Gratitude and the Writing Life


Gratitude Postcards

I carved a block with the international gratitude symbol and printed it in pink, a color associated with gratitude. I want to provide guests at the upcoming Riverside Arts Walk who attend Inlandia’s panel discussion at the library an opportunity to express their gratitude to a writer through a postcard.

Thursday, February 2, 2023
First Thursdays Arts Walk
“The Gratitude Project: Readers & Writers Edition”
with Janine Pourroy Gamblin, Cati Porter, Leila Kirkconnell, Robert Kirkconnell, and David Stone

Riverside Main Library
3900 Mission Inn Blvd
Riverside, CA 92501
Doors Open at 6:00 PM
6:30-8:00 PM
Free and open to the public.

Is gratitude part of what it takes to build a writer’s life? We think so.

In reading and writing, as in life, we don’t often take the time to tell people how much they – and their work – mean to us. Join Inlandia and a gathering of IE writers to learn how to weave together a literary life, and discover ways readers and writers can express gratitude for one another while doing so.

Journaling Idea #29: A Reader’s Journal

A photo I took of one of the books that I am currently reading.

When we read, we are not metaphorically vacuuming up the words from the page; rather, we are making sense of the symbols we encounter by relating them to previous material we have encountered. Reader-response theory leads us to consider that every reader, therefore, has a unique reading of a text based on their personal experiences.

Keeping a journal in relation to your reading, gives you the opportunity to enrich your reading experience.

Before Reading

Writing before reading brings to consciousness your previous knowledge and gives you the chance to record your predictions about what you are going to read . Readers make a surprising number of observations of a text before they read it that set them up to interpret it. We do judge a book by its cover. The packaging of a text (cover design, title, fonts, etc.) give us clues as to the text’s genre. Our expectations about what kind of text we are reading shape what we expect to find.

So, before you start reading, write down what you think the text will be be like:

  • Do you think the text is fiction or nonfiction?
  • Is it a narrative, an argument, or an explanation?
  • Why are you reading this text?
  • Who is the author and what do you know about them?
  • What kind of text is it?
  • How do you expect the structure of the text to go?
  • What have you read like this text before?
  • What topics and/or themes do you expect to encounter?

Writing before reading prepares you to read. Context and experience will teach you what and how much to write.

I’m excited to read Warren Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions. Having read read Berger’s article in Spirit magazine and his first book, A More Beautiful Question, I’m expecting Berger to inform me about the different types and functions of questions. I imagine he will be advocating for the importance of questioning in business, education, and everyday life. I’m hoping to gain more skills in the making and using of questions to share with my students.

David Stone’s prereading entry for Warren Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions

While Reading

Take time to pause to write periodically while reading. You can pause at divisions in the text, or when the impulse strikes you. The California Reading Association lists 26 things good readers do. Writing some of those things down can help a reader of any age to become more self-aware of the strategies they use and allow them to be more consciously reflective. I selected the following activities from the CRA list that I think would work well in a journal:

  • Summarize.
  • Make predictions.
  • Take account of what you already know.
  • List what is new to you.
  • Note what you want to learn.
  • Make comparisons.
  • Connect what you are reading to your life experience and/or to your vicarious experiences.
  • Paraphrase complex sentences to make them personally meaningful.
  • Question.
  • Make comments in response to what you have read.
  • Record whether your predictions were accurate.

In addition to the activities suggested by the CRA, I would add write out quotes that you might use later.

I like how Berger uses questions for the subtitles of his chapters and for the book’s subheadings. His introduction is subtitled “Why Question?” He notes how questioning is where inventive change begins (3), questioning can change our perceptions, expand our vision, make us aware and move us beyond our preconceived preferences, and open up creativity and our range of emotional response (4). Berger introduces how his book is divided into what he sees as the four major uses of questions: decision-making, creativity, connecting with others, and leadership. I found myself concerned in response to the “What can we learn from a four-year-old girl?” section that Berger might spend a lot of this new book restating information that I had read in his first book. Review is good, but I am looking to learn new things.

David Stone’s reading entry written in response to the Introduction of Warren Berger’s The Book of Beautiful Questions

After Reading

Behind every text is an author. Reading could be compared to listening. So when you are done reading a text, it is your turn as the reader to reflect and respond.

Here’s your opportunity to agree, to disagree, to provide further examples, make comparisons, note areas where you think more needs to be written or researched, comment on the quality of what you read or how it was written. You may want to engage your own creativity to a work of fiction and write an alternate ending or a sequel.

Your reader’s journal may be something you keep to yourself, or may be something you share with a family member, friend, book club, class, or colleague.

