I wrote thirty-one ideas for journaling over the past month in preparation for this column’s publication. I still have more ideas that I will share later, but my streak of posts on journaling ideas will cease for now.
Today I have to make some tough decisions about which of those ideas I will actively pursue for myself this year.
I’m going to continue occasionally to record memories of my parents in my grief turned relishing journals (blue for my mom and red for my dad). I will continue to use my black gratitude journal. I’m going to write in response to the pre-written prompts in My Father’s Life journal that my son gave me at least once a week. I’m going to start a nursery rhyme journal in the marble covered book that I have repurposed by slicing out the few pages I had started in it twenty-five years ago. I’m going to use one of the blue mini journals I got from my wife for a sentence journal and the other for my Title My Day journal. I’m going to keep going with my encourager’s journal online. I’d like to keep up with the comic journal that I started, but only occasionally.
Although I am chiding myself about only having so much time, I just overheard my wife talking to her mother about some other new journals that she has bought me for my birthday, so will see what happens.
There’s nothing quite as inspiring as a folktale or a myth. Just ask Walt Disney.
Folktales and myths are stories that have been passed down for generations within a community or a country, providing explanations for how or why things came to be; others providing moral lessons. Household tales are similar stories told within a singular family.
A wonderful free source about folktales and mythology was created by D. L. Ashliman, a long retired professor from the University of Pittsburgh.
Folktales and myths can serve as springboards to remembering your own personal stories or to creating new fictional stories.
I followed the link from Ashliman’s site to Bartleby’s collection of Aesop’s Fables and created five prompts in a short time:
The moral of Aesop’s “The Man and the Serpent” (“Injuries may be forgiven, but not forgotten.” led me to write the prompt: Every scar has a story. Tell the story of one of your scars.
The “Town Mouse and the Country Mouse” reminded me of the adage “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Describe a time in your experience when this was false.
After reading “The Fox and the Crow” with its moral “Do not trust flatterers,” people might ask themselves, am I more of a fox or a crow?
The moral of Aesop’s “The Lion and the Mouse” is “Little friends may prove great friends.” When has a kind deed been repaid to you?
“The Sick Lion” leads me to wonder what the insults I have received say about the people who said them.
Be warned: Ashliman’s website is a bit of rabbit hole. Enjoy, but don’t get lost.
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.
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
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:
Take account of what you already know.
List what is new to you.
Note what you want to learn.
Connect what you are reading to your life experience and/or to your vicarious experiences.
Paraphrase complex sentences to make them personally meaningful.
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
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.
When city newspapers cover an international or national story, they often publish a local news story next to it. The reporter looks for connections between what the wire services are reporting and their local community. In the same manner, a journaler can make use of the day’s news and look for a local connection.
Many people use the local news approach when they write posts for social media. A former student of mine made such a move for a post on Facebook:
Wolf’s words and photo were quite the hit. Nick Beres, a journalist for News Channel 5, reposted Wolf’s picture of Thickle looking at himself in the mirror and wrote his own clever commentary. Beres’ post received over a thousand comments and nearly four thousand shares.
I love the way Wolf wrote her post. Her pairing of the words “snomageddon” with “farmageddon” is clever. She starts with the larger event and moves to its impact on her life.
Responses to news in a journal can be as short as Wolf’s post or as long as the writer wishes. A journaler can choose to write in prose like Wolf or write in verse. I advocated for poets to write in response to the news in a column titled “Poetry Made Present,” published in The Press Enterprise on September 8, 2014.
Wolf could have easily adapted her response into the form of a septolet. The website Shadow Poetry defines a septolet as “a poem consisting of seven lines containing fourteen words with a break in between the two parts. Both parts deal with the same thought and create a picture.”
Here’s my septolet created from Wolf’s words:
Thickle and Friends
our goat shed’s warmth,
in our upstairs
Wolf’s post reminded me of the pet goats named Zebu and Daisy that I purchased for a 4-H project with a friend. Thinking of how Zebu even ate my homework, I replied to Wolf’s post that I hope she had removed the shower curtain and towels from her bathroom.
My humor soon faded, however, as I remembered Zebu and Daisy’s fate.
Blizzard of 2022
in her bathroom.
I hope you will give writing about the news a try for an occasional entry in your own eclectic journal or in a journal devoted to responses to the news.
Here’s my first entry written in response to a prompt that quickly stirred a memory for me.
If my messy cursive gives you trouble, here’s what I wrote in response to the prompt that said, “Describe the sight, feel, and smell of the first stuffed animal you remember having”:
I remember the night we arrived in Pennsylvania when I was four. I had been born in Ohio, but we were moving to live upstairs in my grandparents house in Waverly, PA. I don’t remember whether I was carried upstairs or whether I stumbled up in a groggy state, but I do remember that I slept my first night on a daybed in the hall upstairs next to a stack of boxes. Clutched close to me was my stuffed animal Tippy, a light brown puppy. He had floppy ears and four legs that stuck out like he was sprawled. He had a stubby tail. I had named him after a real dog we had owned in Ohio that had run away. Tippy, the stuffed animal, was actually silkier than I remember the real dog being. I loved to pet and squeeze my stuffed Tippy. I always took him to bed. I don’t remember how he smelled when I was little. I can only imagine the dusty smell that he still has. Yes, I still have Tippy. I haven’t slept with him since grade school, but I keep him in my closet along with Ribby, my stuffed frog. I’ll save the stories of Ribby for another page.
