On Writing(Essay) – Raymond Carver (nytimesreviewofbooks)

I had to share this great essay on writing from one of my favorite writers – Raymond Carver – great writing advice on the art of storytelling, enjoy !

-E

http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/01/21/specials/carver-shoptalk.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Aw

February 15, 1981

A Storyteller’s Shoptalk

By RAYMOND CARVER

When I was 27, back in 1966, I found I was having trouble concentrating my attention on long narrative fiction. For a time I experienced difficulty in trying to read it as well as in attempting to write it. My attention span had gone out on me; I no longer had the patience to try to write novels. It’s an involved story, too tedious to talk about here. But I know it has much to do now with why I write poems and short stories. Get in, get out. Don’t linger. Go on. It could be that I lost any great ambitions at about the same time, in my late 20′s. If I did, I think it was good it happened. Ambition and a little luck are good things for a writer to have going for him. Too much ambition and bad luck, or no luck at all, can be killing. There has to be talent.

Some writers have a bunch of talent; I don’t know any writers who are without it. But a unique and exact way of looking at things, and finding the right context for expressing that way of looking, that’s something else. ”The World According to Garp” is of course the marvelous world according to John Irving. There is another world according to Flannery O’Connor, and others according to William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. There are worlds according to Cheever, Updike, Singer, Stanley Elkin, Ann Beattie, Cynthia Ozick, Donald Barthelme, Mary Robison, William Kittredge, Barry Hannah. Every great, or even every very good writer, makes the world over according to his own specifications.

It’s akin to style, what I’m talking about, but it isn’t style alone. It is the writer’s particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other. This is one of the things that distinguishes one writer from another. Not talent. There’s plenty of that around. But a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking: that writer may be around for a time.

Isak Dinesen said that she wrote a little every day, without hope and without despair. Someday I’ll put that on a three-by-five card and tape it to the wall beside my desk. I have some three-by-five cards on the wall now. ”Fundamental accuracy of statement is the ONE sole morality of writing.” Ezra Pound. It is not everything by ANY means, but if a writer has ”fundamental accuracy of statement” going for him, he’s at least on the right track.

I have a three-by-five up there with this fragment of a sentence from a story by Chekhov: ”… and suddenly everything became clear to him.” I find these words filled with wonder and possibility. I love their simple clarity, and the hint of revelation that is implied. There is a bit of mystery, too. What has been unclear before? Why is it just now becoming clear? What’s happened? Most of all – what now? There are consequences as a result of such sudden awakenings. I feel a sharp sense of relief – and anticipation.

I overheard the writer Geoffrey Wolff say ”No cheap tricks” to a group of writing students. That should go on a three-by-five card. I’d amend it a little to ”No tricks.” Period. I hate tricks. At the first sign of a trick or a gimmick in a piece of fiction, a cheap trick or even an elaborate trick, I tend to look for cover. Tricks are ultimately boring, and I get bored easily, which may go along with my not having much of an attention span. But extremely clever chi-chi writing, or just plain tomfoolery writing, puts me to sleep. Writers don’t need tricks or gimmicks or even necessarily need to be the smartest fellows on the block. At the risk of appearing foolish, a writer sometimes needs to be able to just stand and gape at this or that thing – a sunset or an old shoe – in absolute and simple amazement.

Some months ago, in this Book Review, John Barth said that 10 years ago most of the students in his fiction writing seminar were interested in ”formal innovation,” and this no longer seems to be the case. He’s a little worried that writers are going to start writing mom and pop novels in the 1980′s. He worries that experimentation may be on the way out, along with liberalism. I get a little nervous if I find myself within earshot of somber discussion about ”formal innovation” in fiction writing. Too often ”experimentation” is a license to be careless, silly or imitative in the writing. Even worse, a license to try to brutalize or alienate the reader. Too often such writing gives us no news of the world, or else describes a desert landscape and that’s all – a few dunes and lizards here and there, but no people; a place uninhabited by anything recognizably human, a place of interest only to a few scientific specialists.