I enjoy reading my own reader’s journals from thirty years ago. I laugh at how much I have forgotten that I have read and find satisfaction in reconsidering my earlier responses.

If reading is not your thing, many of the same strategies could be used for a viewer’s journal as well.

Journaling Idea #18: Encouraging Words

“You should become an English major,” said my Honors Composition teacher Dr. Ottilie Stafford when I was a Freshman in college.  She made me feel wanted and valuable.  She saw potential in me. Her encouraging words changed the direction of my life. I dropped my music major and became an English major.

In graduate school, I encountered another encouraging professor, Dr. Edna May Loveless.  She modeled empathetic listening skills and taught with a positive spirit, notable in her frequent use of backchanneling utterances–uh-huh, hmm, etc.   She encouraged my fellow composition and rhetoric classmates to value the power of positive psychology.  She emphasized the importance of noting the strengths in our students’ writing. She encouraged me to write up a teaching activity I had shared with her and submit it for publication.  Setting on the Sidewalk: Using Chalk Drawing to Teach Narrative Setting became my first peer-reviewed publication.

Now after thirty years of teaching, I have become a mentor teacher and conscious once again of the importance and power of encouragement.

The words of the American motivational speaker William Arthur Ward ring true to me:

“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.”

Brainy Quote

As I have spent time considering journaling ideas, I’m convinced of the value of creating a encourager’s journal. A book/digital document where an individual can mindfully collect encouraging resources and track the results of encouraging.

I’ve chosen to create my encourager’s journal as a Google Doc.  The outline function connected to headings allows me to easily organize and store the exemplary anecdotes, quotes, and inspirational texts I locate. I’ve already added the quote from William Arthur Ward and another from Joyce Meyer:

“We can improve our relationships with others by leaps and bounds if we become encouragers instead of critics.”

I’ve set up a section for listing people I am seeking to encourage. Although my Encourager’s Journal Google Doc is password protected, I have chosen to use initials to identify the people I am seeking to encourage.  I put in labels for the person’s initials, circumstances/conditions, encouragement method, and results.

I’m making a list of methods for providing encouragement, i.e. affirmation, providing vision, sharing hope, and empathy.

I’m also including a list of common circumstances/conditions needing encouragement:

  • Changing circumstances
  • Changing conditions
  • Facing Challenges
  • Experiencing Indecision

Here’s a link to my encourager’s journal template to share with anyone who would like to use a Google Doc to create an encourager’s journal of their own.

Journaling Idea #17: A Comic Journal

Photo with Comic Mono filter by Erin Stone: Super Stan Man

I took a course in the graphic novel years ago. Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art was our primary text for the course. It’s a great place to start if you do not have a background in comics, also called visual literature.

When I thought about the idea of keeping a comic journal, I searched the Internet to see if I could buy one for a reasonable price or if I should just begin with a blank journal that I already had around the house.

I bought this book at my local Target because I didn’t want to wait for one of the many other options for comic journals I found on Amazon to arrive to my house.

I viewed Palle Schmidt youtube video on How to write and draw comics! Episode 3. I don’t think I’m personally interested in his book The Devil’s Concubine, but I think he gives some solid tips on making comics.

I decided I want to draw myself fairly realistically. I remembered the comic filter on my phone (on my phone it is an option as a filter in the text message app) and took a few photos to get me started. My daughter teasingly calls me StanMan because Stanley is my middle name. I decided I would title my journal The Adventures of StanMan. I took some photos with my the filter on my phone and then attempted my own drawings in my journal.

A photo I took with the Comic Mono filter of the template page I decided to use to start.
This is the first three panels I’ve drawn. So far, I didn’t find a need for captions or speech balloons. I’ll use some of those soon enough.
This is a panel my daughter Erin drew for me as a start to her comic journal. She enjoys drawing comics.

I’ve got a ways to go with my comic drawing skills. (Just look at my first attempt at drawing my face!) However, I think I will keep drawing entries in my new journal and improve my skills.

Once again, your journal is your journal. You decide what you put in it and how often. You may want to stick with one approach to journaling that you do every day, or you may chose to work in different journals on different days. Maybe an eclectic journal is what you want. We’ll explore that idea on another day.

Journaling Idea #16: Make it Molecular

Photo by Erin Stone

You could choose to write about molecules, but that’s not what I’m suggesting here. I’m recommending you write in very small particles. Try writing an atom poem. I learned of this short form variation of a haiku from a post on Ben Alexander’s “The Skeptic’s Kaddish,” a blog I enjoy following. Alexander cites the Poets Collective website for the source of the instructions for the form:

  • Provide a title.
  • Write in a series of three-line stanzas.
  • Use five letters in the first line of each stanza
  • Use seven letters in the second line of each stanza.
  • Use five letters in the third line of each stanza.
  • Do NOT capitalize any letters.
  • Do NOT use punctuation.
  • Use as many stanzas as needed.