The journal my son gave me for Christmas is published by Chartwell Books. He gave a similar one to my wife and to his grandmother. The premise of this journal series is that you give the with its prompts to a loved one and when they are finished they return it to you to cherish.
You can find a wide variety of printed journals for purchase that have preprinted prompts at the top of each page. The one my son gave me, My Father’s Life, only has 204, with a slightly lower number of pages with prompts. It wouldn’t keep me busy for a whole year if I wrote in it every day, but it does provide some great questions to jumpstart my writing.
I’m looking forward to writing more entries in this journal and sharing them with my son.
I interviewed my mother after she retired and typed out the stories she told me. I cherish those stories.
Different than a diary or a journal, the commonplace book focuses on material gathered from others. Its power for creativity lies in the opportunity it provides its maker to see the similarity and differences of what others have said about a given topic, to note the range and gaps. Commonplace books also serve as a writer’s personal pantry of quotations to add to their own creations.
from David Stone’s Inlandia Literary Journeys: Consider ‘commonplace book’ as alternative to a journal February 17, 2018
If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went --
Then you may count that day well spent.
But if, through all the livelong day,
You've cheered no heart, by yea or nay --
If, through it all
You've nothing done that you can trace
That brought the sunshine to one face--
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost --
Then count that day as worse than lost.
Many have been inspired to reflect on their day by the words of the Victorian novelist and poet Mary Ann Evans (22 November 1819-22 December 1880), who published under the pen name George Eliot.
My wife’s high school English teacher Ora Mae Kirk regularly exhorted her students with a variation of Eliot’s words. She proclaimed, “Count that day lost in which you learn no knew thing.”
Considering the success of your day can be meaningful reflective activity for all of us. You may make this judgment a part of your daily writing. You may include it as a part of a traditional diary approach to journal writing, or you may choose to keep a mini journal where all you record are your wins and losses.
You can adopt the criteria of George Eliot, Ora Mae Kirk, another moralist, or one of your own making.
Seven years ago I wrote about anecdotes for an Inlandia Literary Journeys column titled “Anecdotes Are the Antidote” that was published in the Press Enterprise newspaper on October 18, 2015.
I advocated in my column that our personal anecdotes deserved a place on our coffee tables along with our photos. I’d still make that argument, but I no longer recommend writing them on index cards and keeping them in a box. Experience has taught me that a journal is a safer place.
Years ago a student caught my attention as he went to leave the classroom.
“Can I go to the bathroom?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Can you go to the bathroom?” I replied with my typical smart-aleck teacher response.
“Yeah, I can,” he said matter-of-factly and left the room.
This anecdote illustrates the basic three part-structure of most anecdotes. Anecdotes are simple narratives with a beginning, middle, and end.
The beginning sets up the story. It provides context. The writer often answers three questions: When?Where?Who?
In the middle, the writer creates conflict by presenting a complication. The reader learns the answer to the fourth question: What? They learn what first happened, and they begin to wonder what will happen next.
The end provides the twist and tells us the answer to the fifth question: How? How did things turn out?
Not all anecdotes are humorous, but many are. They follow the classic pattern of humor: preparation, anticipation, punch line.
So whether you pick out an event from each day and record it in your journal as an anecdote, or your choose to write on the days when something strikes your proverbial funny bone, I hope you’ll sharpen your narrative skills through anecdotes.
If you come up with some funny anecdotes, you might be able to earn some money. Reader Digest is always looking for jokes and funny story. Look here for details about submitting.
I’ll be 54 in 2023 since I was born in 1969. When I divide the number of days in a year by my age (365÷54), I get 6.759, which means I could write about each year of my life for about a week. My son who is turning 18 would end up with about three weeks for each year of his life. By now, I think you get the idea.
Your entries could be fictional or nonfictional.
I enjoyed reading the Nobel Prize winning writer Gϋnter Grass‘ My Century, an overview of the twentieth century created in a modernist style with varying narrators and styles. A story is told for each year of the century.
I propose one could write a similar view of the years of one’s own life. I’d start with 1969.
For the first day you write about each year, I’m suggesting you make the entry an overview of what you can remember about that year, what you can remember being told about that year by older members of your family, and with any remaining space recall or gather information about that year. Consider looking at a Wikipedia entry for that year, or searching the Internet for trends in fashion, food, or vehicles. Look up what movies, television shows, books, and games were popular that year. Find out what was happening in sports.
For the remaining days you write about each year, which would be five or six days for me, recall stories you remember from that year about yourself or other members of your family.
If you don’t recall enough about your personal life, consider filling each day with nonfictional articles about what ever interests you from that day, or write a fictional story about a character set during that year.
Your journal will create a unique portrait of the time period you have lived so far.