Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Journaling and Chapbooking


Shutterfly makes incredible gift books—better than the kind you see in stores because they will come from your heart—with the words you’ve written, the pictures you’ve taken. If you’re not much of a photographer (or artist), you might want to become one. Just be patient and have the books ready weeks in advance. These “professional” chapbooks take time; I generally spend several weeks on one.  So far, I’ve done two autobiographical series of poetry, a collection of my Dove chocolate poems, a.k.a. “Sweet Little Nothings,” and a collection of community college stories.

Though there’s something intrinsically beautiful about a handwritten journal, don’t feel like you have to write your journal by hand. (Better to keep a digital journal than no journal.) There are many journaling apps online. Think about it:  Most of us already journal every day, whether it be through Facebook, Instagram, WordPress, et cetera (though hopefully, we’re not posting our deepest, darkest thoughts—that should be between you and your journal, whether on paper or paperless). Journaling just privately removes the filter.

I am a scrapbooking collagist when it comes to journaling—heavy on the photography and layout and light on the writing. I’ve included newspaper clippings, greeting cards, event programs, badges (for example, my college press pass), and a myriad of other elements.  They may not tell a story, but they just might caption one.

In the film, The Secret Scripture, the main character has a Bible in which she keeps her journal, writing in between the lines, the margins, et cetera. You can do this with any book that profoundly affects you—even a recipe book!

I have written hundreds of poems. What helps me keep them organized is separating them into chapbooks.  For example, I have a collection of ekphrastic poetry, 50-words or less, “Modern Proverbs,” et cetera.

Adjacency matters. Typesetting matters. When you put together a poetry chapbook, the order of the poems should have an ebb and flow to them. What’s more, it’s not just about the way the words sound but also the way they look on the page.

Emily Dickinson wrote over 1800 poems. One a day is enough for me. Push yourself, but know your limits.  I know this is mine.

For some, journaling is their stream of consciousness exercise; for me, it’s poetry. Poetry writing is my playtime, short story writing, my work time. Poetry helps me make my writing more concise whereas short stories help me generate ideas for my poems, which make up the bulk of my blog’s content.

Just as an interior designer doesn’t have to know how to sew, a graphic designer doesn’t have to know how to draw. It’s all about having an eye for what works.  Working on the college newspaper helped me with this (see recruitment ad below).  Keeping a minimalist, non-glossy look to your chapbooks looks more professional than a busy, glossy cover (and don’t go crazy with fonts).

Recruitment poster

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