Jotting in a Journal

Do you keep a journal, a place where you can record your thoughts about, well, anything?  Travel, gratitude, observations. Family, love, motherhood, fatherhood memoir. Job or career, school, relationships, story ideas. The topics are endless.

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I bought this journal in a local market.

You may jot down an observation, a word you like, a thought, a saying, a name of someone or something you admire. A poem. These items can trigger new thoughts and ideas.

You may paste in mementos, make drawings, add a photo, add borders and/or background colors to the pages. I have friends whose journals are almost works of art in themselves with streamers, buttons, and baubles dangling from them, with drawings and watercolor pictures inside to accompany their writings.

During a stressful period a few years back, I kept a “WTF Now?” journal. I had moved into a new townhouse besieged by poor workmanship and faulty design that didn’t manifest until the first rain. Leaking roof and leaking windows big time. Within the journal pages, I vented. And vented. Obviously, journal writing can be very therapeutic.

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Journal made from a file folder.

Recently, I took a journal-making class taught by artist Vicki Scudamore. In it, we took a colorful file folder (mine had the Eiffel Tower on it), trimmed a few inches of it here and there, and attached five folded white sheets inside by stitching them onto the folder’s spine. Voila. A ten page journal. The band around the center securing it is called a belly band. The new journal now waits for words on its blank pages.

Darwin speculated on the origin of the species, drawing his first evolutionary tree.

Darwin speculated on the origin of the species, drawing his first evolutionary tree.

It’s interesting to read the journal pages of famous writers, artists, and historical figures. At left is a notebook belonging to Charles Darwin. (Caption paraphrased from website below.)

One journal I use quite often is a small bright-yellow spiral notebook I call “Notes on Writing.” In it I record ideas and discoveries about writing in general – or about a particular piece I’m working on – or ideas for something I’d like to write in the future.

And I find writing in a journal is a great way to write regularly.

Whatever your motivation – to explore, list, create, record, experiment – keeping a journal is a satisfying – and useful – endeavor. However you do it, here’s to the  journaling habit.

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For more on Darwin and 19 other famous journal keepers:

Something about synergy …

Writing in a group is an interesting phenomenon. The room is quiet except for soft background music, the sound of pens moving on paper, a once in a while shuffle of feet or turn of page, the soft swish of a forearm in rhythm with a pen. An occasional cough or sigh ruffles the air.


If you stop and sit quietly, allowing yourself to listen and become aware, several sensations may occur. First, the creative energy from the group can become almost palpable. Second, you feel a connectedness to your fellow writers.

You’ll notice the writers seem to be “in flow,” oblivious to the surrounding world, absorbed in their thoughts. Like a winning rowing team “in swing,” they pull their ideas forward with steady intensity. The emerging total creative energy present in the room seems to become greater than that of their individual efforts.

photoIf you haven’t had this experience and like to write, join a small class.

As the class writes together, let yourself feel the synergy.

And after the writing … there’s the reading together and sharing, another great experience.

(Pictured is the Trilogy Writers’ Group.)

Lines you never forget …

Are there certain lines said by people, famous or not, that have stayed with you?

I have some favorites. My father used to say, “You can be anything you want, as long as you don’t break the law.” (He believed very much in the quality of character.) Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” (I conjure this one when I’m having a really  bad day.) Yet another is, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” (This one hung on a sign in the gym I used to go to. Sometimes it inspired me, other times it ticked me off.)

To add to this collection of lines, something said at the recent Academy Awards is staying with me. Although the acceptance speeches of Lupita Nyong’o and Jared Leto were eloquent and timely for today’s society, I didn’t come away with a quotable line. However, I sure felt the Wow! of their messages … the struggle of those denied freedom and equal rights, denied the joy of opportunity. The struggle of those afflicted with AIDS.

Lupita N'Yongo

Lupita Nyong’o

Jared Leto

Jared Leto

But as to memorable lines, two sentences in Matthew McConaughey’s speech caught me. The Oscar winner for Best Actor said, “There are three things that I need each day. One of them is something to look up to, another is something to look forward to, and another is someone to chase.” His words made me think.

Thank you, Matthew.

Thank you, Matthew.