It should be noted that real experiment in fiction is original, hard-earned and cause for rejoicing. But someone else’s way of looking at things – Barthelme’s, for instance – should not be chased after by other writers. It won’t work. There is only one Barthelme, and for another writer to try to appropriate Barthelme’s peculiar sensibility or mise en scene under the rubric of innovation is for that writer to mess around with chaos and disaster and, worse, selfdeception. The real experimenters have to Make It New, as Pound urged, and in the process have to find things out for themselves. But if writers haven’t taken leave of their senses, they also want to stay in touch with us, they want to carry news from their world to ours.

It’s possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things – a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earrings – with immense, even startling power. It is possible to write a line of seemingly innocuous dialogue and have it send a chill along the reader’s spine – the source of artistic delight, as Nabokov would have it. That’s the kind of writing that most interests me. I hate sloppy or haphazard writing whether it flies under the banner of experimentation or else is just clumsily rendered realism. In Isaac Babel’s wonderful short story, ”Guy de Maupassant,” the narrator has this to say about the writing of fiction: ”No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place.” This too ought to go on a three-by-five.

Evan Connell said once that he knew he was finished with a short story when he found himself going through it and taking out commas and then going through the story again and putting commas back in the same places. I like that way of working on something. I respect that kind of care for what is being done. That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say. If the words are heavy with the writer’s own unbridled emotions, or if they are imprecise and inaccurate for some other reason – if the words are in any way blurred -the reader’s eyes will slide right over them and nothing will be achieved. The reader’s own artistic sense will simply not be engaged. Henry James called this sort of hapless writing ”weak specification.”

I have friends who’ve told me they had to hurry a book because they needed the money, their editor or their wife was leaning on them or leaving them – something, some apology for the writing not being very good. ”It would have been better if I’d taken the time.” I was dumbfounded when I heard a novelist friend say this. I still am, if I think about it, which I don’t. It’s none of my business. But if the writing can’t be made as good as it is within us to make it, then why do it? In the end it’s all we have, the only thing we can take into the grave. I wanted to say to my friend, for heaven’s sake go do something else. There have to be easier and maybe more honest ways to try and earn a living. Or else just do it to the best of your abilities, your talents, and then don’t justify or make excuses. Don’t complain, don’t explain.

In an essay called, simply enough, ”Writing Short Stories,” Flannery O’Connor talks about writing as an act of discovery. O’Connor says she most often did not know where she was going when she sat down to work on a short story. She says she doubts that many writers know where they are going when they begin something. She uses ”Good Country People” as an example of how she put together a short story whose ending she could not even guess at until she was nearly there:

”When I started writing that story, I didn’t know there was going to be a Ph.D. with a wooden leg in it. I merely found myself one morning writing a description of two women I knew something about, and before I realized it, I had equipped one of them with a daughter with a wooden leg. I brought in the Bible salesman, but I had no idea what I was going to do with him. I didn’t know he was going to steal that wooden leg until ten or twelve lines before he did it, but when I found out that this was what was going to happen, I realized it was inevitable.”

When I read this some years ago it came as a shock that she, or anyone for that matter, wrote stories in this fashion. I thought this was my uncomfortable secret, and I was just a little uneasy with it. For sure I thought this way of working on a short story somehow revealed my own shortcomings. I remember being tremendously heartened by reading what she had to say on the subject.

I once sat down to write what turned out to be a pretty good story, though only the first sentence of the story had offered itself to me when I began it. For several days I’d been going around with this sentence in my head: ”He was running the vacuum cleaner when the telephone rang.” I knew a story was there and that it wanted telling. I felt it in my bones, that a story belonged with that beginning, if I could just have the time to write it. I found the time, an entire day – twelve, fifteen hours even – if I wanted to make use of it. I did, and I sat down in the morning and wrote the first sentence, and other sentences promptly began to attach themselves. I made the story just as I’d make a poem; one line and then the next, and the next. Pretty soon I could see a story, and I knew it was my story, the one I’d been wanting to write.

