Books for Daily Writing

Sometimes the unconscious knows what it wants to write about and sends the words bubbling to the surface and onto the page. At other times we find ourselves staring at a blank page or computer screen and wondering what we have worth writing about. At times like those, we might need a bit of prompting in our writing.

I had reached one of those times last month. One reason why I signed up for the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge is that it promised a daily writing prompt.

But once this challenge is over, there are some books to fill the gap. On my bookshelf are the following books that I have collected over the years:

A Daily Dose of Sanity: A Five-Minute Soul Recharge for Every Day of the Year by Andy Cohen (Hay House, 2010)

sanityThis book has a spiritual emphasis, though Cohen uses the word spiritual in its broadest sense: “This book is not associated with any particular religion, organization, or spiritual path” (introduction). Each entry comprises a general discussion of some topic, with illustrative anecdotes, a pertinent question or two, and an affirmation. The focus on general affirmations would allow for reuse in subsequent years. Entries are dated and printed one to a page.

The Daily Writer: 366 Meditations to Cultivate a Productive and Meaningful Writing Life by Fred White (Writer’s Digest Books, 2008)

daily-writerAccording to the introduction, “The Daily Writer is designed to help awaken and nurture the spiritual side of writing through daily meditation and practice throughout the calendar year.” Like Cohen (above), White uses the word spiritual in its broadest sense. Each entry discusses a broad topic (e.g., daydreaming with a purpose, discouragement as inspiration) and ends with a “try this” writing exercise. Because the entries are so broad, this book could be used many times, with each run-through bringing up new possibilities for writing. Entries are dated and printed one to a page.

The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate your Writing by Bonnie Neubauer (Writer’s Digest Books, 2006)

write-brainNeubauer’s book addresses a writer’s worst nightmare, the dreaded blank page. She encourages users to write for 10 minutes every day on one of her colorful, graphically intense pages: “At the end of the year you will have written at least 365 pages … And not once during the year will you have faced a blank page.” The entries are numbered (Day 129) rather than dated, so you can jump in any time during the year. At the bottom of each page is a box labeled “take the next step” that includes suggestions for expanding on that day’s writing exercise or for thinking about the writing life in general (e.g., “What is keeping you from asking for help?”). I don’t plan on actually writing on the workbook pages, however, as these exercises could be reused in subsequent years.

One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer’s Art and Craft by Susan M. Tiberghien (Da Capo Press, 2007)

one-yearIn this book Tiberghien combines two components of the writing life: inspiration and instruction. Each of the 12 lessons contains several writing exercises. In the introduction Tiberghien lays out her logic for the order of the lessons, but she also says that writers can use the lessons in whatever order works best for them. And although the number of lessons corresponds to the number of months in a year, she gives writers permission to spend whatever amount of time they feel is appropriate for each lesson. The use of lessons rather than dated entries allows users to pick up the program at any time.

Starting Points: A Year of Writing Prompts by Susan Wittig Albert (Story Circle Network, 2007, 2013)

starting-pointsLike many writing gurus, Albert advocates writing every day. “I’ve chosen the one-prompt-a-week format (rather than a daily prompt) because I believe it results in longer and deeper thoughts, as you explore the question or issue from different directions during your daily writing sessions.” Albert organizes the book by month, but she says writers can start at any time during the year and then cycle through the book until they come back round to where they started. She also wants writers to work on each month’s four prompts in whatever order appeals to them. The book concludes with several short sections of writing advice.

A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life, by Judy Reeves (New World Library, 1999)

writers-bk-days-849x1024There is a revised edition (2010) available, but my comments pertain to the original version, which I have.

“The book is divided into months, with each of the twelve months containing a profusion of writerly counsel and advice, words of inspiration, and literary lore and legend” (p. 6). Each month begins with a Guideline for Writing Practice. Reeves intersperses dated prompts for the month within a wealth of informative nuggets about writers and the writing life. Because the prompts are suggestive enough to evoke many different responses, the book can be used repeatedly.

Of the books listed here, this is the one I return to most often.

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These are just a few books that I happen to have. If you search for “writing prompts,” you’ll find many, many more. If you have used others, please post to the comments.

Journal Writing Resources

8 ways a simple notebook can change your life

A lot of research shows your brain sees writing differently than thinking or talking.