Below is my first attempt at an atom poem:

Photo by Erin Stone

When it Snows in San Bernardino




on top




peaks of


You can create a whole journal devoted to atomic poems, or make a journal devoted to short form poetry where you try out a different form each day, week, or month. You could create an eclectic journal where you respond to different prompts/ideas on each page. You’re in charge of your writing. Your journal is yours.

Journaling Idea #15: Introductions

Put your imagination to work each entry and create the first meeting of two fictional characters or recall the first time you met someone in real life. First impressions say a lot.

I don’t have to imagine the first time I met my wife. I stepped into my graduate classmate’s apartment and turned my head to follow the sound of laughter. Sitting in Todd’s curvy Ikea chair just to the right of the door was a curly blond with mischievous blue eyes that glinted in the light from floor lamp as we were introduced. I was struck by her confidence. Besides being tall like her brother that I already knew, she looked nothing like him with his angular frame, olive complexion and dark hair. She was full-figured, and lightly tanned with naturally rosy cheeks. I was immediately taken with her, but it was her witty sense of humor that made me wonder why it had taken us so long to meet.

Romantic meetings may have obvious appeal, but first encounters with all types of people can add interest to any narrative.

“The Lion and the Mouse,” bronze statue by Tom Otterness
(Photo by Qwertzu 111111)

Consider character options by their narrative role:

  • protagonist
  • antagonist
  • deuteragonists
  • love interests
  • foils
  • tertiary characters

Think about types of relationships:

  • family
    • parent-child
    • siblings
    • cousins
    • aunts/uncles and niece/nephews
    • grandparents and grandchildren
  • work
    • boss and employee
    • coworkers
    • seller/service provider and a client
    • educator/healthcare provider and support staff
  • friendships
  • acquaintances
  • situational
  • educational
    • classmates
    • teacher-student
    • cross grade

Think comic book:

  • hero
  • villian
  • mentor
  • comrade/sidekick
  • trickster
  • victim
  • fool

Whatever the pair you put together, remember the basic ways a writer reveals character:

  • Direct characterization
    • the narrator states the character’s trait(s)
  • Indirect characterization
    • character’s speech
    • character’s actions
    • character’s appearance
    • character’s thoughtshts
    • how other characters respond to them in speech/action

Reviewing the pages of your introductions journal may feel like your watching speed dating, improv, or a job interview. You’ll likely want to turn the page on some of the characters, but others you will want to get to know better. Give those their own document, but keep making more introductions.

Journal Idea #14: It’s All in the Form of a Sentence

Illustration: Chiswick Chap

“Not every pretty thing should be touched,” my son read aloud with joy from Anthony Ryan’s The Martyr. The insight of the novel’s protagonist and former outlaw Allwyn Scribe spoke to my son not only because of the ringing truth of its content, but also because of its form.

Look a the placement of the negative adverb at the beginning of the sentence. What a difference it makes to remove it: every pretty thing should be touched.

Consider the turn of the sentence’s final word–touched.

Play with the content: Not very man should be married.

A single sentence can provide so much fun.

Consider keeping a journal where you play with the forms of a sentence.

Your entries could include one or more of the following:

  • Quote a memorably constructed sentence.
  • Imitate a sentence you admire.
  • Define a grammatical construction.
  • Define a rhetorical device.
  • Construct a sentence from a grammatical or rhetorical definition.
  • Play with the construction of a single sentence, trying out diferrent options.
  • Review the function of different punctuation marks.
  • Play with the punctuation of a sentence whose words remain in the same order.
  • Practice combing clauses in different patterns.
  • Savor a sentence by reading it aloud repeatedly with different intonations.
  • Analyze a sentence’s construction.
  • Attempt your own endeavors at techniques described in a book about sentences.

I thoroughly enjoyed Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. I got it for Christmas in 2011 when it was new. If you start looking at the options for books about sentences, you might be surprised at how many exist.

Cicero’s De Inventione

Journaling Idea #13: A Process Journal

Photo by David Stone of a bulletin board in his classroom depicting Donald Murray’s stages of the writing process as described in Murray’s book Write to Learn

Whatever you make, there is a process, a series of actions, that creates your product. I find value in consciously considering the process I follow for creating everything I make.

