Journaling is a critical part of my writing process. In every project folder, there is a subfolder labeled “Journal.” Most days, I sit down to write with no idea of what’s going to happen next. People don’t believe me when I say that, but it’s true. No idea. Zip. Nada. No freaking clue. I know nothing beyond what I’ve already written and the vaguest outlines of what could possibly happen next. When I open up my work in progress file, I spend a lot of time just drumming my fingers. Apparently, my creative brain refuses to get moving unless my fingers move first, like a cart that can’t roll forward until the horses pulling it get a move on. I know it’s weird, but I don’t question it anymore; I just go with it. If I don’t know what’s going to happen next — and like I said, that’s just about all of the time — I go to my journal and start asking questions. A typical entry might read something like this:
What does the main character want? She wants a house on a farm and a puppy. But why does she want a house on a farm and a puppy? What in her past makes those things so important to her? And from there, I start brainstorming. The answer shows up, sometimes without me even noticing it. I’ll blather on like that for a while until eventually I realize that I’m not writing about a house on a farm and a puppy anymore; I’m writing about the main character’s desire to exact vengeance on her father for… Well, you’ll find out.
When I’m stuck, I reread those journal entries and many times, the right answer is in there, buried under all the mindless typing. My creative mind is a tangled mess. Think gnarly ball of multi-colored yarn. that the cat played with. and yarfed up. Really, it’s that bad. This is in contrast to the rest of my life, which I manage by orderly lists and schedules. I’ve tried — believe me, I’ve tried — to make my creative mind behave, but such attempts inevitably lead to my creative mind going on strike until I agree to once again let it play in the road while wearing mismatched socks, Mickey Mouse ears, and a poncho made of gauzy scarves and shoelaces.
Whatever your process is, as long as it gets words on the page, honor that process and give it the freedom to do what it needs to do. Because honestly, if we really wanted order and efficiency, we’d all be content to remain in our cubicles, writing annual report copy for the rest of our lives.