having written

JOURNAL THAT

a guide to writing

cynthia gregory

Everyone has heard the old chestnut to “write what you know about.” But, cherished friend, it ain’t that easy. We’ve also been told to “write like you talk” – and that’s just foolish. This kind of advice just leads to unrealistic expectations, not to mention bad syntax, sloppy verb conjugation, and mangled grammar. This is not to say that you should worry about any of these in your journal because journaling ought to be at the very least an exercise in jumping into the stream of consciousness with both feet and an inner tube.

Journaling is not for sissies.  You have to really want it with a desire born so deep only a seismographer can find its source. You have to do it; you just do. And you don’t have to explain or justify it any more than you have to justify breathing. Great genius is born of desire. And once the desire to write is established, the next most important part is means; and the method of true genius is to journal by hand. You know, the old fashioned way. Pen. Paper. Good lighting, a comfortable chair. Not too comfortable, just saying.

Why, you may well ask, is it important to write by hand when its so much easier to tap away on three rows of electronic buttons? Isn’t that why God invented Steven Jobs? The answer is that true writing is a tactile experience and because you think differently when you have to push a pen over a rough sheet of reconstituted tree pulp and because the process of writing is refined – just a little – when you have to make the words exact and legible and pretty on the page with nerves and tissues and with the fine muscles of your fingers. Writing becomes a whole body experience when you do it by hand. Transcribe your thoughts later if you must, but start first with an unblemished  piece of paper and fill it with observations, feelings, and a million details. Write. By. Hand.

Writing by hand is visceral and it connects with the most primitive parts of the brain; also the most elevated and elegant parts of the thinking apparatus. However, don’t think too much: just write. A mentor once said to me, “Don’t worry about how it all comes together. Just write. The story will take care of itself.”

So I pass this along to you: write. Just, write. And I really insist: by hand. So, you get cramps in your fingers; so what. You’ll get over it. And when you do, you will have written – and you feel like you climbed Kilimanjaro.

to be continued. . .

4 thoughts on “having written

  1. I’ve already pushed the Hemingway thing too far I think, but did you know he wrote everything first in long hand and then typed it up. And he typed it up with lots of spaces between the words so he could see each word distinctly? I used to work with his manuscripts. I’m so glad you liked my writing and that we share a love of words and things that move on our great rivers. Thank you.

    • Yes, yes. I get that. Writing is a physical action that cannot be done alone by keyboard. I believe that there is magic afoot when pen moves across paper. In college, I almost flunked my Faulkner and Hemingway class by suggesting that Hemingway was more of a feminist than Faulkner because his women character were more accessible. Whoo boy. El Profesor was decidedly unhappy with that business, I can tell you. Cheers, friend.

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