Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Book Review, Harvesting Your Journals

Harvesting Your Journals, Writing Tools to Enhance Your Growth and Creativity by Rosalie Deer Heart and Alison Strickland. Heart Link Publications, Santa Fe, 1999. 200 pages.

Every few years I think about throwing away my journals. As someone who moves a lot, prefers a minimalist approach to decorating, and doesn’t have a lot of closet space, keeping all those storage boxes of spiral bound notebooks sometimes seems just plain nutty. I know I’m not alone in this. Once at a Christina Baldwin seminar I heard a participant ask, “What do we do with our journals after we’re finished?” One suggestion was to have them buried or cremated with our bodily remains.

Despite my rather grandiose visions of ancient Egypt or sending my journals off to Valhalla in some glorious fire ritual, I still find myself asking, “Yes, what to do with the darn things? There’s so many of them!” The day I came across Harvesting Your Journals was one of those times I was feeling the weight of my collection and was ready to put every single page through the shredder. After all, I reasoned, I had “gleaned” every morsel I would ever need from all that writing: from dreams to character sketches to bad poetry; really bad poetry. It was time to move on; I was finished with the past. Or so I thought. After reading the first chapter of Harvesting Your Journals I began digging through my old journals with an eagerness I hadn’t even known when I was writing them.

Central to Harvesting is the idea that when approached with creativity, old journals are anything but boring. Reading through past journals allows us to discover all the things we didn’t write about, things that were perhaps too painful, confusing, or too embarrassing to record. Or perhaps we were so caught up in the tide of the moment while writing we were unable to look at events with the depth we wanted. By re-examining those events as jump-off points for new directions and choices, we can also gain confidence by realizing how much we have grown. I have to admit that at first I thought this would be impossible—all those pages of complaints! But inspired by the authors’ guidance and ideas for pre-planning the best way to return to your journals, such as making search lists of themes or specific questions, I found myself reading old entries with fresh interest.

The book is divided into four sections, starting with “Entering the Fields” and ending with “Celebrating the Bounties.” Each section provides readers with an extensive list of ideas, tools, and writing aids to begin the journey into the past in order to “invent the future.” Throughout the text the authors—friends for many years and journal keepers themselves—share a wealth of personal examples showing how and why their techniques work.

In case you’re thinking that there aren’t enough hours in the day to write in new journals let alone go through the old ones, the authors assure readers that revisiting old journals isn’t meant to be some dutiful chore, starting with the first journal ever written and then plowing through until the present day. Instead, readers are encouraged to start anywhere. The point is to take your time, savor the process, and delight in your discoveries—the same steps to enjoying any form of creative writing.

Tip of the day: Revisit your old journals. Choose just one and experiment with questioning and revising your entries. What have you learned since writing them?


Rachel Fenton said...

Hmn...not sure I want to venture into old journal land!!

Ellen Etc said...

I just read an interesting counter-perspective by Thaisa Frank at http://bit.ly/40f1sk . She suggests that people who are blocked in writing fiction should stop keeping a journal.
After I read her post, I realized that I keep a journal for my own personal growth, not because I truly want to write fiction. But we who write tend to think we "should" put it to "better" use.

I do love the idea of a method for reviewing old journals, which I stopped doing many years ago. Should I grab one now ... ? ... nah, better wait ... maybe tomorrow ...