This week, I’m wrapping up the eight millionth draft of a manuscript, polishing it to a high shine before querying agents. Of course, putting the finishing touches on one manuscript has put my mental gears spinning as I think about what’s next. Should I tinker with an old manuscript, trying to salvage a story that’s been pushed aside? Or should I start fresh, seeing where my muse might lead?
I’m still not sure what direction I’ll go, but this transition from one story to the next has sent me flipping through my writing journal, weighing my options. And it’s also provided the inspiration for today’s post.
When I first started writing, I didn’t keep a journal. After all, I like things nice and neat and orderly. A writing journal is inherently messy. There are jotted down bits of dialogue. Clipped newspaper headlines. Pictures of people, places, and potted plants pilfered from magazines. A bazillion ideas for story starters. In general, just lots of “stuff.”
And it’s all an absolute mess.
So why do I do it? Why do I now jot, clip, tape, and scribble things into my writing journal, even if the chaos pushes me ever closer to crazy?
I’ve got my reasons. . . .
1) How else will you remember when a friend sees a man in Wal-Mart pushing his wife in the shopping cart while the wife paints her nails?
2) Sometimes people say the darndest things. And characters have to talk, too.
10-year-old coming off of a looping roller coaster: “I kept my eyes open the whole time! . . . I just blinked kind of slow on the twisty part.”
3) Real newspaper headlines can often trump anything my imagination could ever conjure.
“Rifle cases taped to bike give away Elkhart burglar”
and . . .
“Woman fends off bear with zucchini”
4) Often, it’s that extra little detail that makes a setting come alive.
Slogan on the side of a plumbing truck: “A flush beats a full house.”
5) When I write a story, I always uncover a lot of “what if” questions then try to answer those questions in interesting ways as the story unfolds. Of course, I may need a bit of help with the initial question that gets a story rolling, and a writing journal is the perfect home in which those questions can reside.
What if . . . a boy’s dad sometimes wears a kilt?
So how about you—are you the writing-journal type? If so, take a meandering stroll through one of your journals and see what you find. You might uncover an old spark for a new story. Even if you don’t, you may find something to inspire the rest of us. Feel free to share a snatch of stolen dialogue, a meandering musing, or any other random tidbit that’s found its way into your journal over the years.
And, of course, happy writing!
Along with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers.