To me, journaling isn't worth the ink spent on filling up my Pelikan piston unless I fully intend to rant, rave, and spit the truth out like nails ejected from a pneumatic gun. And to journal without the bitter truth is futile. 

Truth journaling takes no prisoners. It's not flowery words or quippy sayings you'd like to remember. Leave those for napkins and ATM receipts. No, truth journaling is for the brave, the soul that's ready to spill it and spill it honestly in bare to the bones, brutal venting.

The point of a truth journal is to uncover wounds, dissect years of built up walls of protection. It's the catharsis to the end of years of running away from ourselves and to finally start ripping off mental band-aids.

It helps us write believable characters because it forces us to pop out of our imagination bubble and knock down our built up walls, and helps us find our truth--what we really want, really desire, really fear, and where and how we really feel pain. From these epiphanies we are able to take our blinders off,  and then we can breathe true emotion into our characters and find out where are characters are lacking. Only then will we have the courage to breathe reality into our writing. Only then will we be able to see that our "real" MC is only a figment of our imagination and that, actually, upon closer inspection, we've (once again) made a "fictional" character. What we thought was the imperfect character with the dynamic character arc was all along just another phony.

With revealed truth as our weapon, we see that our MC has just the right amount of flaws, tattoos, irritating attitude, mental hang-ups, and tragic back story that all other MCs have today. We realize we've, expertly, yes, but nonetheless have designed a phony, a fake "cardboard" template of the up-to-date, in-style hero of our time.

Oh, yeah. He/she is good. He/she is juicy. We've got a lot of meat there for a good story, but is he birthed from reality? Hell, no. He's our band-aid. He's just another way to hide ourselves.

All of us writers are internally wounded creatures. We're hiders. We hide from what's really chasing us: our past, our dashed hopes and dreams, our family tragedies or psychoses, but mostly, ourselves. That's why we are always staring off into space, creating new worlds, new possibilities, new hopes and dreams for someone else, our characters, who somehow, always, in one book or it's sequel, see their goals fulfilled.

And, okay, that in itself, isn't bad. It sure gets a cheer from the audience. But a truly great master story teller is able to pull out his soul and breathe life into his words and on to the paper, creating for us things that inspire us, question our paradigms, leave us with his essence, a truthful and guileless insight of himself. He leaves us with more of ourselves than what we started with. He's added to our character merely by meeting his, forged by imagination but created in truth. 

How can we become that wickedly and divinely artful? By journaling the truth. It all starts there.

This may entail telling our muse to shut up and take a back seat for a while, at least long enough to get a good journal of hard truth going. And truth is hard work. It's scary and its enlightening and its freedom.

Journaling truth is not: "Today I'm excited because I'm going to go buy a new bathing suit with Husband and go to lunch. Woot hoo. Yay, me! It'll be so fun. Husband is so generous. Always thinking of me."

Nay, journaling truth goes something like this: Today Husband comes up to me, in that 'oh so cool' attitude he gets whenever he's going to sling me a dig, and says while looking at me in hardly disguised disgust, "You know, sweet pea, I got an extra couple hundred on this check. Why don't we go buy you a new suit?" And, I say, "Great!" Why didn't I just say that the one I was wearing was new. He just bought it for me a month ago and I know he's just saying I'm still twenty pounds overweight! And as much as I want to all of a sudden by-blinking-my-fucking-eyes-like-the-chick-on-Bewitched lose this final twenty, it's going to take a little longer. And who the hell is he talking to anyway? I should have said, "Look in the mirror yourself, fat ass." 

Now, that is some mud-slingin' truth. But truth, nevertheless. And, no. This is not an excerpt of my truth journal. Just giving an example of what may be. I happen to be skinny. But that opens the door for all kinds of gel bras and augmentation jokes. 

Okay, back to the above examples, there is some hiding from the truth and some glaring, open sore truth. Our characters will only benefit from exposure--our exposure--to what lies beneath our surface. When we uncover, our characters uncover. Find real motivations for your characters by finding your own. Real hopes and dreams and fears, with your own real hopes and dreams and fears. Simple, right?

