Is One Journal Enough?

Is One Journal Enough?

Gwynn Scheltema

Like a lot of teenage girls, I kept a diary for several years. Entries are a hodgepodge of the trivial: (we didn’t have the geography test today), funny: (my blue dress seems to have shrunk and Daddy is not amused!), and, on occasion, surprising: (I found myself sleepwalking last night).sad-woman-1055092_640

I wrote strictly about my life, what happened and how I felt about it. The diaries were hard-cover, date-at-the-top-of-the-page books, and fifty years later, I still have them. I’m glad I have them. But I know I likely wouldn’t if they had been soft-cover spiral-bound notebooks.

And now?

Yet these days, I do journal in spiral-bound notebooks—and tiny pocket notepads, on the computer and in large books with unlined paper. So why the difference?

What prompted me to think about my different journals, was a comment from Heidi Croot on my post To Edit or Not to Edit, where she mentioned the Steinbeck style of journaling (a guest post by by Kendra Levin on Brian Kelms blog) where Steinbeck had a “companion journal” chronicling his progress on his novel. I don’t have a Steinbeck companion journal (yet), but I do have a variety of journals that serve different purposes and their physical form does seem to influence their use.

female-865110_640Sadly, I have several beautiful journals—handmade paper, illustrated, filled with wise sayings, beautifully bound—and I will likely never write in them. I’m afraid I’ll “spoil” them, like everything I write in them needs to be perfect. Silly, maybe, but that’s me. Many writers are inspired by beautiful paper or pens, or illustrations and bindings. Just not me.

So here’s what I use and why:

Journal for Morning Pages

After the teenage years, I didn’t journal for decades. What got me back into it was Julia Cameron’s creative self-discovery book The Artists Way, where I discovered morning pages—three pages of uncensored writing done first thing in the morning. No rules, don’t overthink, just write three pages of something. When I first started, a lot of it was ranting or wishing and even to-do lists. But now, it’s a mix of personal and creative. Most of my poetry starts in mornings pages, and I use it to “talk out” fiction problems too, and start fiction scenes.

leather-refillable-journalI tried various sizes, lined and unlined, and finally settled on a 6 x 9 lined. It fits easily on my bedside table and filling 3 pages doesn’t intimidate me. The reality is, I often fill far more. They fill up quickly, so I invested in a leather refillable version that closes with a tab and has a pen holder. Refill notebooks are cheap and easily found at the dollar store, because it is a standard size. I’m not forced to buy refills from the original manufacturer.  As I finish each one, I label it with the dates it covers and store them on a shelf in my writing room.

B.I.C. File

Morning pages are done by hand on paper before I get out of bed. If I wrote everything by hand, however, I would waste a lot of time typing it up. So I have a computer journal too.notebook-405755_640

I house it in Scrivener, and the project name is BIC (bum in chair). I write here with the same uncensored writing attitude as morning pages: sometimes timed freefall sessions, sometimes writing prompts, all in an attempt to stay ahead of the internal critic. It works. Many blogs and fiction scenes have been birthed here. When I create something I think is useful, it’s easy to copy and paste it to the relevant writing file and keep going.

Journal for Anytime – Anywhere

This notebook has to fit in my purse, so it’s much smaller, about 3 x4, dollar store quality. In it, I record odd thoughts or observations that come to me when I’m out and about. It has no organizing method, and I make sure it doesn’t have too many pages, because if it stays rattling around too long in my purse, it tends to fall apart. This forces me to take the contents and do something with them: type them up in appropriate computer files (blog ideas; scenes for the novel; poetry ideas etc.), add them to projects, or discard them.

Visual Journal

maple-leaf-638022_640A good friend of mine keeps her journal in a large blank-paged artist’s sketch book. She writes in it, draws in it, sticks photos and leaves and feathers in it too. It’s like a giant scrapbook, and she says she likes the freedom of not having lines. I’m not so good with things that don’t have boundaries—safety edges—but I do keep a version of this. I have one for my novel, with newspaper clippings, photos, magazine cut-outs, maps of towns or plans of houses. Visual stuff. Electronically, I use Pinterest (a board for each novel) and Scrivener has great research capabilities for keeping visuals and web links.

Teeny-tiny sentence-a-day journal

flowerets-577081_640Quite by chance, I was given a pocket journal, about the size of a credit card. I wondered what on earth I could possible use it for. I decided I would force myself to observe through all the senses and each day write just a single line to describe something in a different way. The sentence-a-day part didn’t work out, but those single lines have inspired poetry and been a great exercise for my creative mind.

Whether you want to keep the personal separate from your fiction, or hate margins, or need space to draw, it’s all your choice. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong form for a journal. What’s important is that it suits your way of creating.

What journals do you keep and why?

Expert advice

Expert advice

Heather M. O’Connor

When Richard Scrimger came to Turning Leaves a couple of years ago, he told us, “Writers are liars and thieves.”