I like it when there is some feeling of threat or sense of menace in short stories. I think a little menace is fine to have in a story. For one thing, it’s good for the circulation. There has to be tension, a sense that something is imminent, that certain things are in relentless motion, or else, most often, there simply won’t be a story. What creates tension in a piece of fiction is partly the way the concrete words are linked together to make up the visible action of the story. But it’s also the things that are left out, that are implied, the landscape just under the smooth (but sometimes broken and unsettled) surface of things.

V.S. Pritchett’s definition of a short story is ”something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing.” Notice the ”glimpse” part of this. First the glimpse. Then the glimpse given life, turned into something that illuminates the moment and may, if we’re lucky -that word again – have even further-ranging consequences and meaning. The short story writer’s task is to invest the glimpse with all that is in his power. He’ll bring his intelligence and literary skill to bear (his talent), his sense of proportion and sense of the fitness of things; of how things out there really are and how he sees those things – like no one else sees them. And this is done through the use of clear and specific language, language used so as to bring to life the details that will light up the story for the reader. For the details to be concrete and convey meaning, the language must be accurate and precisely given. The words can be so precise they may even sound flat, but they can still carry; if used right, they can hit all the notes.

35 Beautiful and Insightful Quotes about Short Stories (aerogrammestudio.com)

35 Beautiful and Insightful Quotes about Short Stories http://www.aerogrammestudio.com/2014/06/25/35-beautiful-and-insightful-quotes-about-short-stories/

Narrative Setting: How To Build A World(blog.karenwoodward.org)

Narrative Setting: How To Build A World

http://blog.karenwoodward.org/2014/01/narrative-setting-how-to-build-world.html?m=1

“You create a story world to express and manifest your characters, especially your hero.” John Truby, The Anatomy of Story
John Truby, in The Anatomy of Story, writes: “creating a unique world for the story–and organically connecting it to the characters–is as essential to great storytelling as character, plot, theme, and dialogue.”
When I read that passage I knew I couldn’t close out my series on narrative setting without talking about how Truby constructs a story world, a narrative setting, one designed specifically for his characters. Truby talks the reader through how to create a story world that characters not only ‘hook’ into, but which complements the hero’s journey and gives it meaning.
Truby writes (and this is something he emphasizes all through “The Anatomy of Story”): just as the interrelations between the characters–especially the protagonist–give meaning to the whole, so it is for settings.
Truby writes:
“… in good stories, the characters come first, and the writer designs the world to be an infinitely detailed manifestation of those characters.”
“The process of translating the story line into a physical story world, which then elicits certain emotions in the audience, is a difficult one. That’s because you are really speaking two languages—one of words, the other of images—and matching them exactly over the course of the story.”
Here is John Truby’s advice for creating a story world rich in meaning:
1. Create The Story Space
1a. Use the story’s designing principle to draw the boundaries of your story world.
Begin with the story’s designing principle “since this is what holds everything together.” The designing principle will tell you where to draw the boundaries, what shape the world should be, what kind of world it should be.
1b. Divide the story world into visual oppositions.
Divide the story world we delineated in step one into “visual oppositions” based on how your characters oppose one another.
2. Three types of setting.
Truby advises us to “detail the world using … natural settings, artificial spaces, and technology.”
3. Connect the story world to the hero’s overall development.
When I read this part of Truby’s book I knew I had to share this information on my blog. This point is really why I’m doing this post, we’re going through steps 1 and 2 because they’re prerequisites to get here.
SO. Let’s take this one step at a time.

1. Creating The Story Space

1a. Use the story’s designing principle to find the boundaries of your story world. 

First, let’s quickly discuss the designing principle. This is one of the core concepts of Truby’s “The Anatomy of Story” so I’m not going to be able to do it justice here.
Truby writes:
“The designing principle is what organizes the story as a whole. It is the internal logic of the story, what makes the parts hang together organically so that the story becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”
Think of the designing principle as the seed, the idea seed, the nucleus, that a story grows from. Here’s one of Truby’s examples:
Tootsie:
Designing principle: “Force a male chauvinist to live as a woman.”
(Note: Truby also talks about the premise but I’m not going to cover this concept here.)