So journal away. But, beware. Keep your journal safe. 

Keep a private burn box to stow your journals or, at least, put them under lock and key and entrust someone with the journal's secret stash whereabouts--someone you trust to throw the damn thing in the flames upon your death. I know, it all sounds so clandestine, but what you are going to write in these journals is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. 

And, remember Jack Nicholson's character Col. Jessup in a Few Good Men, when he chews up and spits out the infamous line, 'You can't handle the truth!' No one can handle the truth unless they come to it themselves. When someone else gives them a load of it, they fling it back like a turd in a punchbowl. If it's ever found, there's gonna be a shit storm swirling around those left in its wake, and that is certainly not the truth journal's objective. 

Be brave, be honest, be free, and may your newly developed characters reign supreme, forever.

"Yeah, I've heard about that 'trim the fat' thing. You know," you say, "I don't really thinks that applies to me."  ::insert smiley::


Oh' kaaaay. Well, you know that 400 page novel you're wondering what to do with now because all your friends and family are saying it's great and your gut wrenches each time they say it, but have no idea why it wrenches?  You know,  the one sitting on your desk right now? Oh, it's so pretty. All typed out and looking at you whispering sweet little nothings, like...look at me, you did this, you're so wonderful, look at how many words you wrote, aren't you the writer! Yeah. Sorry. But, uh. You're gonna have to cut half of that shit out and start over. 

Gasp!  I know.

But, so true.

This is the deal. Half of what we write is total crap. No, really. It really is. I'll tell you why. Because it's word garbage. It's just stuff that spews out of our pea brains like lava from a volcano. 

But it's so good you think. No, it's not. It's crap. Hemingway? Okay, maybe. He may live. But the rest of us. Come on. Take a real good look at it. It's fat!!!

Half of that garbage is fat. It can be cut, cut, and cut again. Even after its massaged, it can be cut. And, honestly you don't want to massage anything before you make the first trim, anyway. Your hands will get all greasy for no reason. Trust me. I've tried it.

Okay, if you don't believe me, take the first fifty pages of your wonderful, genius, literary diamond and sit it on your desk right in front of you. Let's read....

La, la, la, la, la (I'm letting you read, here)...done?

Okay. Good. What'cha got? No, don't answer. I'll tell you what'cha got. Here goes (you may circle yes or no if you are so inclined):

Every other sentence has an ly word. Misuse of adverbs/weak at that:  Yes / No 

Every other sentence is explaining the sentence you just read. Regurgitation: Yes / No  

A little high and mighty on the lecturing of our own world and religious views, are we? Narrator interrupts: Yes / No

Simile, simile, simile, and simile again? Hellooo, one sunset looking like the stroke of a painter's brush is enough. Overuse of simile, metaphor, etc. (try poetry): Yes / No

Uh, oh shit. Who is that character? Failure to tie up LOOSE threads (more to the point...forgetting about a character): Yes / No

Where is the bad guy? Is he in your first fifty pages? Shame on you. Failure to introduce main characters in the first quarter of your story: Yes / No

Every sentence has the same structure as the last. There are eight different sentence patterns/structures. No sentence variation: Yes / No

Every other sentence is using the passive voice; in other words, the active/responsible party is not apparent. 
Passive voice: Yes / No  
                                Examples: (from The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Strauss -- highly recommended.)
                                Active: Barry hit the ball.
                                Passive: The ball was hit.

Your punctuation sucks! Run-ons, fragments, lack of parallelism, verb and subject disagreements, split infinitives... Go back to school! No, really. Most punctuation errors are caused by vague thoughts. If you don't really know what you want to say, then you're not going to say it clearly no matter how many words you splat up there on the word processor. Sentences lacks clarity: Yes / No

Paragraphs lack clarity (as above only worse): Yes / No

Carrying on about the color of a room or desk or ocean or potted plant for so long that you--and everyone else--has lost the point. I see you. You are rolling your eyes. Okay, look it. The only one that can get away with this kind of creative license is William Faulkner; otherwise it's simply digression. Failure to get to the point and move the story forward: Yes / No

Writing what doesn't matter within the scene. This is fat in its purest sense. Every word has to be there for a reason. If it's just words, cut it. Verbose writing: Yes / No

Okay. This is enough for you to chew on (ha, double entendre). I could keep on running with the list, but then you might have a Hemmingway moment. And no one wants that. 

