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    Methods of My Madness

    Writers have a madness, or obsession -- it is in the form of whatever genre they choose. Mine is journaling which, someday, will become memoirs. Like fiction or nonfiction, there are methods unique to the genre. Let me introduce you to the ones with which I am most familiar.

    Springboards, or prompts, can be anything -- a quote, a memory, a suggestion. You can come up with prompts on your own. After you have been journaling for awhile, read back through your entries. If something catches your attention and you start musing, write about it. If something triggers a memory you don't have down, write about it. The more you journal, the more your journal itself will provide additional prompts.

    Character sketches, or portraits, is describing a person. You tell how they look; describing the color and style of their hair, the shape of their face, height, weight and other things that distinguish them. Include your impressions, musings or projections.

    Clustering, or mindmapping, is brainstorming in chart form. You start with a word in the center of a page and then draw a circle or a box around it. Then, start placing other words that come to mind related to the one in the center. Put a circle or box around each one of the new words and connect them to the center box with a line. For each of the new words start connecting new words that relate. Continue this until you can't come up with any more words.

    Captured moments, or vignettes. These are glimpses of intense feeling or treasured experiences. It could be a first crush, first dance, baptism or graduation -- anything that left a lasting impression on you and you'd like to capture the moment to relive again and again.

    Dialogue is a conversation involving at least two people, but the difference in journaling is that there is only one person present, writing from both perspectives. You can use this technique to create a dialogue that never happened but maybe should have. Or, you can use it to talk to your inner self or a part of you that doesn't normally have a voice. You can talk to your toe, your hair, your inner child or creative muse. It may sound silly, but is a wonderful tool. I thought I would never use this method, but during the course of a journaling workshop I found myself turning to it naturally to complete an exercise. I was supposed to speak to my inner creator (or my creative half) and my inner critic (the logical, usually condemning, half) What came out of that conversation was not at all what was expected. I felt a sense of release and connection to the points it revealed.

    Lists are groups of words arranged according to a topic. We make lists all the time; grocery lists, to do lists, etc. You can use lists to record all the emotions running around inside of you on a particular day, or all the things you'd like to do in your lifetime. Seeing them listed in front of you makes them easier to organize and tackle. It is a first step toward your goal.

    Stream of consciousness, or free-writing, is very similar to the clustering idea, only instead of putting it in chart form, you write it in a paragraph. There are no complete sentences, just jot down ideas no matter if they flow together or not. Whatever comes to mind, just keep writing until you've exhausted the idea.

    Stepping stones, or milestones, is listing the important events of your life in chronological order. They are a timeline of things that are important to you, such as your birth, baptism, first kiss, first car, graduating with honors, etc. Some events may not be known to anyone else. Include the date (as close as possible) with each one. It is an amazing thing to look back over your life. The timeline can also serve as a spring board to new memories and journaling material.

    Time capsule, or daily diary, is a summary of your day's events; where you went, what you ate, what the weather was like, etc. It's basic, and maybe dull, but for someone starting out it can be a big accomplishment.

    Daily topics, is a list of topics -- one for each day of the month. Number the topics, and then focus on the one which number corresponds to the date of the month you are writing. Use the same topics for several months, then make up a new set, or as you feel that you have sufficiently dealt with a topic replace it with a new one.

    An unsent letter is when you write a letter to someone saying all the things that are on your heart to tell them, but keeping it in your journal. Sometimes you need to say things that are better left unsaid (which might be why you haven't told them in the first place) but you need to get it out of your system. There are occasions that you can't talk to a person and desperately need to tell them things (such as if they have died.) Unsent letters can meet this need. I did this many times growing up without knowing it was a journaling method.

    Perspectives is when you look at a situation from a different, maybe several, point(s) of view. It broadens your understanding. Remember first, second and third person in English class? A first person perspective is writing something as if it is happening to you, e.g. "I opened the door." Second person is writing from the perspective of telling someone else what is happening to them, e.g. "You opened the door." Third person is writing as an outside observer, "She opened the door." Many people like third person because they can be an 'all-knowing' presence in their narrative where a first or second person can only write from what that individual should know or feel. Third person lets you delve into the minds of many people but first and second person only allows you to explore the mind of the main character. Perspective also includes looking at something, or someone from different points in time. For example, writing a letter to yourself now as if you were twenty years older, or writing a letter to your three year old child as if he were twenty-one. If you begin thinking from the perspective of another person, or another time, it can really open new avenues to how you see things as you are now.

    Guided imagery, or interiorization, is daydreaming. You meditate on a guided or designated scenario. This is done through a recorded script that you listen to and picture in your mind. You write down in your journal what you saw, smelled, felt, etc. from the perspective of actually being there. This can be very relaxing.

    Reflection, meditation, or analysis is thinking about something you remember or have learned, trying to get as much out of it as you can. You are mulling over an experience to determine what it has to teach you. Hopefully you will find growth and enrichment through this process.

    Catharsis is a purging, cleansing or release. In journaling, this is when you just rant and rave about something you feel very strongly about, or whine and groan over some pain you feel very deeply. Reflection, or analysis, usually takes place after a catharsis. It is best to burn these entries after you have properly recorded in another how you felt (summarizing the ranting or whining), why you felt that way and what happened to cause it. Too many times reading through all that negativity simply stirs it up again or painfully embarrasses you. Make sure you have an accurate, though objective, entry that gets all the necessary information across before destroying the catharsis. Tearing up or burning these kinds of entries can help lift a burden you feel from the emotions you expressed.

    Visuals include doodles, sketches, poems written on napkins, programs, invitations, photos, etc. Sketching for your entries can often say more than mere words. You don't have to be an artist. Stick figures are fine. Just free yourself of criticism and you may be surprised what visualizing could reveal.

    Journals are very individualized. You can see how versatile and how much variety you can put into your journal. The only limits are your timidity or tastes. I suggest you try each one at least once. You may be surprised at what works for you. Once you have these methods down, try your hand at using them in your other writing and see what doors they might open in character and plot. Journals are not just for personal insight, but are a valuable writing tool as well.

    Copyright © 2000 Margaret H. Knorr

    Margaret H. Knorr has been writing for 24 years and journaling for seventeen. She was a featured columnist at Themestream with her Journaling Alchemy column, is a writing circle facilitator with Story Circle Network, a member of the National Association of Women Writers and her journaling articles have appeared in several online ezines. Margaret edits and publishes Writing for Life Journal ezine available online and manages a companion website and journaling club where the members participate in journaling exercises, chats and book discussions. She is currently teaching journaling workshops at Inspired2Write.com. Information about her ezine can be found at http://www.writingforlife.net

    The Authentic Self: Journaling Your Joys, Griefs and Everything in Between by Shery Russ



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