The author Joan Didion, whose birthday was yesterday, wrote a wonderful essay on the purpose of her own journal, “On Keeping a Notebook,” which can be found in Slouching Toward Bethlehem as well as her larger collected works of nonfiction, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. In it she discusses the difference between her own notebook keeping, which consisted primarily of jotting down impressions and thoughts as she had them, descriptions of interactions she witnessed, and so on, and regular diary keeping, which she claims to have never managed to do.
For Didion, the notebook served as a sounding board as well as an archive. She used it to unload, to work things out, and even though she considered it a hedge again a time when she might run out of ideas, the things she wrote were less story sparks and more snippets of things that were too short to use elsewhere. Her notebook was scratch paper, writing as stream of consciousness, getting things out of her head and down onto paper. It was a record of where her thoughts had been at various times in her life, rather than a chronicle of places she had been and people she’d met.
So if you’re finding it hard to write today, this sixth day of the December Writing Challenge, which also happens to fall on Sunday, consider pulling out a notebook and just letting your mind flow. Dump it all out. What you think, what you see, what you feel. No, it won’t move your current work in progress forward, but it will give your brain a bit of rest while still getting words down on paper. It all counts. Now go write.