Writing forces you to organize and clarify your thoughts. You learn better when you write things down and are more likely to follow through.

So what should you be writing in this notebook?

Eric Barker has eight answers to this question, along with references to some scientific research to back up his claims.

How to Keep a Journal – Two Methods You Should Try

Lawyer and entrepreneur Marelisa Fabrega explains these two methods:

  1. Proprioceptive writing, originally espoused by Linda Trichter Metcalf in 1976 and updated by Metcalf and Tobin Simon in their 2002 book Writing the Mind Alive: The Proprioceptive Method for Finding Your Authentic Voice.
  2. Morning pages, a concept discussed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way.

Appeal of Writing Memoirs Grows, as Do Publishing Options

All right, this article is technically not about journal writing. It’s about writing memoir. But a journal or diary can often be the source for the material necessary to craft a compelling memoir:

“It’s the age of memoirs,” Ms. Salinger said, as self-publishing has made it easier and more accessible to plumb an individual’s past and share it widely. And many do so because they believe memoir writing is therapeutic and revelatory.

The article has information on classes, offered both online and in person at writing centers, adult education programs, and bookstores. It also touches on publication options, whether for commercial success or for smaller distribution to family and friends.

You won’t find here everything you’ll need to get started on memoir writing, but you will find some good starting points, particularly encouragement.

Midpoint Check-In: 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge

10/15/2014

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Habits are usually hard to break but quite easy to simply fall out of. For years I have been an active journal writer—with a fountain pen and purple ink in a paper journal, often also purple. But during a recent move that came about very quickly, I had fallen out of the journaling habit. I was about six weeks into re-establishing my journaling habit by writing every day as soon as I arrived at my office when I discovered the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge.

30-day-challenge-682x1024When I’m well into the habit of journaling nearly every day, I usually have no trouble finding something to write about. It’s as if my unconscious knows that this opportunity is about to arrive and seizes the chance to open itself up on the page. But when I’m not in the habit, my journal writing sometimes doesn’t flow so easily. At those times an occasional writing prompt can help. Part of the reason why I signed up for the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge was that it promised daily prompts.

As soon as I had signed up for the month-long digital journaling challenge, I knew that I did not want to give up the habit of writing in my journal each morning. I had, after all, been working hard at getting back into that habit. I therefore decided to make the digital journaling something I did when I got home from the office in the late afternoon or early evening. I was interested in looking at two questions:

  1. Did the time of day make a difference in my journaling?.
  2. Did the different input method (keyboard vs. writing) make a difference?.

Obviously this wouldn’t be a controlled experiment, since it has two separate variables, but it would serve my own purpose of discovering which approach to journaling works best for me.

And the results are now in:

  1. I ended up doing hardly any real journaling at all beyond copying and pasting the daily prompts into my MacJournal program. The late-in-the-day timing just wasn’t good for me. By the time I got home, I was tired and pretty much written out from several hours of work. All I wanted to do was kick off my shoes and put on my slippers, get some dinner, and relax with a couple of shows from my DVR.
  2. I can’t even begin to determine whether typing works better or worse than writing for me, since I did so little of it.

Therefore, I will change things up for the second half of this month-long challenge. I now know that afternoon/evening journal writing doesn’t work for me, but I still don’t want to give up my morning journaling when I get to the office. So I’ll be hitting MacJournal—which is only on my desktop machine at home, not on the laptop at the office—the very first thing in the morning. Then I’ll continue my at-home morning routine of checking email and blogs I follow, and reading news. After that, I’ll leave for the office, then begin my day there with writing in my paper journal.

Here are three possible results of this new schedule:

  1. Having already typed a journal entry at home will leave me with nothing to write by hand about.
  2. The time between the typed entry and the written entry will allow for more processing of the prompts so that the written entry will supplement the electronic one.
  3. My unconscious will still welcome the opportunity to unburden itself, even if what it wants to say has nothing to do with the prompts for the digital entry.

One big bonus of this challenge is something I didn’t foresee: I have immensely enjoyed interacting with other challenge participants on the Facebook page. Journaling is essentially a solitary activity, but sharing experiences has certainly illuminated the journaling process for me.

