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Packing Heat 117: Journaling Techniques

Packing Heat is a podcast I've been putting out since 2007. My goal is to help other writers stay motivated, and to encourage them to take their writing to the next level. You don't need special gadgets to listen; Packing Heat plays in your browser, like YouTube. Or you can subscribe (and leave me glowing feedback) at iTunes!


Congratulation, Nobilis, on having your story accepted by Circlet Press!

Cool Site

I heard a podcast recently where the CEO of Evernote was interviewed  and decided to give the service a try. It seems really good for making lists of goals and to-dos, and for storing bits of info you find online. It also features a simple text editor, and the interviewer mentions he's writing a whole book in there. Free and multi-platform. The Evernote site.

Journal That

Often, I recommend people "journal about it" when they get stuck in their writing, but lately I realized that the technique I'm using can probably be broken down and explained a bit better than that.

Why Did You Stop Writing?

Unless you've written as long as you can physically keep your eyes open and you're falling asleep, I think the reason most people stop writing is they get to a point where the next thing that happens is unclear, so they need to let their subconscious work on that next step for a while.

Let's break it down even more.

You Don't Know What Happens Next

This is more common for pansters than outliners, but it can still happen to outliners, albeit in a more subtle way. (They usually know what's supposed to happen next, but some detail of that next thing is unclear, enough to stump them.)
In this case, I recommend the "ten things" exercise. Ask yourself, "What are ten things that can happen next?" or "What are ten ways this situation could resolve?" Do try to force yourself to write all ten. Ideas 1-4 are usually pretty sturdy and obvious, 5-7 start getting a bit farfetched, and 8-10 are often golden, because you really have to stretch out of your comfort zone to find them.

If you are only mildly stuck, and you want to take a quick journaling break and get right back to writing, a "three things" variation could work, as in, "What are three ways in which this scene could end?"

The Thing You're Writing About Feels Wrong

Sometimes scenes just feel dead, flat or wrong. I find it's usually because we're worrying about the logistics of the scene and we've lost touch with the emotional lives of the characters, and so their actions are no longer informed by anything that feels genuine.
If your scene feels off-kilter and your characters are uninspired, take a break and write down how every important player in the scene is feeling. What do they want that they're not getting?


Notebook - I use a 5-subject spiral notebook, and I also leave the area where I'm writing and go in a different room to write my journal. Once I've learned whatever it is I need to learn about my scene through my journaling, the notebook itself becomes unimportant, though sometimes I flip through and get a smile out of reading about the way I've worked through old problems.

Scratch Pad - How about a cheapo 99¢ scratch pad next to your computer? Take your hands off the keyboard and write about your writing stall for the space of that little sheet of paper, then toss it once your writing starts flowing again.

Dictation - If you truly hate writing by hand, how about creating a file called "my writing journal" and filling it up with dictation software? I often find when I start verbally telling someone else about a stuck-point in my story, I realized the answer before I even finish stating the problem.

I don't think typing your journaling at a keyboard will work. Ideally, you want different parts of your brain to light up to help you solve the problem, and if you use the same input method you do while you write fiction, it won't happen.

Your Assignment

At least three times in the upcoming week, when you come to a stopping/pause point in your writing session but you'd like to keep going, use one of these journaling methods. At the end of the week, assess your work and see:
-Did you write in flow more often?
-Was your word count higher?
-Did your writing go "deeper" and seem more connected to the story?

Listen to the show, 18 minutes


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 19th, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC)
Excellent tips!
Can't wait until I get a new computer and can listen to the podcast.
Aug. 19th, 2010 09:05 pm (UTC)
Are you getting a computer soon? How exciting. They're so cheap now and you get a lot more for your money.
Aug. 19th, 2010 09:08 pm (UTC)
I hope to, will see when I get back from vacation. I need a new laptop too. *sigh*
The netbook is just too small to get any work done. Drives me nuts only seeing 2-3 lines of text on Google Docs. I can't write that way, I need to see more. And forget about doing the 'other' job that way.
Aug. 20th, 2010 10:11 am (UTC)
I loathe my netbook. I've never been able to type properly on it. It's not the size of the keys, it's the way the areas around the touchpad make the mouse leap up to random places in the document AND ERASE THE TYPING. I'm planning a trip and I think I will just take my laptop.
Aug. 20th, 2010 10:14 am (UTC)
I'd bring my laptop but I killed the keyboard with my pneumonia when I spilled my tea all over it during a coughing fit. And I don't want to lug my laptop and the keyboard I bought for it and my mouse... Hopefully I can replace it soon - for my trip in December ;o)
Aug. 20th, 2010 03:59 am (UTC)
This was quite shockingly apt and useful this week, when I'm trying to finish a story that's stalled more than once! :)

I liked especially the suggestion of moving to another area to do a different task. I'm prone to get sucked into one position, one mood, one project - and then stall and panic. I think a physical break *is* as good as a rest for reinvigorating La Inspiration.

Thanks as always! :)
Aug. 20th, 2010 10:09 am (UTC)
Hopefully you can pick up a little trick that's helpful! I suspect the main reason I change rooms when I journal is because I have a table that's the right height for writing in the other room ;-)
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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