How I Plan a Book, Part 5: Writing Journals

This is my current writing journal. It's cute and whenever I see it I feel the urge to write in it.
This is my current writing journal. It’s cute and whenever I see it I feel the urge to write in it.

I touched on keeping a writing journal last NaNo, and though this doesn’t only apply to planning–I use a journal throughout my planning/drafting/revising process–I thought I would tack it on to the end of this series. I can’t live without my journals on writing, and perhaps you’ll find them as useful a tool for planning/drafting/revising as I do.

Now, just to recap, here are the previous parts of this series:

Part 1 in this series: Of Plotters and Pantsers.

Part 2 in this series: Before I Start Drafting.

Part 3 in this series: Scene-Level Planning.

Part 4 in this series: Coaxing Out the Magical Cookies. 

Okay, moving on!

I started keeping a journal about my writing in mid-2012. I was in the midst of writing A Dawn Most Wicked, and the words were NOT coming easily. I had ditched multiple attempts at first drafts (we’re talking hundreds of pages). I had rewritten some of those drafts (meaning hundreds of rewritten/revised pages). I hated every word that came out.*

I had my writer friends with which to discuss writing, but sometimes, you don’t want to just moan their ears off. I mean, I was writing myself in painful circles, and I knew my friends were sick of hearing about it.

So I started to write my frustrations in a journal. As I wrote the bad, I would also record the good. And as I wrote the good, I would also describe what I needed to accomplish next. What I was afraid of. What I was excited for.

Soon enough, my productivity increased. My emotional well-being improved. And little by little, I finally managed to tackle A Dawn Most Wicked. Essentially, the writing journal performed the same function as my writing friends or as the NaNoWriMo bootcamp forum. It kept me motivated, kept me sane, and held me accountable.

And it STILL fills all those roles. Basically, everything I feel about my writing–pride, fear, despair, triumph–I pour into this journal. Sometimes I write a few lines for the day. Sometimes I write pages. But I always feel better after I write in the journal, and I actually really look forward to the five minutes I spend describing my emotional state each day. It’s super therapeutic.

Here are some recent entries showing the same highs and lows I always go through with writing:

This was a good day. Steady progress a là the tortoise. (Click through to zoom in.)
This was a good day. Steady progress a là the tortoise. (Click through to zoom in.)
This was a terrible day. Or not the best... So much time was wasted on one sticking point. (Click through to zoom in.)
This started out as a not-so-good day. So much time was wasted on one sticking point…but then I wrote out my “feels” in the journal, felt better, and powered on for a SUPER good day. (Click through to zoom in.)

Best of all, though, is how the journal holds me accountable. I don’t want to write in it if I don’t have something AWESOME to say. If I haven’t met my goals for the day, it’s frustrating to have to record that. Here’s an entry from just a few weeks ago:

Note the part where I say, "I'm avoiding writing." Yeah...lazy Susan indeed.
Note the part where I say, “I’m avoiding writing.” Yeah…lazy Susan indeed. (Click through for a larger image.)

Just admitting that I was being a wussy about my own manuscript gave me the extra oomph I needed to get my butt to the chair and my hands on the keyboard. And as you can see, I returned a few hours later with a list of accomplishments! Huzzah!

Even though I have long since filled up my first journal and moved onto a second one, I sometimes flip back a few pages or skim through journal #1. It’s gratifying to read the moments I felt SO LOW I THOUGHT THE BOOK WOULD KILL ME only to then zoom ahead and read a victorious entry on the day I typed “the end”. It reminds me that the tunnel always seems long and bleak while I’m in the middle of it…but that there’s also always a light to look forward to.

You tell me: Do you keep a journal of any sort? Would  you ever do something crazy like this?

*Note: A huge part of my hatred for that story was because I hadn’t yet discovered the full importance of Magical Cookies or started using Scene Screenplays. I was writing based on a premise that I thought would be easy to write. It took me a long time, but eventually I did find the Right Story, and I’m really, REALLY proud of how A Dawn Most Wicked turned out.