Books on how to write and journal, books that focus on the process side of things, aren’t necessary, but I’ve used them for many years and have developed my favourites. My book shelves are filled with a unique combination of "how to” fiction and non-fiction journals, workbooks, and compilations. Please allow me to share some.
The journaling book that started it all for me, the one I found in the North Vancouver City library in 1990, was Tristine Rainer’s "The New Diary”. It validated my need to put words to paper and I borrowed it so often the library staff began to call it "Gina’s book”. That was a sign I needed to buy my own copy. It’s considered a classic now and with good reason. I particularly appreciate the Seven Special Techniques chapter, for not only suggesting methods that will help you write, but when they’re useful. It’s rarely seen in new or used bookstores, (those who have a copy wouldn’t consider parting with it) so when you do come across it, grab it.
Staple together the pages of part four in ”The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Journaling” and ignore what Joan Neubauer offers about how to make your writing better. That’s not to say there isn’t worthwhile information here. I just happen to believe that rules for choosing the right verb and a section entitled "the necessity of editing” don’t belong in a book on journaling. Spend your time instead with chapter four – The Journaling Habit – or the Appendix, which lists a variety of web sites.
When it comes to fiction I’ve long been a fan of Stephen King, so imagine my delight when he penned "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” in 2000. It was expensive but I had to buy the hard cover. Since then, I’ve returned to it countless times, paying particular attention to the first section entitled "C.V”’. Here, King outlines his early attempts at writing and getting published. Believe it or not, he wasn’t always a multimillionaire. Wondering what King first bought when, in 1973, he received word from his agent that the paperback rights for his first novel, "Carrie”, had sold for almost half a million dollars? It’s in there. His style is informal but informative. I return to this book, now sporting a myriad of yellow Post-It notes to mark favourite passages, on a regular basis.
Two of his comments keep me grounded when I’m convinced I have no idea what I’m doing: "If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” And "Write what you like, then imbue it with life by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work.”
Natalie Goldberg’s "Writing Down the Bones” continues to appeal to me years after buying it. I like the short chapters – you can read for ten minutes and feel like you’ve gained something – and its practical, non-preachy style.
Perhaps the most dog-eared journaling book I own is Kathleen Adams "Journal to the Self”. Where "The New Diary” opened up journaling in a revolutionary way for me, Adams’ book keeps that world fresh. I’m blessed to be attending her Denver conference in June – almost a week of workshops focused on journaling, led by pioneers in their fields, including Tristine Rainer, Dr. James Pennebaker, Christina Baldwin and of course, Adams. I’m excited about expanding my journal writing knowledge! Stay tuned for my experiences in future columns.