Finding the boundaries.

What we want to do is develop a one line description of our setting, something that will tie it into the designing principle of our story.
Here’s an example from the movie, “Four Weddings and a Funeral”:
Designing principle: “A group of friends experiences four Utopias (weddings) and a moment in hell (funeral) as they all look for their right partner in marriage.”
Story World: “The Utopian world and rituals of weddings.”
John Truby gives many more examples in his book, and I should mention that I’m leaving out an enormous amount of material–the story premise, theme line, and so on.
Anyway, after you write down the designing principle you’re equipped to delineate the extent of the story world, to clearly establish its physical boundaries.
Truby writes that the story “arena is the basic space of drama. It is a single, unified place surrounded by some kind of wall. Everything inside the arena is part of the story. Everything outside the arena is not.”
Truby goes on to say there are four main ways of creating a story arena that possess enough “variety of place and action” to sustain the events of any story.

i. The Spotted Umbrella

Think of a medieval town surrounded by thick walls. Many inhabitants of the town could have a general overall knowledge of the town and how it’s laid out, its various areas, and so on, though a particular individual might spend most of their time in only a few of its many environs.
For example, when I watched the movie “Aliens” I had a general sense of the planet but Ripley only travelled to a few places on its surface. In terms of my analogy, those are the spots within the umbrella.

ii. The Straight Line

This is the basic layout of a journey story.
One of the challenges of writing a cohesive journey story is making all the different areas seem connected.
What one usually doesn’t want is for the reader to feel as though each location is a different story. You want them to feel it’s all part of one unified tale.
One way to create “the sense of a single area” is for the terrain the hero travels through to remain fundamentally the same.
For instance, a hero might travel to several different villages located along the same river. Or the hero might travel to several locations in the same desert or country.
Truby gives the movie “Titanic” as an example of a story where the hero travels in a straight line.

iii. The Circle

This approach has much in common with the previous one, with the exception that, at the end, the hero returns home. Truby’s example: “The Wizard of Oz.”

iv. Fish Out Of Water

The fish out of water story generally utilizes two different worlds.
In one world, the first, the hero is seen to have certain talents (or weaknesses). Then the hero is unceremoniously tossed into a second world–one where the rules are markedly different–and those same talents (or weaknesses) are shown.
Often, whatever the hero did well in one world he will be completely incompetent at in the other.
Of course, the two worlds aren’t necessarily different physical places. Something could happen to so completely alter the social environment of the hero that the change is just as profound as a change of place. For instance, the hero’s five older siblings die in a tragic accident and so he goes from completely ignored to being continually doted on.
Truby’s examples: “Beverly Hills Cop,” “Crocodile Dundee.”
Note: Truby writes: “What holds them [the separate locations] together is that the hero uses the same talents in both places …”
Truby’s tip: Don’t stay too long in the first area. Truby doesn’t like talking about acts, but I’d say, in a three act story, be sure to take the hero into the second world–the special world of the adventure–at the beginning of the second act.

1b. Divide the story world into visual oppositions.

Ask yourself:
What are the oppositions between my characters?
What values do they hold?
How do your characters fight each other?
How do their values conflict?
As you ask and answer these questions think about how these oppositions could be symbolized or represented visually.
Truby advises writers to attempt to produce three or four critical, visual, oppositions.
Truby uses the example of “King Kong.” The opposition is, in part, between “Carl Denham, and the giant prehistoric beast, Kong. So the main opposition within the story world is the island of New York, the man-made and overly civilized but extremely harsh world where image-maker Denham is “king,” versus Skull Island, the extremely harsh state of nature where Kong, master of physical force, is king.”
Nice!

