Friday, January 15, 2010

Unkeeping A Journal - Part 1

I'm the sort of writer whose ideas are in a constant state of percolation. I'll be driving my mini-van, listening to The Wiggles, answering a constant stream of "whys" from the backseat, and all of a sudden a snippet of conversation will pop into my head, where it will sit until I'm in the grocery store, and I imagine a dialogue around that snippet of conversation, where it will sit until I'm in the middle of a debate with Tom about what to have for dinner when the setting for the dialogue with the snippet of conversation will pop into my head. Then I'll let it percolate some more while I work out all the sensory details and plot points. And then, when everything finally starts to come together in my own mind, I *try* to write it all down.

It's not the most effective means of novel writing. Invariably, I lose my momentum halfway through and end up wracking my brain trying to remember what I'd been stewing over.

In this month's Writer's Digest, there's an article that caught my attention about "unkeeping" a journal, and using it as a repository for all those snippets that fall into your head and end up lost to time. Since there are no rules, because technically, you aren't *keeping* a journal, you can use it to play around with your writing, brainstorm out loud, and amuse yourself by transcribing the conversations around you, funny things children say, and any interesting stories that interest you. All excellent ideas.

Some of the suggestions didn't really appeal to me. I'm not going to interview myself, pretending I'm a bestselling author, for example. And I don't exactly see the point in brainstorming titles for a children's book about two dogs. But a couple of pages into the article, one of the suggestions really caught my eye.

It's an exercise called Outrunning The Critic. What you're supposed to do is write 100 short sentences about a character, central concept, or scene in a story, and write those sentences without lifting your pen from the paper. I read that and went, "Huh. I should try that."

I had a scene percolating in my head--a very pivotal, very long scene that I didn't want to start yet. It was just too daunting. It takes place at a square dance and it had already taken three hours of watching square dance and clogging videos on You Tube to get the first page of the scene started. But the boys were playing trains in the playroom, and they wanted me in there with them, so I grabbed my new journal, numbered the lines from 1 to 100 and jotted down thoughts as they came to me.

Even though there were times that John was leaping on me and literally swinging off my pen-wielding arm (in danger of getting his little eyes stabbed out, by the way, which I suppose is an occupational hazard when your mother is a novelist) I got my 100 short sentences written in pretty short order. It was surprising to see how truly fleshed out that portion of the chapter already was in my head, and how little I really needed to fill in.

Since I don't like to "write" until the scene is complete in my head, but 100 sentences feels like a substantial amount of ideas for getting started, I was able to subvert that part of myself that says "Sorry. Not enough here to write it down." The best part is, in transcribing those 100 sentences into the body of my text, I see it is a hugely substantial gain after all. It didn't feel like I was making progress because it was too easy, but even so, I was.

This is definetely a technique I'll try again (there's a lot of scene left to write, and I'm still dreading writing it).


On another note entirely, I'm trying to come up with at least a working title for my book. "Untitled" as a header looks so insubstantial on every page. Just like you want to know the status immediately of any possible romantic relationship, I want to know what to call this thing now that it and I are spending every waking moment with each other.

My book takes place in the Appalachian Mountains in 1916. Ivy Garren lives on Bear Wallow Mountain and tends to the sick there with all manner of folk remedies. She's well respected in her neck of the woods until John Emerson, an arrogant (but intoxicatingly handsome) doctor newly graduated from Harvard Medical School starts his own practice in town and starts stirring up trouble. This is the summer a horrible flood wrecks havoc in the mountains and Ivy and John must come together to save their neighbors.

I'm bouncing around ideas about water, flooding, mountains, storms, etc. but so far the best I've come up with are things like "Mountain Storm," and "Hearts Aflooded" and I'm not digging it. I can just picture the cover art now *shudder*. Ivy, half falling out of her dress, while a shirtless John pulls her against his chisled chest with a stethoscope...


  1. It is so funny to read of someone being tortured by "The Wiggles" on the other sde of the world...

  2. used to keep a little blank booklet on hand for emergencies. i still find myself writing scenes or poems in other books' bindings and inside front and back pages.

    definitely don't go for a title that evokes fabio. lol!

  3. its is so hard to come with something. I had about 3 titiles before i came up with mine (Memorybox) at 3am one night (I was asleep I think!. Also LOVE the idea of 100 sentences. Like you I write in snippets (I carry a notebook everywhere and write down flashes rhat come into my head - weeks later I'll go and look adn there are maybe 30 sentences that I then try and work into my novel. Luckily haven't encountered the Wiggles yet - still on Wheels on the Bus. Dear god, is there more?

  4. Had some new ideas for a title. Any of these grab you?

    Bear Waller Mountain Girl
    Girl Out of Bear Waller

    (the name of the mountain where my story takes place is called Bear Wallow, but it's pronounced Bear Waller)

  5. from a reader andnow writer pf children's books....that may not be the angle you want to convey.

  6. Great notebook idea with the 100 sentences. I also keep notebook by my bed cause I always think up the best things whilst I am trying to go to sleep or in the middle of the night.
    The name is tricky...everything I keep thinking of could also be interpreted as a bodice ripper front cover lol!!! At first I was thinking it might be good to have Appalachian somewhere in the title, but then that might make it hard for people to find if they can't maybe not.
    I was thinking you should try to think of something that conveys Ivy's character eg. "courage" "Spirit" "wildfire" but then how to combine it with something and also not make it sound like a wild romance type! Will keep pondering...


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