He meant, of course, that the best stories are partly made up, and partly built on stolen bits of real life. Readers want to believe your lies. You can tell the most outrageous whoppers, from a theme park with cloned dinosaurs to a school for wizards. As long as the stolen bits ring true.

Steal what you know, research what you don’t

Take my novel Betting Game, for instance. It’s the story of an elite soccer player who gets mixed up with illegal gambling.

I could lie and steal with panache about soccer. I play. My kids play. I watch the sport on TV. But illegal gambling? That was a central part of my novel’s plot and characters, and I didn’t know a thing about it. Nada. Zip. How could I make my story believable?

Who ya gonna call?

I needed a subject matter expert. Someone in the biz. But not the gambling biz. A “reliable narrator” if you know what I mean. Someone in law enforcement. It took time to track down an expert, but what he told me was invaluable.

Looking for an expert of your own? Here are the steps to follow.

Go surfing

Begin your search online. I started by studying news stories. Who was quoted on the topic? Who went to court?

Your expert may speak at industry events and conferences. Check continuing education classes and LinkedIn, too.

network of peopleTap your network

Have you asked your friends and family if they know an expert? I was stunned to learn that one of my teammates was once a CSI investigator in New York City. (She now teaches forensic science and invited me to a crime scene class. Coolest writer field trip ever!)

Don’t forget your local librarians—they’re walking encyclopedias.

Do a little diggingman-1483479_1920

Once you locate subject matter experts, don’t waste their time. Pick your own brains before you pick theirs.

Prepare a list of open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. Try to think up a couple of questions they may never have answered.

Email your questions and a short synopsis of your story a day or two before the interview. This gives the person time to mull over answers and think of interesting anecdotes.

Don’t be shy

Relax. Chatting with a subject matter expert is easier than it looks.

People like talking about their jobs. Though they find their work fascinating, their friends and family may not. You provide a rare treat—an enthusiastic audience.

office-336368_1920Take note!

I prefer to interview in person or by phone. People have more to say when they don’t need to write it all down. You also have a chance to ask follow-up questions when you’re talking live. Email interviews are very limiting. They’re best for confirming facts.

I usually record my interviews, as long as there’s no objection. Most smartphones have an app for that. I also take detailed notes.

Say thank you

Remember to thank your expert for taking the time to share their knowledge and expertise. Send a thank you note. If their help was significant, include them in the acknowledgements, and consider sending them a copy of your book.

Prenatal care for your book baby

Prenatal care for your book baby

Last fall, Orca Books published my debut novel Betting Game. I had nine months between signing a contract and delivering my book baby. It seemed like plenty of time. It wasn’t.

Here are a few lessons I learned along the way.

Start earlyPregnant woman with a journal

Next time I’m expecting a new book baby, I’ll sit down right away and make a plan of action.

What do I need to do, and when? How much time will it all take? What are my priorities?

Get organized

scrivener logo

Keep everything. Edits. Images. Ideas. Promo materials. Information from your marketing team. You will use, reuse, rework and re-purpose these files again and again, so find a logical way to organize them for easy retrieval.

Scrivener worked for me. I stored all the flotsam and jetsam in one project, using labels and keywords to make the project super-simple to view and search. Of course, you can also store everything traditionally in folders and subfolders. Just be sure to file and label wisely.

Sure, it takes a little longer to be meticulous, but it saves you time every time you need to find something. And bonus! The next time you publish, you have a ready-made road map instead of starting from square one.

Gather the building blocks

wooden block towerThe first items my publisher asked for were basic promo items: an author bioback-cover blurb and a professional author photo (more on author pics in a future post.)

I tucked these items in my Scrivener project, and as time went on, I added more elements:

I also collected a variety of links and bits of code:

Raise your profile

My memberships came in handy. I belong to national writers’ organizations like CANSCAIP, SCBWI, The Writers’ Union of Canada and the Canadian Children’s Book Centre, and locally, to the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. They offer a variety of promotional opportunities.

  • book and event pages
  • school visit and speaker pages
  • member profiles

You can also create author pages on GoodReads and Amazon.com, as well as social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Prepare these pages and profiles well in advance. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as uploading the same bio and photo to each site. But they all start with the same basic building blocks.

Don’t forget to update them along the way. I kept the most recent version of each profile in Scrivener. It was easier than viewing each website one by one. (Aren’t you glad you started Scrivener project or folder system now?)

Ways to work smarter

Front-end-load the tasks. For example:

  • write newsletter announcements and media releases early so they’re ready to go
  • prepare your website, blog and social media platforms so you can trickle out your good news

Make a book trailer

One of my best investments was Rich Helms’s Book Trailers 101. This 5-week workshop taught me the elements of a successful trailer, as well as the specialized knowledge to make one. Basic tech like how to use Animoto and Movie Maker. A bit of Audacity. Where to find reasonably priced voice talent, music and images. Tricks for uploading the final product to YouTube.