2. Three types of setting.

There are three main kinds of settings:
a. Natural settings
b. Man-made settings
c. Tools/Technology

a. Natural settings

i. The ocean.
An ocean has two parts: the surface and the deep, dark, depths.
The surface:
The surface of the ocean gives us a sense of contest, a sense of “a game of life and death played out on the grandest scale.”
The deep places:
- A weightless dream world.
- A terrifying graveyard.
In the deep places sea creatures reach up to grab those on the surface and drag them down to their death in the murky depths.
Also, when I think of the deep places of the ocean, it occurs to me that often bodies of water are used to symbolize the unconscious mind and the creatures/complexes it harbours.
ii. The forest.
The forest is a natural cathedral. “It is the place where contemplative people go and to which lovers sneak away.”
The forest is also where children get lost andwitches live. There may also be a ghost or two and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a hunter stalking his prey.
John Truby talks about many other kinds of natural settings: outer space, jungles, desert and ice, islands, mountains (the mountain vs the plain), plains, rivers, weather. But I’ll let you read about those in Truby’s excellent book.

b. Man-made settings

Truby writes that each man-made space “is a physical representation, in microcosm, of the hero and the society in which he lives.”
I’m only going to go over one of Truby’s examples: the house.

The house.

A house encloses a character and “shapes the growth of the person’s mind.”
Houses are intimate. They are spaces where your character can express himself without fear of ridicule.
Question: What might your hero reveal about himself in his house that he wouldn’t anywhere else?

The opposites.

Safety vs Adventure
Generally, we think of a house as a place of safety. It’s a place for you to relax and take refuge in, it’s a place for you to enjoy your friends and family.
No hostile forces are allowed in.
In this sense, a house is a place of safety.
BUT if the hero remains always in a safe place he will never grow, never achieve anything. He will stagnate. Truby writes that the trick is to use the house as “the strong foundation from which we go out and take on the world.”
“Often in stories, the first step of adventure, the longing for it, happens at the window. A character looks through the eyes of a house …” looks out at the far hills, at the mountaintop or even the jungle, and dreams of what might be, dreams of adventure.
Truby has many other examples, and he talks about various kinds of houses (the warm house, the terrifying house, the cellar versus the attic). Truly, if you have any questions about setting, developing the opposites, how to hook the characters in your story into the landscape/setting, chapter six of “The Anatomy of Story” is definitely worth the read.

3. Connect the story world to the hero’s overall development.

THIS–connecting, hooking, the story world (/setting) into the hero’s arc, his journey–is really what I’ve been wanting to talk about.
We’ve laid the foundation by formulating our story’s designing principle and drawing the boundaries of our world. We’ve divided this story world into visual oppositions and we’ve explored the various types of settings (natural, artificial, technology) and how these can help develop the hero’s journey.
But since this post is already twice as long as usual, I’ll save that for next time.

Good writing!

Photo credit: “almost may” by paul bica underCreative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Karen Woodward

 

Raymond Chandler’s Ten Commandments for Writing a Detective Novel(open culture.com)

Raymond Chandler’s Ten Commandments for Writing a Detective Novel

in Literature | February 25th, 2014

chandler10rules

http://www.openculture.com/2014/02/raymond-chandlers-ten-commandments-for-writing-a-detective-novel.html

Raymond Chandler – along with his hardboiled brethren likeDashiell Hammett and James M. Cain – sandblasted the detective novel of its decorousness and instilled it with a sweaty vitality. Chandler, through the eyes of his most famous character Philip Marlowe, navigated a thinly veiled Los Angeles through the desperation of those on the low end of society’s totem pole and through the greed and venality of those at the top. Instead of creating self-contained locked room mysteries, Chandler created stories that looked outward, struggling to make sense of a morally ambiguous world. He dedicated his career to the genre, influencing generations of writers after him. His very name became synonymous with his terse, pungent style.

So it isn’t terribly surprising that Chandler had some very strong opinions about crime fiction. Below are his ten commandmentsfor writing a detective novel:

1) It must be credibly motivated, both as to the original situation and the dénouement.