Who or what do I look up to? One is the higher being who has put this world and this life into motion. On the earth bound side, I look up to strong, accomplished, innovative, and courageous people, famous or not. I look up to people in the arts who reflect, record, and perpetuate our culture.

Who or what do I look forward to? Being with family or friends and doing things like watching a movie, or just sitting and talking, or sightseeing together. I’ll have to add I look forward to a really good book, too. I also look forward to time with myself, continuing to discover new parts of me and new experiences: talents, interests, thoughts, ideas, feelings.

Who or what do I chase? Life … with the glass still full of adventure and curiosity and joy and health and ideas and people I care about.


What is your something to look up to, something to look forward to, someone to chase? Favorite lines that stay with you?

Renewal and Inspiration

Those moments in time when we feel a sense of renewal or the nudge or surge of inspiration are precious. It’s a time when the lenses through which we view life may clear. It’s a time when we feel inspired to take on a challenge or overcome an obstacle. When we value again that which we have stopped noticing or have been taking for granted. When the seed of an idea appears, turns to a concept, and starts us on a creative journey.

That moment may occur out in nature.


The Monarch butterfly – delicate, intricate.

Or in the quiet of a zen-like garden.


The beauty and quiet of desert plantings.

It might occur with a small group of friends over tea.


The tea table – a place for conversation, closeness, and ideas.

Or in a large group of women with stories to share that inspire us.

Dorothy Klass is an inspirational speaker.

Dorothy Kloss, author of “I’m Not in Kansas Anymore! Love, Dorothy.”
4th Annual Women Inspiring Women Conference.

As creatives, we need time to be open and renew; to feel the energy of being connected – to each other, nature, and ideas; to be quiet and listen – to ourselves, to the ideas that are knocking …

Where do you renew, refill, and let inspiration in?

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And for more about the recent 4th Annual Women Inspiring Women Conference, February, 2014 –

Writing Places and Spaces

We all know Virginia Woolf’s famous advice: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” (From A Room of One’s Own - 1929.)  To have space for a home office or nook or alcove somewhere in the house or apartment is ideal.

In reality, though, that isn’t always an option. We also know a writing place can be anywhere you open your computer or notebook. A noisy cafe, the beach, a kitchen table.

Some of my creative writing students shared pictures of their writing places. The retreats below are as unique and special as the writers who inhabit them.

From Kelli Keller …

I purchased a journal and have found a cozy warm spot to reflect on the day. Relaxation and thoughts come much easier while sitting in the rocking chair as the sun sets over the mountains. If it's later, the gentle fir in the fireplace is a great replacement for the sun.

I purchased a journal and have found a cozy warm spot to reflect on the day. Relaxation and thoughts come much easier while sitting in the rocking chair as the sun sets over the mountains. If it’s later, the gentle fire in the fireplace is a great replacement for the sun.

From Cheryl Redman …


To preserve solitude … this is my reading and rumination space.

My writing real estate

And this is my writing real estate.

From Deb Ehrich …

I'll be going to my GIRL CAVE - aka, the Casita, to write.

I’ll be going to my GIRL CAVE – aka, the Casita, to write.

From Sally Weir …


With the sun on my shoulder and my husband snoozing and/or reading nearby, I am relaxed with pen and paper. The dog is snuggled at our feet and the three of us are content.

From Eleanor Kooper …


This is where I write. Because of back surgery, I cannot sit on a hard chair.

From Kaye Cefaloni …

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Off tomorrow to shop for a new writing desk. I found a little place in the guest room.

And from me …

Welcome! Have a seat ... it's time to write.

Welcome! Have a seat … it’s time to write.

Where is your special place? The place that signals to your body and mind to write, create, dream. To tell a story … real or imagined.

Writers’ Festivals and Writers’ Conferences

Do you want to go to a Writers’ Festival or a Writers’ Conference? How do you decide? How are they different? What should you expect? Are you a reader? Are you a writer? Are you both? A festival is about writers talking to readers and promoting their books. A conference is about writers talking to writers. Both are great experiences. Readers probably prefer the festival. Writers benefit from both.

photo 3I recently attended the Rancho Mirage Writers’ Festival held in Rancho Mirage, California. Twenty-one authors participated. Writers of fiction, non-fiction, and essay. They talked about their books, how the books came about, their process, and their backgrounds.

