My ‘great complaining notebooks’…some background on ‘Write to the Centre’ …

My whole adult life I have kept journals, capturing bits of my life in words and images. I’ve also taught journal writing classes from time to time. Journal writing is a key part of my creative process as a writer and my self-care regime as a human. Journals get some bad press – sometimes seen as self-indulgent, angsty or just plain pointless. I can only share my own experience with keeping a journal, which has been positive, helpful and life-affirming.

I assumed all writers keep journals of one sort or another, but then I read all of the Mansfield Questionnaire interviews on Booknotes Unbound because there is a great question: ‘Do you keep ‘great complaining notebooks’ a.k.a. journals?‘ I was surprised to discover it is about 50/50, in terms of writerly journal-keeping habits.

Earlier this year I was part of a literary panel and a member of the audience asked us the question ‘If you were the only person left on the planet, would you still write?’ I had the microphone in my hand, so I answered first: ‘Of course!’ I said ‘I love writing, it wouldn’t bother me if no one else was going to read it.’ I anticipated my fellow panelists would agree with me, but instead the other three writers were looking at me incredulously and answered with variations of ‘Hell no! Why bother?’ and talked about how they write with an audience in mind.

This could be a factor in the journal or no journal divide, perhaps? Keeping a journal is essentially writing to/for yourself. You either find intrinsic value in this, or find it as interesting as watching paint dry.

I have been toying with the idea of writing a book about journal writing for a few years but was wrestling with whether other people would find it interesting, or horribly self-indulgent? I decided to leave it to fate (aka, a panel of board members) by applying for a grant, figuring if the panel granted my proposal, it would be signal enough that there was some value in the idea. They liked it and I received a grant to create the book!

A condition of the grant was that the project had to be completed in 2016, so it has been a bit of a race! If all I did was write, a year would seem like a good amount of time…but I’ve been doing it on top of the usual full-load of work, family, etc. Plus I don’t really do fast. If I were a creature, I’d be a snail, for sure.

The book is nearly done, though, all going well with the printing process it will be released on October 15th, & today I got a message from my publishers that they have set up pre-orders on the Haunui website! (We are being optimistic…) Wheee!

Here’s the cover:

Write-to-the-Centre-cover-large

I have gone through some real ups and downs during the making of this book – I will write a little bit more about the process in another post… it is a very personal, vulnerable, possibly somewhat naive book…it is not the New Zealand way to be so ‘out there’ with emotions and sometimes ugly private stuff. I feel a little like I am about to walk onto a stage in a crowded auditorium, flash my undies and then cry….or something. And yet….and yet…there is enough of me which believes there is value in sharing this stuff that I am persisting!

My journals aren’t ‘beautiful’, the visual parts are usually pretty haphazard, hastily daubed, scrawled or slapped together and the writing is not profound or intellectual…it is unfettered, raw expression…and is offered as such. Now all I can do is wait for the publication process to unfold and hope that the book is met with open hearts, just as it was created with one.

BJ_2006_12

 

 

art will eat itself

I am working on two writing projects at the moment (around the day job, the kids, the endless house-keeping and cooking)…..(‘oh to be a writer, a real writer!’ to quote Katherine Mansfield.)

One is my next collection of poems and the other is less simple – a project involving over a decade of journals. I am scanning a whole lot of journal pages from 1999-2012…it will be a very visual book. This project is tricky – I haven’t quite found my way with it yet. It’s like it isn’t sure what it wants to be….I don’t want it to be a ‘how to’ about journaling, because I don’t find those books especially helpful myself…plus I don’t think I have much to add to that canon….however it may have elements of that. I am writing some prose pieces to sit amongst the scanned journal pages, but I’m not sure they are right in tone. It’s like I am putting together a book that is almost devouring itself – like the OUROBOROS. I’m both sharing parts of my journals and yet critiquing them and journaling and the creative process all at once.  It’s all very messy and more than a little scary, however I’m going to keep chipping away at it and trust that as I work the shape of the book will become clear. Basically, I am trying to write the sort of book I would be excited to find in a bookshop….full of images, honesty, ruminations on creative process, thoughtful mess.

In the meantime, I take comfort from writers who have gone before me.

‘Any writer who knows what he is doing isn’t doing very much.’

-Nelson Algren

&

‘The furtherest out you can go is the best place to be.’

-Stanley Elkin’