2) It must be technically sound as to the methods of murder and detection.

3) It must be realistic in character, setting and atmosphere. It must be about real people in a real world.

4) It must have a sound story value apart from the mystery element: i.e., the investigation itself must be an adventure worth reading.

5) It must have enough essential simplicity to be explained easily when the time comes.

6) It must baffle a reasonably intelligent reader.

7) The solution must seem inevitable once revealed.

8) It must not try to do everything at once. If it is a puzzle story operating in a rather cool, reasonable atmosphere, it cannot also be a violent adventure or a passionate romance.

9) It must punish the criminal in one way or another, not necessarily by operation of the law…. If the detective fails to resolve the consequences of the crime, the story is an unresolved chord and leaves irritation behind it.

10) It must be honest with the reader.

These commandments are oblique jabs at the locked room whodunits popular during theGolden Age of the detective novel during the 1920s and 30s. Chandler delivers a much more pointed criticism of these works in his seminal essay about crime fiction, The Simple Art of Murder.

After taking thoroughly apart the murder mystery The Red Houseby A. A. Milne (yes, the writer ofWinnie the Pooh), Chandler rails against detective stories where the machinations of plot outstrip any semblance of reality. “If the situation is false, you cannot even accept it as a light novel, for there is no story for the light novel to be about.”

He goes on to trash other British mystery writers like Agatha Christie and particularly Dorothy L. Sayers, who Chandler paints not only as a hypocritical snob but also as boring. “The English may not always be the best writers in the world, but they are incomparably the best dull writers,” he quips.

Chandler then offers praise to his hardboiled colleague Dashiell Hammett who infuses his stories with a sense of realism. “Hammett gave murder back to the kind of people that commit it for reasons, not just to provide a corpse; and with the means at hand, not with hand-wrought duelling pistols, curare, and tropical fish….He was spare, frugal, hardboiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before.”

Whether conscious or not, this passage is a fair description of Chandler as well.

How to and why you should write a journal(artofmanliness.com)

30 Days to a Better Man Day 8: Start a Journal

by BRETT & KATE MCKAY on JUNE 7, 2009 · 62 COMMENTS

in 30 DAYS TO A BETTER MAN

http://www.artofmanliness.com/2009/06/07/30-days-to-a-better-man-day-8-start-a-journal/

My grandpa, Bill Hurst, was a journal writer his entire life. His journal was quite simple. He just kept a small notebook in the pocket of his pearl snap shirts and jotted down a short description of the things he did and the people he did it with. This is something he did pretty much every day for his entire life. He also kept extensive diaries of his time as a forest ranger in the Wasatch Range.

About 12 years ago, my grandpa took all these diaries and daily journal entries and began to write his memoir for his children and grandchildren. The finished product was a 500 page behemoth filled with stories from my grandfather’s life. Here’s just a few of the interesting things I learned from reading it:

  • My grandpa met my grandma by hitting on her while she worked as a telephone operator.
  • My grandpa helped pay for college by playing pool.
  • He worked as a sheep herder during the summers in high school and college. He gives a very descriptive account on how castrating sheep is performed. He did it just like this.
  • He has a scar from when he was hit by a car while racing his horse through the streets of his boyhood town. The horse died.
  • As a boy, his family traveled by horse and buggy.

There’s more. Lots more. But while the stories are interesting, what I found more interesting was the commentary my grandpa gave on different events in his life. In these moments, he passed on some insights and lessons on what it means to be a man. My grandpa’s memoir is a treasure trove of knowledge and wisdom from a life well lived. By writing  his memoir, he guaranteed that his legacy will live on indefinitely.

But his life story would have been but a few pages long had he not kept a journal.

There are a myriad of other benefits to keeping a daily journal besides remembering what you ate five years ago. So today’s task is to start the journaling habit.

