Angels of Discipline

creative writing, work, writing

On keeping a writing journal

Most any book on writing, any writing class or workshop you will attend, will advise you to keep a journal for observations, inspirations, memories, dreams, fantasies, ideas, and plans. A journal is the place where creativity spawns.

When I was 11, I must have made it known to my family that I wanted to be a writer, because Christmas day 1975 I got my first writing journal. It was called The Nothing Book. A paperback of blank pages to fill. Hundreds of thousands of copies were sold in hardcover and paperback. I envy the person who came up with this bestselling concept. Maybe they knew the guy who came up with The Pet Rock, which came out in 1975, too.

My entries were sporadic, embarrassing kid stuff and adolescent ramblings. Honestly, those blank pages were too blank. I didn’t know how to fill them. I wondered if I had anything to say. The act of putting something inside those pages felt too momentous and intimidating. The Nothing Book petered out by the time I got to college and lurked in a shoebox until I rediscovered it this summer. I’m writing in it again. It’s cool seeing one page end in 1983 and the next pick up in 2020.

After The Nothing Book, I moved to spiral bound notebooks, beginning with my high school senior year creative writing class notebook. They contain diary entries and reflections, draft poems, songs, stories, and essay fragments. This continued into college and beyond into adulthood. I didn’t have a method, though. The notebooks were scattershot and loosely dated. As I waddled into my middle years, the journaling spread even more chaotically across multiple paper notebooks—a disorganized amalgam of lecture notes, book notes, to-do lists, feverish rants, manifestos, ideas. Like rampant suburban development, notebook sprawl was becoming a real problem.

I thought technology would solve it. I explored the world of digital journaling, tried desktop applications and private posts on Internet blogs, which oozed into public blogs. I feel like I’ve tried and outlived most of them: blogger, Livejournal, Typepad, WordPress, Posterous, tumblr. Technology only made the sprawl worse.

If Marie Kondo were to assess my cluttered, half-assed attempts to keep journals, she would have a heart attack. What a total f*cking mess.

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the eschorama newsletter

art, books, creative writing, fiction, history, literature, music, philosophy, podcast, poetry, reviews, spoken word, writing

In May I started writing a newsletter about my creative life at substack.com. It contains essays, creative nonfiction pieces, short stories, poems, songs, reviews of books and music, podcast announcements, and talk about the craft of writing and creativity in general. I’ll use this blog to announce new issues, which come out every 7 to 10 days.

If you like what you see there, sign up to receive new issues by email. Go to eschorama.substack.com

Thanks for checking it out.

Writing advice from Thoreau

creative writing, literature, writing

You go places. You have experiences. You write. What do you make of any experience on the page? Here is a passage from Thoreau worth thinking about:

Let me suggest a theme for you: to state to yourself precisely and completely what that walk over the mountains amounted to for you,—returning to this essay again and again, until you are satisfied that all that was important in your experience, is in it. Give this good reason to yourself for having gone over the mountains, for mankind is ever going over a mountain. Don’t suppose that you can tell it precisely the first dozen times you try, but at ’em again, especially when, after a sufficient pause, you suspect that you are touching the heart or summit of the matter, reiterate your blows there, and account for the mountain to yourself. Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short. It did not take very long to get over the mountain, you thought; but have you got over it indeed? If you have been to the top of Mount Washington, let me ask, what did you find there? That is the way they prove witnesses, you know. Going up there and being blown on is nothing. We never do much climbing while we are there, but we eat our luncheon, etc., very much as at home. It is after we get home that we really go over the mountain, if ever. What did the mountain say? What did the mountain do?