Have you ever been blocked? Uninspired? Your characters are mere cardboard cut outs, or paper dolls so thin that the only way to change their mind is to change their outfits. It’s a depressing slough to be stuck in. Or maybe not, you are brilliant, your Muse never leaves you, even for coffee, you are brilliant. Good for you. You can stop reading here.
For the rest of us. When we are really stuck in our main work, our Work in Progress, one of the best solutions is to turn to our journals.
As a professional writers you are likely also a journal keeper. Journaling is a low risk activity that allows for literary (and not so literary) exploration and digression without sullying the main story. Your character can emerge through the journal, dialoguing with characters you’ve yet to invent, exposing quirks, allowing for intimate comments that add dimension to him or her. Many novelist claim that their characters just start talking and all they do is record the dialogue and ruminations. True, but it’s also true that as in real life, not everything we say is novel-worthy.
What do your characters dream about? What are their goals? Favorite food? These details aren’t necessarily important for a plot, but they can inform and strengthen your characters. Journal about their dreams and visions, but keep those long rambling descriptions in the journal. When we include every insight and thought into the story, we risk slowing the action and possibly derailing the narrative. In other words, by the end of a second draft, we will know far more about our characters than the reader ever will.
Sometimes (often?) Working On The Book is a daunting task. Writing a book, even saying that phrase out loud, carries weight and emotional expectations that can be daunting first thing in the morning. So don’t work on the book. Journal about the book.
- Give a secondary character dreams and aspirations
- Give your villain a hobby
- List the hidden themes and ideas of the book
- List the obvious themes
- Give your heroine a disgusting habit
- Give your hero second sight
Spend a morning with your ideas and plots without the pressure to fit them in somewhere in the outline or in the MS. Transfer the unworkable scenes completely out of the novel and drop them into the journal. When the mood strikes, or better, when the Muse visits, work on those scenes off novel (so to speak). If you are in the habit of writing in your journal every day, picking up and oh so casually working on your novel will feel a little less important and a lot less fraught.
Use your journal to sketch out and explore subjects and plot ideas (and characters, we talked about that). When they are ready, transfer these new ideas back into the novel.
The beauty of journaling is that it keeps the novel in one emotional sphere while the journal, with its common reputation as a place of experimentation and privacy, resides in another. That difference alone can help free your imagination.
Journaling can grant space we need to write our best work.
Journaling frees up the imagination in a way that starting at a half finished MS or WIP cannot.
Catharine Bramkamp is an author, poet, university lecturer, publisher ,Scholar Queen, and founder of
Writing From the Queen’s Seat – Turning Expert Queens into Author Queens.