Great Men Keep Journals

In studying the lives of great men, I’ve noticed a common trait: they were all consistent journal writers. Now, I’m not saying that their greatness is directly attributable to their journaling. I’m sure Captain Cook would still have been a bad ass even if he hadn’t kept a diary. But I figure, if great men like these thought it was important to keep a journal, maybe I should, too. Heck, if it weren’t for their journals, we probably wouldn’t know much about their great lives and deeds.

Here’s a short list of great men from history who kept journals:

  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Charles Darwin
  • Benjamin Franklin
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Andrew Carnegie
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Captain Cook
  • Winston Churchill
  • Sir Edmund Hilary
  • Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton
  • Doogie Howser M.D

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Why Keep a Journal

Your children and grandchildren will want to read it. I know it’s hard to believe right now. Your life probably seems quite ordinary and of little interest to anyone else. And every generation believes that life will pretty much continue on like it is now. When your great-grandpa was kicking it in the 1920′s, he thought to himself, “Who would want to read about this new fangled radio or how I get my food out of an icebox? Phhht! That’s boring stuff!” But it’s not boring anymore; to this generation, such a peak at the olden days is fascinating. And so it is with you. When your grandkids are talking to people via hologram, they are going to be absolutely fascinated by your impressions of those ancient things like the alta vista and cell phones. And unfortunately, they’re not going to be curious about it until they get into their 20′s, realize you’re going to die, and start asking you questions.

Trust me, while you think that you’ll be able to remember everything just as clearly in the future, you won’t. Remember when you were a kid and you thought your experiences would be easily recalled at age 30? Now what do you remember from those days besides that time a dog bit you in the face?

As each year passes, the pixels of our memories burn out and the haze sets in. By age 80, you’ll only remember the faintest outlines of the big things that happened to you. But the stuff that’s really interesting is often the little, seemingly mundane details of life. What was a man’s daily routine like in 2009? Of course, the whipper snappers will ask you about the big stuff too: “Where were you when you found out about the attacks on the World Trade Center?” and “What did you think about the election of Barack Obama?” Your journals will give them the answers they’ll be looking for and will bring you closer.

And who knows? Maybe the whole world might be interested in your musings someday. You may not think so now, but how many famous men knew that they would be famous before they actually burst onto the scene? And how many men were ignored in their lifetime, only to be celebrated after their death?

It can bring you to your senses. Have you ever struggled with a choice, thought about it long and hard, made a decision, but then some time later started to regret it? Have you ever gotten into a rut from which you can’t seem to find a way out? A journal can aid you in these dilemmas. When you make a decision, you can write down all the reasons you have for coming to that conclusion. Then, after times passes, and you start doubting that choice, you can look back, remind yourself of why you made that decision in the first place, and feel reassured in pressing on. Or, it you’re in a depressed funk and don’t know how to extract yourself from it, you can look back through your journal to find the times when you were happiest.  Old journal entries can help you rediscover the kind of changes you need to make  to get your life back on track. Or you can look back at your journal and how you used to operate 5 years ago and think, “Damn! I never want to be that man again! What was I thinking?” A journal is basically a chance for your past self to lend counsel to your present self.

Finally, simply writing about your feelings and frustrations helps you focus on what’s really going on in your life and in your head, so that you can come up with a solution to your problems.

Journaling grants you immortality. Think of the billions of people who have and will perish from the earth without leaving a trace of themselves behind. They vanish into the ether, completely forgotten in the annals of history. A journal helps make you immortal. It is an tangible piece of evidence to leave behind that you were here! That you lived and loved! That there was such a person as Jared Matthews who lived in Austin, Texas who thought and breathed and died.

Journaling improves your health. Several studies have shown that writing about traumatic or stressful events and your deepest feelings and emotions  boosts your emotional and physical health and sense of well-being. ((http://apt.rcpsych.org/cgi/content/full/11/5/338)) Especially as men, we often tend to keep things bottled up. Journaling provides a excellent outlet to let go of those things that are bothering or worrying us.

