This is a guest post by K.C. Mead
In an interview with Glimmer Train magazine for their 2010 article, Close-Up: Approaches to Writing, author Thomas E. Kennedy explains the importance of journaling for his writing life:
“I was seventeen, and four years of keeping a journal more or less everyday – sometimes just a couple of sentences, sometimes many pages, sometimes with gaps of weeks or even months—did indeed get me in the habit of writing, and writing freely.”
Cold War poet Allen Ginsberg also ascribed to this belief. He, like many of his fellow Beat poets, believed that unless one travelled, meditated, and wrote for hours upon hours, for days upon days, then one would never uncover their most honest and natural voice, their most honest and natural means of artistic expression.
But why is this? Is it that writing functions akin to a muscle that must be broken down and worked out every day before it begins to build up in strength and size? Or is it that writing is some sort of fossilized world awaiting your inner archeologist to dig it up, dust it off, and put it on display?
While I also firmly believe in the power of journaling and constant writing as a means of improving both writing style and discipline, I do not believe that it is necessarily the consistency or repetition itself that yields the desired product. After all, authors are not staring miserably at a conveyor belt when they write, pushing the same button every other minute or attaching the same gear to the same gizmo over and over again. Writing changes; writing is fluid; writing is a bitch; writing is an art.
No, it is not the consistency, I would posit, but the opportunity to be in a constant state of self-reflection that yields these awesome results for author after author.
In my Clark Kent life (my writing life is, obviously, my Super Woman time), I work as an Academic Service-learning Graduate Assistant with the George Washington University’s Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. In this role, one of my primary tasks is to ensure that undergraduate students are able to conduct regular, meaningful exercises in self-reflection over their academics, life, and service. This, as you might imagine, is no simple task.
And the reason for the difficulty isn’t that the students don’t know what a reflection is or that the professors are against the practice. It’s because both parties often do not understand the full potential a truly sincere and diligent act of self-reflection can have – it can open a person up to certain truths about themselves they weren’t willing to face anywhere else; it can help focus a person upon those goals and issues that mean the most to them; it can help, for perhaps just a few minutes, an hour, an entire afternoon, to narrow a person’s thoughts to one train of thought, enabling an intensity of focus and consideration that may be therapeutic at the least, revelatory at the best.
Writing with the intent to be self-reflective enables a person to focus upon themselves and their identity in a way that is free of all societal constraints, to explore themselves outside the shopping malls, media buzz, and flashing red-yellow-ME-ME-HOW IT COULD BE advertising.
If you think I’m being overly sentimental, consider one of my favorite and one of our currently most successful authors, Stephen King. Many of his works, especially his earlier ones such as The Shining, focus upon relationships gone awry, often with father’s hurting their children or accidents spiraling out of control. These stories are often reflective of what any parent might feel while attempting to raise a child in an uncertain and imperfect world, knowing all the while that they themselves are imperfect beings likely to make mistakes, hurt their children, and have accidents. Do you think King happened upon these themes and fears by accident? Neither do I.
Self-reflection trains an author to not only write well and regularly, but honestly as well.
What do you think? Have you ever kept a regular journal for a significant period of time? What does self-reflection mean to you?
K.C. Mead is an American fiction/non-fiction author. Her non-fiction book, Howling: Allen Ginsberg and the Trickster in “Howl,” is currently undergoing peer review and scheduled to be published in Autumn 2013. She currently works as an Editorial Assistant with Chrysalis Editorial in Washington, DC and as an Editor with the Washington Independent Review of Books. You can find her on Twitter, or contact her via e-mail. She blogs over at howlinghowl.wordpress.com
PS: Thanks for a great guest post, Katherine!
I’ve been journalling since 2009, although my blog back-tracked to1999 when my writing really began to take shape. My journal concentrates mostly on my writing progress (word count, dates etc) but in the past year there have been a growing number of references to my doubts, my feelings and my hopes. I’m not comfortable about revealing my deepest feelings to the ‘wider audience’, but hints of these bleed through at times.
Why do I do this? Posterity. In years to come when I’ve (I hope) moved from writer to author, I can gauge how much I’ve changed as a writer.
Journalling sounds like a brilliant tactic. I have never ‘kept’ a journal, as such, but tend to note down incidents and particular occurrences.
However, I have dabbled in free-writing a few times. Reading over it was not so much fun, to say the least!