Beginning Writing

"Dear Diary"

7:33 PM

Outside of writing for school, documenting my life was one of the first things that got me to put pen to paper. I started my first journal when I was eight years old with the words "Dear Diary..." and I've had a sporadic love affair with journaling ever since.

That first notebook took a few years to fill, with short and scattered entries documenting my first crushes, summers with cousins, the birth of each of my siblings, and every family holiday. As I grew older my entries became longer and more consistent. I filled book after book, and the years flew by.

But there was an overwhelming pressure. I felt the need to document my life for posterity, and to do it with flair. I though that every sentence must be elegant, interesting and perfect, because someday my great-grandchildren would be reading it, you know? And having a couple of close girlfriends with whom I constantly discussed journaling (and how up-to-date our notebooks were on all the dances we'd attended) added some more stress.

Finally, after a year of so many major happenings and changes that I could hardly keep up and breathe normally, I decided to take a break. Actually, I flat out quit, right after my best friend (and fellow "journaler") got married in 2008 and moved away. It was one of the best things I ever did.

I felt like all through my childhood I had spent my time hating growing up and all the changes that the years brought. I was always looking back on the past, recording it, and then re-reading it over and over. So I decided that I was done with journaling. I decided that life was going to be an adventure and that I would focus on moving forward into it, instead of looking back over my shoulder at what was. I poured myself into my other writing projects, and felt that I expressed enough of myself through fiction that there was no need to record it any other way. I was journal-free for over three years.

And then, last fall, right after my twenty-third birthday, I felt like journaling again. But I knew I didn't want it to be in a notebook as in days of yore, since I write pretty slowly by hand, and the pages and pages of empty lines always felt intimidating. So I looked around online, and I found "Oh Life." It was (and is) the perfect fit.

Every night I get a little email asking "how did your day go?" and I reply, sometimes in a few sentences, sometimes in a few paragraphs. There are days when I am incredibly witty and clever, and nights where I am just plain boring, catching up right before my head hits the pillow. But it's there, every day, and it feels wonderfully pressure-free.

Honestly, journaling again has been such a good thing for me. I began at the perfect time, as I was just starting to deal with some health issues and other things, and it was important to keep track of what was going on, so that I could go back and learn from it. It's given me a space to vent about people in my life who drive me crazy (without talking badly about them to other people ;), and a place to share what makes me happy. Even if it's just ice cream and old Audrey Hepburn movie.

I like the ability to journal in a simple, no pressure and no frills way. It feels like therapy.

What's your journaling experience? Have you kept a diary, and for how long? Do you prefer hard paper, or the internet? Please share your story. :)


Beginning Writing

I (usually) don't enjoy writing.

1:20 PM

I often listen to other writers talk about writing, and how much they love it, how it's their favorite thing to do, and how their dream day would involve writing from dawn until dusk. It sounds wonderful, emotional and inspiring, but I've come to understand that that is just not the way I work.

I used to think that I had to have "inspiration" in order to write, and that the timing had to be "perfect." I had to be in the right frame-of-mind, be bursting with passion and creativity... basically, I had to feel it. I had to want to write. I determined that the only time that I was in this "mood" was at night, at about eight o'clock on, and I refused to write so much as a word of my stories at any other time. I was terrified of jinxing it, of breaking up the flow, of writing a single sentence that was less than 100% inspired.

Throughout that entire period (most of my teen years), I would have bursts of inspiration where I would write and write and write... thousands of words, feeling brilliant, strong and unstoppable. And then I would hit a dry spell, where I just couldn't bring my fingers to keyboard, because I was uninspired, and the words just wouldn't measure up to my standard. That was "writer's block," and it hit me hard, sometimes keeping me away from my stories for months on end, because the mood wasn't right.

When I finally got serious about writing, decided I wanted it as a career, and was determined to make it happen, I threw my feelings out the window. I told myself that I must write, whether I wanted to or not. At first, the important thing was just to write something each day, even if it was only a few sentences. Then I raised the bar, and forced myself to make it a minimum of 500 words a day, 5 days a week, regardless of the time of day, regardless of inspiration. If I missed a day, I had to make it up.

It worked. Somehow, I turned writing into a habit, something that I could do without even thinking about it, without feeling inspired, without loving it. It became a part of my life, every day. A few years later, I am happy to say I am more productive with that slow and steady method than with all the highs and lows of inspiration and lack thereof. And the process has become addicting, exciting, and more rewarding than I ever thought it could.

So, do I usually enjoy writing? Not usually. (Don't get me wrong, there are still times of inspiration and emotion, but the cold, hard, pounding-out-the-words is the usual daily routine.) But that's ok. When I've got that finished manuscript in my hands (or on a computer screen); when I revisit the thousands of words that somehow, unbelievably, came from my own brain; when I get to share those words with others, hear their praise and critiques... it's the best experience in the world. And it's worth the days of feeling no emotion for that one, satisfying, emotional conclusion.

Do you enjoy writing? How does the writing process work for you? Is there lots of inspiration or do you just put in the hours? Obviously, there are no rules and the writing process is different for everyone, so just because something works for me, doesn't mean it will work for you. But it might. ;)

I'm curious. Tell me, what does work for you?