How to Journal

Pick a medium. If you’ve never journaled or if you have previously, but fell off the wagon, the first thing you need to decide is what kind of journal you’re going to keep. There are basically two different types of journal mediums: analog and digital.

Analog journals, the paper and pen variety, are what we traditionally think of when we think of journals. You can use something as basic as a spiral bound notebook and a Bic pen or something as fancy as a hand bound leather journal and a fountain pen. Just do what works for you.

With the advent of computers, many people have gone digital with their journaling. The digital world offers a plethora of options to record your daily happenings and thoughts.  Here’s a list of possible desktop digital tools in which to keep your journal:

  • Word Processor. Pretty basic. Just open up MS Word or OpenOffice Writer and start clickity clackin’ away.
  • TextEditor/Notepad. Just open up the text editor for your operating system, call the file “journal.txt,” and start writing. Date each entry. If you’re using Notepad, here’s a nifty little hack to automatically insert the date into your journal entry.
  • JDarkroom. JDarkroom is a free Java-based text editor. What makes it different from other text editors is that it takes up the entire screen for distraction free writing. I’ve used it before, and it’s actually pretty nice. It works on any platform.
  • OneNote. Microsoft OneNote is a robust note taking program that can double as a journal. Just create a notebook within OneNote for your journal and start writing. With this program, you can easily drop photos and videos into your journal entries. OneNote is only available for Windows.
  • Evernote. Evernote is pretty much like Microsoft OneNote except 1) it’s free, 2) it works on any platform, and 3) you can save and access entries on the internet easily, thus giving you access to your journal everyone you go. I don’t use Evernote for my journal, but I’ve use it on a daily basis for notes and would definitely recommend it.

The internet provides several options for you to store your journal in the “cloud” and even share it with other people. A few options:

  • Blogspot. It’s free and it gives you the option of keeping your journal private or sharing it with a few people. In addition to writing text, you can easily include photos in your journal entries.
  • LiveJournal. Pretty much the same as Blogspot. It’s free and you have the option of keeping it private or you can share with others.
  • WordPress.com Out of all the blogging platforms, I prefer WordPress (it’s what we use for Art of Manliness). You can get a free wordpress.com blog and start a journal with it.
  • Use Gmail as a journal. This is an interesting idea.

Schedule a time. Starting a journal is easy enough. Sticking to it on a daily basis is more difficult. If you want to make it a habit, just pick a time in your day for journal writing and make it a non-negotiable in your life. I like doing it at night right before I go to bed. It’s a good way to decompress and review the day’s events. But some people prefer writing in the morning or jotting down thoughts throughout the day. Just do what works for you.

Some days you might not have the energy or desire to write in your journal. On those days, just write something. It can be a sentence long. It can simply be, “I’m not in the mood to write.” Just keep your commitment.

One of the most memorable journal entries I’ve come across was written by TR on the day both his wife and mother died. Instead of spending several pages outlining his grief, this is all it said:

TR_the_Light_Has_Gone_Out.jpg

What to Write About

This is where a lot of people get hung up on with journaling. They feel like they don’t have anything to write about so they end up not writing at all. There are hundreds of books that give you “suggestions” of what to write about in your journal. Usually they’re cheesy and inane things like, “If you were a cloud, what shape would you be.”

Just write about your day. No need to get fancy with those cute little journal prompts. Some days might be pretty routine, but other days you might be feeling philosophical or have a problem that will require you to write more in-depth entries. Just write what comes naturally to you on that day.

And as we mentioned above, while you might think your life is boring, your great grand kids won’t. They’ll be just as fascinated about you driving a car that runs on gasoline as you are about your great grandpa driving a horse and buggy.  If your life really is boring, perhaps keeping a journal will give you an incentive to take on more adventures so you have something to write about.

It’s time to get started. Your task today is to start a journal. Pick your medium and begin. If you already have a journal, but haven’t written in it in awhile, write an entry today. And if you’re one of those few consistent journalers out there, bully for you! Keep up the good work and use today’s journal entry to give yourself a pat on the back.