A good book is a clear and to the damn point book. Within its pages, whether one hundred or a thousand, is a clear and distinct voice. The words you wrote jump off the pages to the reader's ears as if you are there speaking directly to him. 

If you can honestly give your volumnous precious a serious look with a sharp knife and trim away this garbage of needless crap then I bet your gut won't wrench the next time someone says, "I love it." You'll say, "I know, right?"

You'll know. After you trim the fat, you'll know you're that damn good.

Good luck to you, I'm off to the metaphorical kitchen for a Kin blade. 
I moderate a little writers' group and I got a question the other day about when and how to use index cards for cork boarding.

I had to give it some thought. I didn't start out by using index cards (for me, writing started with stage plays), but now I'm writing novels and use the process all the time.  In fact, I can't really live without those pastel colored wee jewels. If I can't look up at my ginormous board stuck up on my wall or look at my split editor in Scrivener, my heart starts to skip beats and I begin to panic. So, after giving it a moment, this is what I came up with:

When a story first makes its way into my tiny pea brain, I jot all the gobbly gook down on any piece of paper (napkin, toilet paper, bank receipt, bubble gum wrapper, your kid's "make better choices" tattle tell note from their teacher) I can get my hands on. Then I sit on that for a while and let the ideas float around in all that empty space until it takes hold in whatever gray matter I have left--after seven kids, ten horses, a husband, a bigger house than I can manage, etc., etc.

When I've got a first scene and a middle scene and an end, then I grab out three different colored, lined index cards from my drawer.  disclaimer: This is what I do, every writer has a different way of going. Take it with a grain. At any rate, then I go about denoting said colored cards in my brain--Beginning (blue), Middle (green), End (yellow). Then I jot down the scenes I've got pinging around and still trying to find their place in my noggin. I use short and sweet sentences outlining each scene. It may go something like this~
Beckman on the bridge of starship and fights bad alien mo' fos.
Phoenix wakes in laboratory. p.s. Is she on Earth or Mars or ?
Baby is captured. p.s. Who is baby?
Beckman and Phoenix enter tunnel and find the quantum cube.
The team lands on the Seventh Star and meet up with command.
The Atpheran come in full battle force and attack the Star.
Phoenix cures the remnant.
The new ship is retrofitted and command strikes into the heart of hell.
Huge battle in space.
Captives are freed.

Okay, you get the picture. It's all very vague, but has enough to jog my memory and help facilitate me in fleshing out my story.

I pin these cards up on my board in vertical columns and start pinning more up as the story unfolds. When I see a real story in front of my face, I begin to move the cards around until I like the way the scenes are ordered. Then, and you're gonna love this, I pull them all down and re-do them all by P.O.V., and this time I arrange them horizontally. I might have ten different colors up there. I'm always so proud of myself at this point. I stare up at the board and see a real story. And, really, if nothing else, it looks pretty. 

But in all seriousness, this gives me a visual I need. I really do need  to see something.  My brain just isn't that organized to remember where I put this scene and that scene and which character is the main character for this scene vs. that scene. I just have to look up at the color and I've got it. This method also helps to keep me from going off on rabbit trails and tangents because I've got a small synopsis up there on each card. 

Right now, on my board, I have seventy-two cards pinned up. Am I going to use all these scenes? Probably not. I'm going to cut a lot of them out by the time I'm finished with my final editing. And that's okay. I'll take what I end up not using to start another novel. Good idea, huh? 

By the way, I use the same method in my Scrivener; so even if I'm writing over at Starbucks I've got my corkboard with me. 

Check out  Literature and Latte. It's a great word processor. There are some slick word processors and writer's tools out there, but these guys are my personal faves.



    Sydney Wright

    Apocalyptic sci-fi writer, mother, wife, designer, and seeker of wisdom and truth.


    January 2013
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