The most prominent lesson has been reinforcement of something I already knew: There are many, many ways of journaling, and none is either right or wrong. What works for some people won’t work for others, and all journal writers need to discover what works best for them. A benefit of the group discussion is the great array of approaches that people have tried. Even if someone tried an approach that didn’t work for him or her, other people who had never heard of that idea can give it a try for themselves.

And the other important lesson for me comes back to habit. Yes, it’s good to establish and maintain a regular journaling habit. But from the group discussion I realized that too much of a habit can become a bad thing. Too much of an emphasis on habit means that I often journal mechanically, without much thinking. I sometimes go through the motions without much presence of mind, without allowing the challenges that can lead to insights and self-discovery to arise. Reading other participants’ joy at discovering the magical possibilities of the journaling process has reawakened my own desire to seek out and reconnect with that magic and joy.

I want to thank all the challenge participants for being willing to share their experiences with each other. That has certainly been the most important result of my experiment with the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge.

© 2014 by Mary Daniels Brown

Writing Resources

Writing Rules We Break!

Five debut novelists have fun:

Rules schmules! Call us rebellious, but when it comes to writing, we think some rules were made to be broken.

19 Websites and Magazines That Want to Publish Your Personal Essays

“Writing nonfiction is not about telling your story,” says Ashley C. Ford, an essayist and BuzzFeed staff writer who emphasized the importance of creating a clear connection between your personal experience and universal topics. “It’s about telling interesting and worthy stories about the human condition using examples from your life.”

But don’t worry if your life doesn’t seem exciting or heart-wrenching enough to expound upon; think of it as writing through yourself, instead of about yourself. “There are few heroes and even fewer villains in real life,” she said. “If you’re going to write about your human experience, write the truth. It’s worth it to write what’s real.”

What’s especially helpful about this list is the links to representative sample articles for each listed site to give you an idea of the kinds of submissions the publication is looking for.

10 tips to help writers stay focused

In this world where we can click away and change our minds instantly, be distracted by cellular devices, multitask and attend to a wide variety of our needs almost simultaneously, how do we stay on the path of quality writing and be proud of our accomplishments, our creations, and inspire others through our words?

These tips are in no particular order, except the first one, which is absolutely essential! And along the way, here are a few online tools that can aid in your process.

Memoir Review: “Little Heathens”

little-heathensKalish, Mildred Armstrong. Little Heathens: Hard Times and HighSpirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression
Bantam Books, 2007

Some time around 1930, when the author was “little more than five years old” (p. 6), she, her mother, her baby sister, and her two brothers went to live with her mother’s parents in the town of Garrison, Iowa. The children’s father had committed some unnamed infraction against their mother and was consequently banished from the family and never spoken of again.

When Millie and family arrived, their grandparents had retired from farming and were living in a house in town. But they still owned several outlying farms, and Millie’s family was given one to live on and work, across the road from another farm occupied by an aunt and uncle and their children. Millie’s family spent summers on the farm, then attended the rural school through December, when winter shut down the farm. They then moved into the grandparents’ house in town and attended the town school from January until school ended in May.

Grandma and Grandpa Urmy were “two very strict and stern individuals. For us children, building character, developing a sense of responsibility, and above all, improving one’s mind would become the essential focus of our lives” (p 6). In contrast to the regimented and regulated life in their grandparents’ house in town, life on the farm was much more easygoing. Their mother allowed them to roam freely as long as they did their chores—and they had lots of chores—and they spent much time exploring with their cousins.

In chapters about topics such as chores, school, cooking, and holidays, Kalish describes how she learned the lessons of pioneer thrift, proper work ethic, and acceptable behavior that allowed her family to thrive during the difficult times of the Great Depression.

In looking back, I realize that I have had the good fortune to have absorbed the events that transpired during my childhood years into my very being, as if no boundary exists between then and now, as if the past had not really passed… . I tell of a time, a place, and a way of life long gone, nearly forgotten by the world, but still indelible in my memory. It is my hope to resurrect them, to make them live again. (p. 7)

In this book Kalish has successfully resurrected her childhood experiences and made them live again. There are no surprises or revelations in this book, but it contributes much to future generations’ knowledge of what everyday life was like at one particular point in history.

