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April 15, 2007

Writing and Healing Idea #32: Keeping a Process Journal: A Long-Term Solution to Writer’s Block

Peter Elbow and Pat Belanoff, in their text, A Community of Writers, suggest that each writer keep something they call a process journal. It’s a way of learning from the ups and downs of one’s own process. It’s a way of learning more about what works for you as an individual—and what doesn’t.

In a sense you are beginning to write your own very personalized, and individualized, textbook of writing.

Elbow and Belanoff suggest, for instance, writing for a few minutes about the writing process itself whenever you have completed a significant piece of writing. What facilitated flow? What impeded it? “The goal,” they write, “is to find out what really happens—the facts of what occurred on that particular occasion. Don’t struggle for conclusions; trust that they’ll come.”

Another way to use a process journal is to turn to it before you finish a piece of writing—when you’re right in the middle. This can be of particular benefit if you’re stuck. Sometimes what is happening when we get stuck is that our thoughts are too complex and convoluted to write the next line. In a process journal it becomes possible to hit this problem head on—to write about it. For instance: I have too much to say. . . It’s too complicated. . . And then, having said this, you can begin the process of untangling the complicated threads. It’s too complicated because. . .

You can begin a process journal any time, including any time that you are stuck. You can begin it on a new sheet of paper or you can create a new document on your computer and begin there. You can begin a process journal by writing, I have too much to say. . . Or, I have nothing to say. . . Or, I wish I had something to say. . . Or, I wish that I wish I had something to say. . . Or I wish someone would bring me a sandwich because more than anything else right now I am hungry. . .

And then you can keep going. I am hungry because. . . I have too much too say because. . . It’s too complicated because. . .