Journal-Keeping for Writers

Issue 61

Journal-Keeping for Writers

By Deborah J. Wunder

Copyright © 2011, Deborah J. Wunder, All Rights Reserved 


We all like being able to find information when we need it, but writers, even more than other journal-keepers and diarists, need to be able to retrieve material from their journals easily. Most people journal in a very straight-forward manner; if they remember, they may title their journals, or number the volumes, but that is not necessarily the most effective way to handle all the ideas, snippets, character sketches, world-building, and random notes that any writing project of more than a few hundred words accumulates.


Over the years, I have developed a system of journal-keeping that works for me, and I have also taught it to others, who have reported back to me that it made a major difference in both their journal-keeping and their information retrieval. It has become, as well, a comforting little ritual of beginning something new and, as such, is often a springboard for new ideas.


The first thing I do when I am starting a new journal is to number the pages. I favor the outer corner at the top of the page, but your mileage may vary. I also like to change the color of the ink I'm using every ten numbers, but that's just to keep myself engaged in the process.


The next step is to take a ruler and rule off the last three pages of the book for a table of contents. This is where I will store information. I work from the back cover of the book, going toward the front, in case I need to add more ruled-off pages. My plan for these pages is simplicity itself: The first column is for the date of whatever I am saving; the second is for the page number or page numbers (if it takes more than one page, I show both beginning and end); the third is a brief description, such as, "Character Sketch, Marcy Adams," or "Poem, e.e. cummings - 'you told him...,'" etc.


I then number the volume of my journal. This makes it easier to find information, since I keep a list of my journals in a spreadsheet, showing the dates each book covers and the book number (if you have a weak memory, or are otherwise so inclined, you could put your table of contents into the spreadsheet, but I find that a bit more OCD than I am up for. I then proceed to work my journal in the usual manner, dating the entries and working forward from front to back.


So, say I want to find the aforementioned poem by cummings. I look on my list to find the book that corresponds to the approximate date I believe I saved the poem. Taking that volume in hand, I check the contents for the item, then the page(s) it's located on. Instant information retrieval.


Now, if I am journalling online, things are a bit different. Since I use Blogger for my subject-specific journals, I know that if something is about finance it will be in my financial matters journal, whereas if it's a recipe it will be in my cooking journal. Since most online journal sites have some sort of indexing or archive software, I use the retrieval process that goes with the journal. Retrieving an article on LiveJournal, for example, is different from retrieving an article on a Wordpress or Blogspot site, since all three have slightly different retrieval processes.


Another option for journalling when writing is to use a specific program, such as Liquid Story Binder or Scrivener. These have places to keep notes, character sketches, and research, so it can be incorporated into your project.


As you can see, there are now many options for storing and retrieving your information. Try several of them, if you wish, to see which one fits you and your style best.