If you look on my links to Online Publications you’ll see I’ve added a new publication Wag’s Revue, an online literary journal.
This morning I spent a few minutes browsing Amazon, having fantasies about books I want to buy, borrow or steal (jk), and thinking in particular about books on writing creative nonfiction.
Of course that means browsing books by the “godfather” of creative nonfiction Lee Gutkind, coming upon a listing for The Art of Creative Nonfiction, and clicking the Look Inside link on the book cover to get a taste. I scanned the Table of Contents and saw a section titled “Start a Writer’s Journal,” which was intriguing because I’ve kept journals for years, writing not only personal stuff, but also stuff about writing, observations, notes, etc.
Often, though, when I’ve gone back through journals, I find it hard to sort through the personal and pick out the “writerly” entries, things that might make a good story or a good detail in a story. It really never occured to me to keep separate journals, a personal journal and a writer’s journal. Or, it did, but it seemed to be a “why bother?” thought. Wouldn’t that become confusing? How many notebooks do you need?
But Gutkind advises writers to keep a separate journal. A personal journal, he notes, can be, well, too personal, divulging too much of his or her life, too much that may not be fit for public consumption. Or maybe it is?
A writer’s journal, Gutkind says, is a little less personal, though not lacking in personality. It’s where “you conduct an ongoing, spontaneous dialogue with yourself about writing, developing the subjects you intend to or are actually writing about.” Gutkind compares the writers journal to an artist’s sketchbook: “It’s where the masterpiece begins.”
It’s certainly something to think about, though at the moment I’m confined to one notebook because that’s all I can afford. I suppose I could open a new blog, but then that would confine me to the computer, wouldn’t it?
So, do you keep a separate writer’s journal? How do you use it?
I’m reading William Least Heat-Moon’s Roads to Quoz, and in the process of describing a trip through Arkansas, he writes about meandering through settlements named Ink and Pencil Bluff and, in turn, those names remind him of his method of writing:
Considering my method of writing, driving through that territory gave new meaning to autobiography: I write a first draft in pencil, the second in ink from a fountain pen, and only thereafter do I enter the realm of binary digits (although six drafts — three-thousand pages — of my first book came tickity-tick-tick out of a typewriter.)
Reading that really struck me how impatient my mind is sometimes (all the
time?), especially the johnny-deadline (to steal a phrase from Stephen Harrigan) mind I acquired from journalism. It’s hard to imagine writing any nonfiction piece, even a book-length piece, at such a slow-handed pace as Heat-Moon’s describing here. Although at one time drafting furiously at a computer seemed horrifying to this owner of a Royal manual typewriter. (Though my fingers aren’t kind to the computer keyboard, as I hunt and peck and pound, to my wife’s 1,000-word-a-minute-light-touch consternation when she listens to me type. I also recall whacking to death at least one keyboard in my newspaper days.) It’s now hard to imagine composing anywhere other than at a keyboard.
Though I do write longhand in a journal. Which brings to mind a series of tweets from yesterday, when after a few minutes of writing in my journal, I complained about writer’s cramp: I wondered how those who still do write in longhand sustain their writing for long periods.
One response: “As a longhand rough-drafter, there are moments when I have to drop the pen and give my hand a shake.”
I wish I had the patience to draft in longhand (I occasionally do, but not often enough to say it’s a regular practice). I wonder what difference it would make in my writing. I wonder what it would be like to draft a 1,000-word feature article in longhand before zipping it into the bit-and-byte-o-sphere?
To write is to have a reason for hoboing through one’s life and sometimes through those of others, whether or not you’ve met them.
—William Least Heat-Moon, Roads to Quoz: An American Mosey
Here’s this week’s Booking Through Thursday:
What’s the saddest book you’ve read recently?
I can’t think of anything that was boo-hoo sad, but if you’re looking for poignantly tragic — The Time Traveler’s Wife.
Armstrong’s been a favorite of mine since reading her memoir The Spiral Staircase, which chronicles her spiritual journey from nun to skeptic and religious scholar. It’s one of the best spiritual memoirs I’ve read, and from the NPR interview it sounds as if Armstrong has another good book out.
So, go now, listen.
On Monday I was reading Richard Gilbert’s Narrative and his recent post on the evils of PowerPoint, and was reminded of a comment I read while browsing posts on Facebook: The commenter was a professional editor who was told by a reader about the difficulty of reading in blocks of text rather than in bullet points — even a four-sentence paragraph was difficult.
First, reading that comment made me wonder if that reader’s head would explode reading The New Yorker. Second, it made me wonder if reading something more than bullet-pointed text is a dreadful chore for most people. And if it is a chore, then what’s the fate of stories?
Stories are necessary for memory, as Diane Ackerman explains in An Alchemy of Mind, and memory is necessary for survival, cultural and otherwise. If stories are becoming bullet-points, then what happens to memory?
Here’s this week’s Booking Through Thursday:
What’s the most enjoyable, most fun, most just-darn-entertaining book you’ve read recently?
(Mind you, this doesn’t necessarily mean funny, since we covered that already. Just … GOOD.)
Alp by William Hjortsberg was entertaining in a Benny Hill sort of way.
We need stories.
“Narrative, one of the brain’s key strategies, helps engrave memory,” writes Diane Ackerman in An Alchemy of Mind.
She writes about a memory study in which Cornell psychologist Ulric Neisser surveyed students in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Atlanta. The students were asked about the earthquake in California in 1989.
He followed up with them a year and a half later and discovered the California students were better able to recall the events of the earthquake better than the others surveyed. Essential to the California students’ recall were stories — the California students talked about the quake.
Stories were essential to memory.
Earlier this week humorist Garrison Keillor had a stroke. According to reports yesterday, he’s now at home recovering. Which is good news to hear. It’s also good to hear Keillor plans to carry on with “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show.
I also hope he plans to continue writing for Salon. His columns underscore his trademark understated humor and insight, as a recent piece on the New Media/Old Media divide demonstrates.
I think he’s spot on here about a chief illness making Old Media sick:
I’m an old media guy and I love newspapers, but they were brought down by a long period of gluttonous profits when they were run as monopolies by large, phlegmatic, semi-literate men who endowed schools of journalism that labored mightily to stamp out any style or originality and to create a cadre of reliable transcribers.
As someone enamored of Old Media, it’s a shame seeing it crumbling; it’s a shame especially to see the demise of stylish — and substantive — magazine features. Of seeing once-great magazines like Rolling Stone shrink — it literally shrunk in size, but its features have been shrinking for years. Could you imagine a 6,000-word piece by a literary journalist like Tom Wolfe in Rolling Stone‘s pages now?
The style and compactness of some features now would make Hemingway feel constipated, and his prose transmogrify into something Faulknerian.
And what will the next version of Gay Talese’s classic “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” be? “Paris Hilton Has a Brain Cell”?
Keillor’s also spot on about one of New Media’s chief cancers — tumors of information on superficialities:
What the new media age also means is that there won’t be newspapers to send reporters to cover the next war, but there will be 6 million teenage girls blogging about their plans for the weekend. There will be no TV networks to put on dramas in which actors in costume strut and orate and gesticulate, but you can see home video of dogs and anybody’s high school graduation anywhere in America. We will be a nation of unpaid freelance journalists and memoirists.
This, of course, as Keillor adds, may not be that bad. Maybe in a decade all our brains will be able to handle will be videos of dogs or reading updates on teenage girls’ plans. And we’ll be unable to laugh along with Jay Leno when some college graduate can’t identify the Gettysburg Address. We’ll scratch our heads along with the graduate, and go on to the next text message.
I wish Garrison Keillor good health.