Step by step, my book trailer grew from concept to finished video. The weekly group critique helped me figure out what worked and what didn’t. I came out with more than a video. I also came up with strong tag lines and blurb text. Which, of course, I tucked away in my promo folder.

Book a launch dateBetting Game book launch

Book your launch as soon as you get a publication date. I launched Betting Game at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge. They’re one of Canada’s best independent booksellers. As a result, they get booked up quickly.

Like many indies, Shelley Macbeth and her staff really care about promoting Canadian books and authors. They gave me great advice and support. But that’s a post of its own!

Got any prenatal advice of your own for authors expecting their first book baby? Please share it below!

The value of keeping random ideas.

The value of keeping random ideas.


Gwynn Scheltema

Ever write a story that seemed to go nowhere? Ever thought of a brilliant opening line, but never wrote the story? Ever found a line that you thought might make good dialogue, or a line in a poem, or the premise of an entire novel and lost it?

lights-1254298_640Rummaging around in discarded ideas will invariably turn up something unexpected, surprising, fun or usable.
That’s not to say that every word you write is gold – saleable gold – and that none of it should go to waste. But ideas don’t always come at a time when you are ready for them, and if you have no way to revisit them, then even the good ideas will go to waste.

Increase your wheat-to-chaff ratio with an Ideas File and pop them in there. Actually, have several ideas files:

Ideas Files
  • hard costory basketpy file folder: for ideas scribbled on napkins and other scrap bits.
  • computer file for the same. Make sure you develop a way to easily navigate through them. Naming each one “good idea” won’t be too helpful when you have 400 “good ideas.” Make use of “version” and “date” options if you have very similar drafts of an unfinished story:
    • horrornovel_v2_2016
    • babypoetryRev3March
    • trilogy_idea3

 

Personal coding systemcolored-pencils-168392_640

Create a personal coding system to mark up journals or notebooks for easy browsing retrieval. I use coloured highlighters: I underline or asterisk possible poetry ideas with yellow, novel snippets with blue, non-fiction article ideas with green, etc.

Other people’s ideas

Expand the concept to ideas beyond your own writing

  • In another hard copy folder keep cuttings from newspapers and magazines, old letters or theatre tickets or postcards or photos. Expand to new subfolders as ideas begin to consolidate.
  • In computer folders, keep ideas suggested by blog posts, or anything internet related, including email copy. Be sure to include URLs if you want to reference later.
  • Create a Pinterest board. This is especially useful in the early stages of a novel. Pin pictures of faces, buildings, landscapes, objects, or anything that stirs up ideas or cements a visual for you. Here is one I started for my MG novel.

pintrest board

Of course, having all these ideas is pointless if you don’t do something with them.

Here is a creative exercise to try:

Take these twold bicycleo random pictures and write a scene that will somehow link them together.ticket-153937_1280

 

 

 

When pairing ideas, don’t worry if they seemingly have nothing in common when you begin– that is the point of the exercise. The struggle of creating the link is what gets your brain going.

 

Scrivener for Writers: The Basics

Scrivener for Writers: The Basics

Offered On Demand.

With Heather M. O’Connor, a.k.a. Dr. Scrivener

Scrivener. This powerful writing, editing and publishing software is specially made for writers. It’s like Microsoft Word on steroids.

Learn the basics in this hands-on workshop for beginners:Scrivener screenshot

  • create a new project
  • import your manuscript, images and research files
  • organize your project notes and research
  • navigate the Scrivener workspace
  • work with the corkboard and outliner

Date: Two Wednesdays that you book in advance

Time: 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm

Venue: Private location in Whitby (flexible)

Fee: $80 [$70 for writing association members-WCDR, WCSC,WCYR, SOH etc.]

Registration limited to 5 people. Preregistration required.

$70 – Register for Scrivener Basics (member rate)

$80 – Register for Scrivener Basics

To register:

  1. Select your workshop (Add to Cart)
  2. Find Your Shopping Cart on the right
  3. Check out with PayPal to pay securely using a credit card or PayPal account

Can’t make it? Book an appointment with Dr. Scrivener. She makes house calls!

Flexible times and location:

  • meet at my home office in Whitby
  • learn at your kitchen table, your meeting place, the local library
  • pick the times and dates that work for you

Recruit your own group:

  • arrange your own small group sessions—perfect for critique groups
  • work at your own speed in a private one-on-one training

Choose a class or customize the curriculum:

  • Scrivener Basics (new users)
  • Scrivener Power Tools  (intermediate users)
  • Compile and Ebooks (intermediate users)
  • pick your own topics or get “unstuck”

Email Heather O’Connor for more information or to book a training.