Graham Wallas designated five stages in the creative process in his 1921 book The Art of Thought:

  • Preparation
  • Incubation
  • Illumination
  • Evaluation
  • Verification

You can find a description for each of these stages on Pearce Center for Professional Communication hosted by Clemson University.

If the idea of a creative process is new to you, then take time to reflect on what you make and how you do it. How do I start? Is that how I really start? Is there anything before that? What’s the second thing I do? Write out a description of how you made your last creation? Do you see distinct phases? What would you call them? Are they similar or different than the stages of Graham Wallace?

Consider what new insights you might gain from documenting your creative process and reflecting on it.

Teaching writing as a process became the dominant approach to teaching writing in the United States during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Most frequently I see the writing process labeled in the writing textbooks with five stages:

  • Prewriting
  • Drafting
  • Revising
  • Editing
  • Presenting/Publishing

I have found value in creating discomfort in my students by presenting them with more than one model for the writing process. I want them to experience cognitive dissonance. Looking at the same process from a different perspective with a different set of labels deepens and broadens their understanding. I use Donald Murray’s labels to help them reconsider the writing process:

  • Conceiving
  • Collecting
  • Focus
  • Select
  • Order
  • Develop
  • Clarify

(The labels above are a mix of those found in Murray’s book Write to Learn and those accredited to Murray by Roy Peter Clark in an article on the Poytner website.) I have my students place their work in a classification folder with six flaps. Before they turn in their “final” draft, I have them write a reflection on the process of writing their paper. I ask them to consider the following questions:

What worked well for you? 

What gave you difficulty? 

What will you repeat the next time you have a similar writing task?

What will you do differently next time?

Which models/samples of similar writing influenced you?

Is there an aspect of the process where you think you need to sharpen your skills or gain more knowledge?

Of which aspect of this piece are you most proud?

I hope you will begin to keep your own process journal, if you haven’t already, where you record and reflect on how you make whatever it is that you value and create. Consider creating a model for your process and share it with other creators.

Journaling Idea #12: Connecting Beyond Yourself

Photo by Wilfredor

Journaling is a part of many spiritual traditions. You may keep a journal to record your reading of sacred texts, the writing of your prayers, your meditations, or your reflections on your own personal journey.

As a Christian, I was introduced to journaling as a spiritual discipline through Anne Broyles’ Journaling: A Spiritual Journey. I found the book in the hall of the dorm at the Christian college I attended in Massachusetts as I was cleaning out my room to leave after graduating. Someone had left it behind. I took it home to Pennsylvania and read it.

Broyles’ book offers six approaches for journaling:

  • from the events of everyday life
  • in response to scripture
  • with guided meditations
  • from dreams
  • in response to reading
  • from conversations or dialogues

Searching for my first full-time job during the summer of 1991 when many of my classmates had chosen graduate school due to the recession, I found myself arguing with God in the journal I started that I saw no leading in my life. I prayed for guidance.

I interviewed at Dunn and Bradstreet in the city of Scranton near where I lived. I was called back for a second interview. They said they would call me.

While I was waiting and continuing to write out my frustrations in my journal, my older sister called and invited my parents and I to come to her house and help her pick tomatoes from a local farm for my mother to can.

As we were nearing Shartlesville, the town where my sister lived at the time, my father suddenly announced that he wanted some Stripples, a brand of fake bacon not widely available back in the 1990s. (This was before Morning Star Farms’ Breakfast Strips became widely available.) He pulled off the road to Shartlesville at the campus of Blue Mountain Academy, the boarding Seventh-day Adventist high school I had attended. There was a health food store on the campus that sold the product he was hankering.

While my parents went into the the store, I walked over to the administration building to see if any of my old teachers were around. I ran into Mr. Edison who had taught me geometry, string bass lessons, and band. He greeted me with a smile and asked me how I was doing. Then he inquired, “Didn’t you just graduate with a degree in English and a minor in religion? You need to go see the principal right now. We’re looking for someone to teach those two subjects.”

Suddenly I could hear music from the old television show Twilight in my head. I went to the principal’s wearing my old clothes I had chosen to go tomato picking. His secretary didn’t keep me waiting long. I found myself in a job interview.

Near the end of our conversation, I said, “If I was to consider working here, I would want to attend some teacher’s meetings or classes and get a feel for how things are at the school now.”

“Well,” he replied, “can you be here tomorrow morning at eight?”

“Yes, I think I can,” I said as I hurried off to explain to my parents.

A week later, I taught my first high school English class and have been teaching English ever since. That was a distinctive moment in my personal faith journey and a reason I believe journal writing can lead you to unexpected places.