In response to last week’s post, a friend made the very reasonable suggestion that readers may be more interested in my retreat than my reaction to Miranda Seymour’s biography of Mary Shelley.
While I agree, work on my novel has stalled due to recurring anxiety and another problem I’d rather not have to deal with. While I can handle both, they have interrupted my work. In the meantime I’ve diligently maintained my version of a writer’s most important tool: the ‘Daily Pages’, or my version of it.
In 1992, Julia Cameron published a book recommending artists practice various techniques and exercises to help them become more self-confident and access their creativity. Cameron’s ‘Morning Pages’ are ‘stream of consciousness’ reflections written in longhand, on any topic that may help an artist
Cameron was not the first to recommend this practice (nor did she claim to be). Writers in particular use various methods to ‘kick start’ their writing sessions; open any book on writing and you will invariably find a section on keeping a ‘writer’s notebook’, ‘writer’s journal,’ or similar. My own journey as a writer was encouraged when reading Steinbeck’s Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters when I was still a teenager. Maybe that’s why I find writing about writing easier than writing a novel?
There is no one way to keep a writing diary, morning pages or daily pages; my problem, born of writing a personal journal for over thirty years, is my daily pages often lack any reference to my novel, how I structure it, develop my characters or explore my themes. I tend to focus on my private life when I’d be better served planning and shaping my work, and thinking about what I am doing and why. This is important during the writing process, and more so at the editing stage.
What I needed was ‘technical’ prompts to help me think about my novel and how it might develop. Earlier this week, while struggling to work on my novel, I created the following list of prompts to help stimulate my process:
Record of Current Writing Project: ideas, influences, inspirations, mythological themes or structures to explore; prompts used; proposed and modified schedule; which stage I’m in (in terms of pre-writing, planning, drafting, crafting, structural and micro editing); work to do on genre, plot, conflict, character, setting, theme, dialogue, symbols, sharing/seeking feedback; time frame (drafting, editing, ready to read, ready to go); feedback from readers…
I now have a focus for writing about my writing. For example, the theme I want to explore is that of the lost or wandering child: what or who does she encounter that helps or hinders her journey and how am I expressing that? Where am I in terms of my time frame and do I need to return to the planning stage before I can continue?
I hope these prompts will ensure my daily pages won’t just be a rant about my current problems but a way to think about and re-engage with the work I’m here to do.
Your comments: I’d love to hear from other writers on how you reflect on your work in progress. Do you keep a writer’s journal? If so, why? If not, why not?