Blank pages

Happy New Year! I’ve been dipping into a short little book by Alexandra Johnson called Leaving a Trace. It’s about keeping a journal and how to transform that material into creative writing, poetry, stories, and other literary projects.

I don’t have much trouble finding topics to write about in my notebooks; I’ve got a good collection of completed volumes on a shelf at home. (Spiral-bound, soft- and hardcover, black and sober, colorfully striped… I buy whatever strikes me as interesting at the time.) But I’m always looking for additional inspiration.

So, it’s a new year and, coincidentally, I just purchased a new blank journal. I picked it up at the Art Institute of Chicago gift shop. It’s smaller than I usually prefer, but with a pretty blue and silver embossing on the cover. I look forward to filling its pages. But with what?

Which brings us back to Alexandra Johnson and her advice in Leaving a Trace. She includes chapters on triggering memory, describing the visible world, finding patterns, and transforming stories. It’s all good. I especially love the quotes from famous authors that she sprinkles throughout. It gives one courage to know that all writers – no matter how successful – face the same struggle with the blank page.

There looms ahead of me the shadow of some kind of form which the diary might attain. I might in the course of time learn what it is that one can make of this loose, drifting material of life; finding another use for it.
– Virginia Woolf

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.
– Oscar Wilde

Okay, that last one isn’t really inspirational as much as it is amusing. Gotta love Oscar Wilde.

Here’s a very sound piece of journaling advice from Johnson:

The secret of keeping a journal is seeing it as a draft, a stepping-stone, a process. When I scribble in a notebook, I think of those dime-store tablets I had as a kid on which you’d draw and then lift the gray sheet, magically erasing the lines. Each time I flip to the reverse side of a page or write the next entry in a different colored ink, I lift the gray sheet. It took years of keeping journals to trust a simple fact: like life in transit, the writing inside is often fragmented, messy.

Here, here, Alexandra. A belated New Year’s toast to all those messy scribbles we make in our notebooks, diaries and journals. They hold the promise of future stories and poetry.

And to aid you in your search for the perfect journal, visit Black Cover. Their reviews and their blogroll are a gold mine of information.

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