A few months ago I brought some things back from my parents’s house. Among them were several cardboard boxes full of A5 notebooks. These were journals I’d forgotten about. Some date back over twenty-five years. Some had green stickers on, others were navy. The green ones were ‘sketchbooks’ where I practiced my creative writing and recorded dreams; the blue ones were for straightforward diary entries. The last one (dated 1996) is left unfinished. For many years after, I stopped writing completely.
There are many obvious benefits to journaling. It can be very liberating — from a psychological point of view — to externalise worries and concerns. But most importantly, for a writer, maintaining a journal allows you to grow and practice in privacy without expectation. For me, a journal is different from a blog. Only a tiny percentage of what I write will make it onto my blog, the rest forms the hard work nobody really sees. In the same way an artist will approach a canvas after having done many sketches, or a runner who only begins a marathon after months of training.
Now my physical journals have been replaced by an app (Day One) on my phone. It allows me to keep separate colour coded journals. I can search and easily copy and paste from it. It syncs with my desktop and tablet. And is automatically encrypted and backed up. One benefit of using my phone for journaling is I have it with me at all times. It allows me to record people and events while I’m out, write down sentences that pop into my head while waiting in queues or walking, sketch out characters and plot ideas on the go, and record the lingering memory of dreams as I wake. I refer to my journals constantly. They are the foundation of all my writing. It is where my ideas are born.
If you don’t keep one already. Consider starting — digital or physical, it doesn’t matter. And write in it every day. It’s just for you. But one day it may prove invaluable.
Here are some extracts from mine (all of which would have been forgotten if I didn’t have my journal with me):
Observations from the Terrace is a piece I wrote based on notes made during a concert I attended in London in June. I was so fascinated by all the people I saw around me I could not help be drawn into their loves, passions, sorrows and hopes. I tried to imagine who they were and peer into their lives.
Dream Fragments is an example of dreams I’ve recorded over the past year. I love dreams. They provide wonderful inspiration because they emanate directly from the subconscious. With a little work these could become stories.
Cutting Conversations is an extract from an overheard conversation in a barber shop between a teenager and the elderly barber. I couldn’t help reaching for my phone and typing down what I could, as fast as I could. This exchange struck me as so bizzare I later recast the words into the characters of two patients in a psychiatric ward for this poem.
Observations from the Terrace
She looks older when she turns. Her cotton dress with splashes of cerise and purple petals blows in the summer breeze. She is with her mother — who has the same long, straight auburn hair, and Roman nose, but with a face more aged. The older woman remains seated, and smiles as her daughter dances. Her hips sway, her arms rise into the air as an Asian man in a black t-shirt with a red rose passes them. It is seven pm and he’s already severely drunk. He staggers and grabs everyone he passes at the shoulders with high-fives and smiles — practically beaming with inebriated love. But the girl with the dreadlocks he’s just hugged doesn’t want to be here — it’s just her job. She smiles and endures with her torch and orange high-viz jacket as she directs the lost to their seats. Her mother isn’t happy she’s here — not after what happened in Manchester. But she is on the cusp now — between the wonder of her teens where anything is possible and the disappointment of adulthood where possible becomes improbable.
And I thank you for bringing me here, for showing me home, for singing these tears. Finally I’ve found that I belong here. The music continues. The girl in the floral dress still flirts with the summer air. She bends and takes sips of her mother’s beer. She is determined to let herself go — it’s been a while.
The awkward man with the pug nose and horn-rimmed glasses wants to be where his friend is — with the tweed-jacketed blonde nestled against his arm. He looks at his friend and grimaces. The lucky man with the side-parted dark hair looks happy; he is more overweight, and his faded, loose-fitting t-shirt is less flattering. But why wouldn’t he be happy with such a beautiful woman at his side? They discuss seating arrangements for a while. The awkward man settles behind and remains seated. He watches the blonde as she dances. There are thousands here, but each twirl she makes, she makes only for him. At each sway, he thinks only of her, and why he’s not the man at her side instead of him.
Unable to tolerate the torment he looks around. Behind him are four Germans in black. One woman has a limp and a crutch, but manages a dance nevertheless. The only man among them has his blonde hair closely shaved except for a styled tuft at the front. His round, childish face wears a pair of gold, thin-rimmed glasses above a smile. He’s been standing since the start. He holds a pint in one hand as he dances and drinks with a finger aimed high into the stadium’s air. He leaves for more drink, and dances past the girl in the white floral dress as she extends an arm around her mother. The Asian man returns with another beer and another hug for the girl in the high-viz jacket. It’s not her kind of music, but raises a smile — it’s what adults do when they endure. We are observers together in this — she and I. Here where life congregates, the joy, the unrequited love, the hopes, passions, all things are cast and lost here until tomorrow.
I received a poem from a priest, of a woman professing love for a friend. The last thing she’d done was kiss him before she left. She would be condemned if anyone knew.
The front garden is littered with abandoned cars. Around the back is a shed full of bric-a-brac. The pest controller’s been. Another sign has been taped onto the door: ‘All clear’. The neighbour, an old Dietrich look-alike has come out to check. I tell her it’s alright, dear, that she should go back inside.
We’re in a large, blackened dome. At the front is a projector. The first movie they showed us had some indeterminate creature — a dog or a bear — rolling around with ticks visible on its fur. It was met with much sympathy. Next they show us a reel of a circus man with testicular cancer. He is the only one who can ride the horse. He needs to ride to feed his family. With him gone, the family will suffer.
I’m searching for a photograph. Something tells me it’s inside this building. I enter its large, elaborate doors. The building is like a hotel with plush, cream carpets and huge wooden stairwells. But the floor numbers don’t make sense — they skip the floor I need. I check my pockets. I find two small photos. But they are of my sons. The one I’m seeking is of me and my parents. I retrace my steps and ask an old couple I meet, but they don’t know anything about photos. It’s getting late. I leave and make my to work on my bicycle.
–What time do you open?
–That’s the time I woke up, incidentally. For the past seven days. What about this whole EU thing. You for or against?
–Not too sure right now. I’m a bit against it right now.
–If I pick a side it might ruin my personality, so I would like to be neutral.
–It’s so specific isn’t it? You can’t put a broad statement on it. It is one of the most specific subjects in the world, and you always have to relate it to the history for some reason. If I wanted to do history I’d study King Arthur…. My hair is super curly. You know my sister locked me out the house one time. She is very stubborn…. I shaved my beard yesterday, doesn’t look like it went to plan. It was my first time doing it… Sorry, I’m in the talking mood today. I fell off the bed this morning, head first. When I woke up my head was looking at the carpet, literally….I’m going to Canada in June. When I finish school, I’ll have like two days to pack. I think it will be a lot more open there. The weather here is terrible. The weather over there will be much better. If I was an air attendant I would say: ‘enjoy the miserable weather!’
–My uncle’s stubborn to the point of being angry, and he’s driving the shop into the ground. My mom only works there. He just stands around. He doesn’t help. My mom doesn’t even own it anymore… Sorry I just feel so angry all the time. I just want to put my headphones in, do chores, be busy, studying you know? Do you mind if I take a lolly? I know, I’m so childish.
Image by: Dariusz Sankowski via Unsplash.