Tips for Everyday Journal Writing and Illustrating
There is a special magic that comes along with documenting your everyday musings and experiences. However, journals are often stereotyped as adorable little notebooks filled with perfectly organized, dated, written entries that require a great deal of time and an even more immense sense of personal commitment to maintain. “Journals” are supposedly ravenous entities screaming, “feed me!” every time a new memory or observation encodes itself into your brain.
In some environments, keeping a consistent, daily record of your everyday thoughts and experiences may be extremely useful and worth your while, such in a study abroad or travel-based setting. But how can journaling ever be compatible with the stresses and demands of everyday campus life, you inquire?
In fact, I’ve often found that journaling can help you untangle that twisted knot of thoughts contributing to the writer’s block that’s impeding your current paper. But perhaps you don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to commit to a so-called “traditional” journal during college. After all, that 20-page research paper should probably claim precedence over freelance scribbles.
This may require broadening your horizons and dismantling that stereotype of the cute-little-notebook-companion. Perhaps you’re interested in engaging in creative self-expression during those scarce free moments, but don’t have the time to actually develop it into a dedicated hobby. What follows are a few quick tips and ideas to help inspire you to dabble in occasional, stress-free, fun self-reflection! :
1.) Your journal is there when you need it.
Oftentimes, it can be extremely difficult to find a spontaneous, creative moment. To reiterate, journaling does not have to require a huge commitment, especially as it pertains to college life.
2.) Abandon your rampant perfectionistic tendencies.
Focus on release. Think of grammar as a afterthought if you find yourself struggling with perfectionism. Refraining oneself from adhering to a specific format, structure, or style can be an incredibly liberating experience.
This goes back to defying the stereotype of the “traditional” journal. There are numerous ways to free your creative inhibitions, some of which don’t even have to be verbal. Treat your journal like a scrapbook if you feel this really whets your creative juices. I recently received a “junk journal” from Etsy and have been literally stuffing it with various ticket stubs, greeting cards, and other paper scraps to help me preserve particular memories.
Dream journals, whether handwritten or online, are also a fun, less time-consuming alternative to traditional journaling.
I’d also recommend these books by Keri Smith as extremely fun creativity starters:
Altogether, journals can be a fun and fantastic medium to express yourself in a multitude of ways. Don’t think of journaling as just another thing to heap on top of your already overstuffed to-do-list, but rather as a spontaneous opportunity to help you gain inspiration or insight whenever a spare moment might arise.
~Sarah F, peer tutor
The Young Knight of Writencentia
Once upon a time, in the mystical land of Writencentia, there lived a tall, handsome young knight, with flowing blond hair and striking blue eyes. Though brilliant of mind, he simply detested writing. This troubled him deeply–writing was a beloved past time throughout all of Writencentia, yet he struggled to enjoy writing. Whenever he sat down to put quill to scroll, he would freeze up in fear, as if an ice-breathing dragon had frozen him in a block of ice.
Try as he might, the young knight could not successfully put quill to scroll. (Image from clker.com)
One afternoon, the young knight spoke of his troubles to one of his closest friends in all the land.
“I fear that I am unworthy, as I am unable to produce any writing of quality, and often, any writing at all,” he said solemnly. “It is if my mind hath put a curse upon itself. It leaves my parchment blank and my quills untouched.”
The knight’s friend nodded as he listened. He understood exactly what the young knight was going through. “I know of the problem that troubles you,” he said, “For I too have experienced the same curse.”
“Have you?” said the knight. “What ever did you do about it?” he said, his curiosity piquing.
“I journeyed to the center of the kingdom, where I went to the castle of Writencentia,” said the knight’s friend. “There, I was able to speak with a most bright and lovely princess, who helped me find ways to overcome my fear and hatred of writing.”
“Was it helpful?” asked the knight.
“Indeed, ‘twas,” said his friend. “‘Tis a journey most worthy of undertaking.”
The young knight traveled to Writencentia Castle in search of writing help. (Image from clker.com)
The next day, the young knight journeyed to Writencentia Castle, and to his surprise, the trek was not difficult at all. Once at the castle, he was greeted by one of several princesses. With great friendliness and hospitality, she offered him tea, coffee, or cocoa before their discussion began. Feeling most welcomed, the prince accepted this offer, and then they went to work.
“What can I help you with today?” asked the princess, her kind brown eyes beaming.
The knight was bashful to begin talking, but he quickly convinced himself that he had nothing to fear. The kind princess was there to help him with his writing struggles, not to judge him or chide him.
“I’m afraid to say that I do not like writing,” said the knight. “For when I try to write, my mind and my wrist are most paralyzed.”
The princess looked at him with understanding. “Do you know what it is about writing that fills you with such fear?”
