.
Formally, poetry is recognizable by its greater dependence on at least one more parameter, the line, than appears in prose composition. This changes its appearance on the page; and it seems clear people take their cue from this changed appearance, reading poetry aloud in a very different voice from their habitual voice. If people are shown poems printed as prose, it most often turns out they will read the result as prose simply because it looks that way; which is to say they are no longer guided in their reading by the balance and shift of the line in relation to the breath as well as the syntax.
Poetry is the way it is because it looks that way, and it looks that way because it sounds that way and vice versa.
Part of the difficulty in distinguishing between the two forms lies in the fact there is the technical term verse to go with the term poetry, while there is no equivalent technical term to distinguish the mechanical part of prose and make the relation symmetrical. The French poet Paul Valéry said prose was walking, poetry dancing. Indeed, the original two terms, prosus and versus, meant, respectively, “going straight forth” and “returning”; and that distinction does point up the tendency of poetry to incremental repetition, variation, and the treatment of many matters and different themes in a single recurrent form such as couplet or stanza.
Form, in effect, is like the doughnut that may be said to be nothing in a circle of something or something around nothing; it is either the outside of an inside, as when people speak of “good form” or “bourgeois formalism,” or the inside of an outside, as in the scholastic saying “the soul is the form of the body.”
More could be said about poetry … whole courses. And, honestly, I’m not a big poetry fan so I would be the wrong person to lead the discussion.
With all that being said, when it comes to prose, there are some important elements – especially in creative writing – that must be considered. Spelling and grammar are important. Context is important. Continuity is important. It doesn’t hurt to know how to diagram a sentence.
Stories that resonate have a beginning, body and ending … a flow, if you will. That’s important because often writers will get off the beginning, body, end road and throw off the entire flow of what they are attempting to communicate. Sentences, paragraphs, characters, plots, sub-plots, and themes are important as markers for your story. They amplify the story, not confuse it.
I have seen a lot of stories which detour from the main thought. Perhaps it is to explain detail about a character or set up a scene. Unfortunately, the explanation leads the reader down a different path, often forgetting your initial thought. It happens more than you think. So be careful. Make sure your character or scene development stays within the context of your story. Don’t add too many details at one shot, but gently introduce them as your story flow moves forward.
One of the hardest things for a writer, however, is dialogue. We’ll deal with the joys and consternation of dialogue next week.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: It’s the story you write, the rhythm you dance to, the picture you paint that makes your life memorable!