© 2014 by Mary Daniels Brown

Writing Resources

The Writer: Advice and Inspiration for today’s writer

The Writer is not only the oldest continuously published magazine for authors in the country, it is also one of the oldest continuously published magazines in America, period. First established in April 1887, the periodical has seen the comings and goings of editors and staff, slogans and themes. It has won the Folio magazine Editorial Excellence Award nine times. Although full content is only available to subscribers, there is plenty on the web page for the rest of us. From the homepage, click on Articles. From there, browse by Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Freelance Writing, and half a dozen other freely accessible topics. There are also loads of Writing Resources and Writing Prompts that are free, open, and available to any writer.

From The Scout Report, Copyright Internet Scout 1994–2014. https://www.scout.wisc.edu

I’ve been researching writing prompts lately, so I checked out those on The Writer. My random look at three of the five pages given suggests that these prompts are geared toward fiction rather than nonfiction writers. But if you’re writing fiction, they look pretty good. There’s an emphasis on creating characters, imagining plot situations, and experimenting with different points of view.

5 Writing Tips: Jane Smiley

Lots of writers and writing instructors offer advice on specific aspects of writing or editing. But I like this list from Jane Smiley precisely because it’s more general. Her advice—or encouragement, really—describes building a writing life, or a writer’s mindset.

30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge Begins Today!

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I’m excited to begin the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge today.

Since the essence of the challenge is on digital (rather than writing with pen on paper) journaling, much of the discussion on the web site and the Facebook page has been about what apps and programs people use.

30-day-challenge-682x1024One of the most frequent questions has been about the need for a separate journaling program. Many people say they’re planning to use a word processing (e.g., Microsoft Word) document for their digital journaling and divide the document into separate entries with headings. A lot of writers I know use another program, Scrivener, for their writing projects. Although I have not done this myself, I can see how Scrivener could be easily adapted for digital journaling. You could have a top-level folder for the year, with a subfolder for each month. Each monthly subfolder would then contain separate documents for each dated entry. Scrivener allows users to assign key words and to color code sections, which would make organization and retrieval of specific material fairly easy. (Scrivener was originally developed for Macs, but there is now a Windows version available.)

For my digital journaling, I have used a journaling program, MacJournal by Mariner Software, for several years. (This is a Mac-only program.) I like it for a lot of reasons:

  • You can protect your journal with a password
  • You can create different journals for different purposes
  • You can create new journals and new entries easily
  • You can format text with different fonts and colors
  • You can create categories of entries and color code them
  • You can assign key words to entries
  • You can add images, even videos, to entries

MacJournal undoubtedly has more features than these, but these are the ones I use consistently.

Some people like to keep separate journals for different purposes—a dream journal, a gratitude journal, a gardening journal, a wine journal. With MacJournal you can do that. But I like to throw everything into one journal, then pull out what I need when I need it. With MacJournal I can do this. I like, for example, that I can color code entries—purple for dreams, red for health—and then easily isolate only those entries when I want to look at them.

I will be using MacJournal for the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge. I’m looking forward to hearing from other participants what program or approach they use and how they like it.

Disclaimer:

I have no financial interest in any of the programs mentioned here. I purchased my copies of Microsoft Word, Scrivener, and MacJournal.

30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge

I’m a dedicated journal writer. I do most of my journaling by hand, with a purple fountain pen and purple ink, in a paper journal, also usually purple. I have, however, sometimes used an electronic journal program on my desktop computer. (A lot of people write, including journalling, on their smartphones, but I’m no good at rapid one-finger or two-thumb typing. I need a full-size keyboard for anything longer than a tweet or short Facebook update.)

30-day-challenge-682x1024But I was intrigued when I saw the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge. To supplement the web site, there’s also a Facebook group.

I don’t even remember where I first came across the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge, but it didn’t take me long to decide to sign up. The purpose of the challenge is to get people to commit to writing in an electronic journal every day for the month of October. I haven’t used my computer journal in quite some time, and I thought this challenge would get me back into using it more regularly.

I’m hoping to approach this project with enough of an open mind to see how typing into a computer journal compares with writing by hand in a paper journal. I’m looking forward to the experiment and look forward to discovering how it will turn out.

Why not join me and sign up for the 30-Day Digital Journaling Challenge yourself?