The knight took a moment to consider the question. What was it about writing that paralyzed him so?
“Well,” he began, “I think part of it is that I always want what I write to be written with perfection the moment I write it,” he said with a frown.
“I see,” said the princess, “And I can help.”
“Can you?” asked the knight.
“Why certainly!” she replied. “I want to encourage you to not let that fear keep you from writing, because your thoughts and ideas are important. If you do not try to put them on the page, written perfectly or not, those thoughts may fly away from you and you may not have them again. Try writing down what comes to mind without worrying about how pretty it sounds at first. Then, once you’ve finished writing down your ideas, you can revise how they are written so they sound more beautiful.”
The young knight was skeptical at first, but the princess offered to help him practice. She told him to write a story about a time when he was happy and encouraged him to not stop and think so hard about what he was trying to say but to let the ink flow from his quill. After a little bit of time, the prince had written something–at long last! Then, with the help of the princess, he read back through what he had written to make his writing more satisfactory to him.
Once their hour was up, the knight was prepared to leave Writencentia Castle feeling better about his writing and himself. The princess had armed him with the knowledge that when writing, he needed to be mindful of when his fears were holding him back so that he could tell himself to carry forward and stick quill to parchment–after all, he could always revise what he had written. The princess taught him that writing is a process much easier broken into steps.
“Thank you, kind princess, for all of the lessons you have given me today,” bowed the knight to his tutor.
“You’re very welcome,” she replied. “Feel free to come back anytime!”
“I most certainly will,” said the knight.
The young knight hopped onto his horse, waved good-bye to the princess, and traveled home with great confidence.
Does the young knight remind you of yourself? Do you not like writing because it’s intimidating or boring?
Fear not! Here at the Writing Center, our tutors are more than happy to help you identify what it is about writing you don’t like and offer you strategies to make the writing process more enjoyable for you.
Ready to start your quest? Book an appointment here, and embark on the path toward a happier, less stressful writing process.
—Annie, peer tutor
Trying to break out of a creative writing rut?
Today is the day. Years in the future, one of your loyal fans will edit your Wikipedia page to indicate that on this very date you began the short story, the memoir, or the poem that launched your wildly successful writing career. You’ve locked yourself in your room with a composition notebook and a pot of coffee; your pen is poised over the page. You begin to write.
But your ideas are mediocre, washed out, your sentence structure not reflective of the Pulitzer-worthy ideas floating in your brain. As time drags on, pages of the notebook are ripped out, your coffee grows cold, Reddit starts calling. You begin to consider dropping this whole writing thing and taking up underwater basket weaving as a hobby.
Before ditching your notebook or deleting the nonsensical Word document before you, take some time to regroup and conjure up some new inspiration. The blank page or unsatisfactory draft can be frustrating, but you can easily overcome them with a few strategies:
Get some sensory stimulation.
Sensory exploration can trigger memories or new ideas as well as help you to practice conveying sensory elements, so unlock that dorm room door and go exploring. Spend some time perusing the aisles of you’re a local grocery store or farmer’s market for interesting scents. Head to an antique mall and look at old postcards. Listen to music that is unfamiliar to you.
Imitate writing that you like.
When a passage really strikes you in a book or magazine, copy it down. Figure out how it works. Why do you like it? Is it the enjambment in your favorite poem, the series of clipped sentences in that New Yorker profile? Understanding what you appreciate about the writing of others will help to hone your own style and voice.
Also, keep in mind that even your favorite writers struggle with getting writing on the page. Check out Dave Eggers and Jonah Lehrer talking about the trope of the tortured writer and the concept of grit.
Make writing your habit.
How many days could you go without brushing your teeth? Try to make that how many days you would go without writing, i.e., none. There’s no need to fill an entire notebook each night, but getting something down on the page everyday will help to form discipline. The more you practice, the less often you’ll experience the dread of writer’s block.
Find a community of writers.
While creative writing is often deeply personal, meeting other writers can lead to an environment where you feel comfortable with exploring new ideas and getting feedback.
Here at McDaniel, you can connect with other writers through Contrast Literary Magazine. During the fall semester, we conduct bimonthly writing workshops so that our writers can gain inspiration for their submissions to the magazine, which is published each spring.
Workshop dates include:
October 10, 24
November 7, 21
Other dates to keep in mind:
Friday, October 25- Halloween-themed open mic night and s’mores from 8-10 in Ensor Lounge! Bring your favorite Poe poem or whatever you’ve been working on lately to read to an audience.
Sunday, October 27- Deadline for Contrast’s fall writing contest! We accept poetry and prose.
Prompt- The first line must be a question; the last line must be the answer.
Email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.