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Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Quality and your journal - how to maintain it.

Controlling the quality of your journal may seem a strange concept. After all, writing it in the first place is supposed to be a freeing experience. You can do what you like on these pages, can’t you?

Well, of course, you can. But some people like to review their journals, checking - weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually – what the writing has achieved. These reviews are optional for some, crucial for others.

For you, wanting to ensure quality may be a central plank in your personal and working style. In Transactional Analysis terms, you are the ‘Be perfect’ journallers. Your motto will be probably be: ‘If I’m going to keep a journal, I’m going to do it well.’

And how will this display itself?
Well, you’ll check your facts and annotate. And you won’t be scribbling on your knee on a bus. You’ll have a designated place for journaling and for keeping your journal. You may also be inclined to give up journaling because your journal doesn’t seem to you to be ‘perfect’.

Take action to avoid this last pitfall by accepting certain general principles:
• Be realistic about how accurate and beautifully presented a journal needs to be.
• Ask yourself whether a spelling mistake matters more than what you’ve written about.
• Tell yourself mistakes are not serious, content is all.
• And review your journaling entries as you do them.

Some people go for the Q&A approach developing a system of personal performance questions to ensure clarity and balance. Your purpose in keeping your journal may be to maintain a record of your feelings, keep an account of the minutiae of your daily life, produce a progress report on your personal development, whatever. And, if you are a perfectionist, you can frame a number of questions to produce what you want from each entry.

If for example your goal for journaling is to produce a progress report on your career, your list of questions may include:

• Has your working day contributed to your progress? In what ways?
• Did you enjoy your day? If not, why not?
• Did you receive a reward for good performance – Money? Praise? Promotion? How do you feel about this?
• Are your relationships good at work? How could you improve the bad ones? Do you want to? What’s good about the good ones? Do you want more of these?
• Have you noticed any areas where you’d like further training? How can you access this? What is the first step? When will you take it?
• How could your employer improve your working life?
• Does the company share your values?

This is a detailed clutch of questions. You may prefer something broader and freer such as:

• Am I any further forward today towards my promotion?
• If not, why not?
• What am I going to do about it?
• If nothing, why nothing?

You may on the other hand prefer ‘free-writing’. At the other end of the quality control continuum is the option of writing without pause for ten minutes each day and checking in at regular periods – weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly - to find out what your sub-conscious contributes to the burning issues of your life. But your favoured quality control measures will always, always depend on your personal style.

©Lizzie Gates 2009

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Other blogs!

For very early blogs, see and my new website-type creative writing blog can be found at . You can also follow me on Twitter: LizzieGates and read my news and blogs on Ecademy, too.

Monday, 19 October 2009

No own goals here!

As the nation gears up to its Christmas sofa-buying frenzy, I thought I and my writing groups – and others – could benefit from a spot of goal setting.
Writing makes our lives meaningful so – in addition to any religious significance Christmas may have – a writing goal set and achieved could be an appropriate anti-dote to the push towards bankruptcy.
So the challenge runs: “What do you want to have achieved by Christmas?”.
What you want to have achieved will vary according to your project. If you’re writing a novel, you could be looking at three chapters. If you’re writing a self-help book, you may want to have worked out a book proposal and/or found a publisher. If you’re hoping to enter a short story competition, that may impose its own deadlines.
Whatever your goal, you can SMARTen it up.
Check it’s specific. Do you have a precise number of words in mind to have written? Will your goal contribute significantly to the overall structure of your project?
Will your achievement be measurable? Three chapters are three chapters. But are you satisfied that you’ve included all the content you needed?
Is your goal achievable? Sometimes enthusiasm makes us less than sensible when judging what we think we can achieve. Do-able chunking is a new(-ish) skill but one worth acquiring. And if Christmas comes and your goal is not achieved, your do-able chunking may require some honing – a resolution for the New Year perhaps.
How realistic is your goal? If the dog’s sick and Granny’s just moved into the spare room and your ‘baby’ son has just gone to big school, is it realistic to expect yourself to have time to sit and write for an hour each day for the next hundred or so days?
And is the time-line good for you? Are you setting yourself up for a fall or would it be worthwhile acknowledging that in 100 days – given the present circumstances – one chapter and a half is probably the most you can hope to commit to paper. That would after all be better than nothing - and potentially 5000 good, useable words towards completion of your overall project.
In case you flounder on the way, it’s also worthwhile checking your motivation is properly in place. What, if any, will be the benefits to you of achieving this goal? We’ve mentioned ‘meaningfulness’. But there’s also solid progress, tangible satisfaction and relief that you can enjoy Christmas without worrying about your sins of omission during its run-up. And, if you don’t achieve your goal, it will still be worthwhile knowing what you’ve learned about goal-setting.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

New Year, new notebook

On January 1st, some people start off the year with a bright new notebook. “This is the year I’m going to write my journal every day,” they think. Then, around January 6th – and, co-incidentally, Epiphany – they find their journaling has ground to a halt. There’s too much to do. They have too little to say. Or so they think.

Here are some tips for this New Year - starting this very day - techniques to get you started and keep you going:
1) The 1-sentence journal. Journal entries don’t have to be literary and can be as detailed or as brief as you like. If you hit a low period, when you might give up, try just a single sentence each day for a week. Longer if necessary. Then see if you can resist the urge to write more.
2) List-making This is a writing form that anyone can manage. Listing cuts to the heart of the matter, changing your thoughts from muddle to order in a matter of moments. At first, your thinking may resemble a flock of sheep on a mountainside – obscured by mist or highlighted by sunshine but with one or other of its members constantly on the move. But, listing is a way of being able to herd thoughts. It’s the starting point of organisation corralling related information under sub-headings. And the nature of lists can range from the practical – such as food journals for dieters – to the metaphysical. On January 1st , for example, in a training needs’ identification exercise, you may list together those qualities and attributes you have away from a little herd of those qualities and attributes you would like to have.
3) Free-writing This will flag up the cause of your difficulties. When you first wake, tap into your sub-conscious and identify the patterns that underlie your thinking by writing non-stop for five minutes. Writing down your dreams has the same function although you may be diverted by a narrative form while you attempt this..
4) A poem a day In times of emotional crisis, writing a poem - in free verse -will take the edge off disabling emotion and help you make sense of it.
5) The first word in your head. Write down the first word in your head and then ask, where next?
6) Dialogues. Use your journal to have imaginary chats with people, work, events, society, dreams, emotions, feelings, body parts, or blockages. This classic journaling technique gives you the opportunity for a conversation good to have but rarely held.
7) Tell stories. Find inspiration for your journalling – from the people in your life, your experiences and overheard conversations. You can write these as a straightforward account or fictionalise them into a story without end as daily or weekly instalments.

As a writer, through journaling, you are practising your craft and will inevitably improve your skills. But, as you see, your journal could also be the counsellor in your pocket – as journalling helps you become someone who knows what’s valuable in your life. At the same time, you’ll be able to cull the valueless. And think much more clearly.