Each session was followed by Q & A. Between sessions the authors mingled and were accessible. Books were available for purchase through Barnes and Noble. It was an event rich in information.

As a writer, I was especially interested in an author’s thinking process that said, “Aha, an idea,” and how they pursued that idea into a total book concept. I was also interested in their different presentation styles.  From quasi-reading their talks to using Power Point to being conversational. Some read short excerpts from their work. How they presented themselves and their books, and the speaking techniques were good to observe and learn from.

The event ran three days: five sessions each day and two at night. Great venue. (Participating authors listed at end of post.) 

photo 4_2A writers’ conference is different. You’re there to write. One I enjoyed in the recent past was the Hassayampa Institute for Creative Writing held in Prescott, Arizona. At a conference like this, a writer works his craft in seminar and solo. True, you hear a significant author or two speak during the venue, but primarily you are there to write and learn and interact with writers.

I chose a workshop led by Terese Svoboda, a poet and writer. I took a story to be “workshopped” which means it was read and critiqued. We had writing projects to work on during session and at night.

I started a story through one of the activities Svoboda gave. She had us partner with another writer and give each other a character to write a story about. My partner gave me this character: a man who is employed by Con Edison and works on the construction of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Say what? The story was eventually published under the title “Parallel Worlds.”

Festivals and conferences such as these can be like mini-Master classes or graduate seminars. Some will be better than others, but usually they’re worth the money and time commitment.

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Participating authors at the Rancho Mirage Writers Festival: David Abrams, A. Scott Berg, Sean B. Carroll, Michael Childers, Linda Fairstein, Alice Kessler-Harris, Karen Elliott House, Geoffrey Kabaservice, Joseph Kanon, Kevin P. Keating, G. Bruce Knecht, Laurence Luckinbill, Andrew Neiderman, Chris Pavone, Arthur Phillips, Richard Rodriguez, Lisa See, Maggie Shipstead, Kevin Starr, David L. Ulin, Joseph Wambaugh.

Sadly, the Hassayampa Conference is no longer being held.

Imagination – Keeping It Alive

Before TV and high-tech came on the scene, people listened to their entertainment on the radio.  To soaps and sitcoms and mysteries and children’s programs. To sports and news. They conjured in their minds how a situation or character looked. They visualized the world the program took them into.

Each person drew on the words they heard. They added information from their own experiences, their perceptions, and their world view to shape the pictures and thoughts in their heads.

Today, with films, television shows, the internet, and video games, little is left for us to imagine. Animated films spell it all out for kids. Movies have difficulty allowing us into a character’s thoughts and seldom offer scene fade-outs so the mind can take over. Everything is portrayed. A mind numbing experience.

But … the reader of a writer’s words still has the freedom to let his imagination run. To “see” a character, “hear” the pitch of the character’s voice, visualize a small town, smell a bonfire, taste a stew, feel a rough hand, hear the crash of glass. The reader is free to travel into the wider world the writer’s words unlock. And, if the writer’s done her job, the reader will care about the character, feel the tension, cry, and laugh.

A solitary picture can give the reader’s imagination a gentle nudge. Two of my short stories, “Not Even Gloria” and “Funny Man”, appeared in The Sun Runner magazine. The publication chose a picture to accompany each story. The images reminded me of a book jacket or an old time movie poster. A character (person) wasn’t pictured. How that character looked was left to the imagination and the writer’s words.

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Foam sloshed down his fingers as Jingo Sparks grabbed a draft beer from the bar and gulped it down. The ride on Interstate 10 through open desert made his mouth feel like a bowl of dry oatmeal. He slipped the Harley keys in his jean’s pocket and edged through the Friday night crowd at Rick’s Pool Hall. (From “Not Even Gloria” in The Sun Runner Second Annual Desert Writers Issue.)

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Denny kept his thoughts on the evening ahead, Open Mike Night for Comics at the best casino in town. His dream of being a stand-up comic like Jerry Seinfeld or Chris Rock was close. All he needed was a break. He was ready. (From “Funny Man” in The Sun Runner Third Annual Desert Writers Issue.)

As writers, we go from what we know is real … to the imaginary. We get to dream and not just at night. We can let our imaginations run and take our readers with us. Together we can keep our imaginations alive and well.