Summer Writing Mini-Workshop: On Journaling and Chapbooking


Lists are a great way to spark creativity. They provide a framework you can fill in with details and make yours.

Metadata matters. Take time to appropriately label your work and categorize it for easier lookup, and go through your flash drive once or twice a year to clean house. Have a corpus file, where you put deleted scenes that don’t work in the work it was intended for but which might work as something else.

Journaling isn’t just about the product but the process. If you focus too much on the product, you’re editing, not writing. 

Keep several notebooks or journals handy—on your nightstand, in your purse, car, etc. Inspiration often comes when you’re unprepared. It’s also easier to keep up with several books rather than trying to remember to always carry the same one around with you. 

Have a theme journal. Joe Brainerd did an “I remember . . . ” theme. I am doing a “That extra moment . . . ” book for my daughter. Other ideas would be “What if?” (my favorite poetry subject), “If only”, and “Because.”

Freewriting is when creativity flows the best, as you are pouring out your subconscious on the page. Sometimes it’s hard to stare at a blank page or computer screen; some websites will give you a prompt to get you started. Some of my best poetry can trace its roots back to a prompt. 

Live to live, not just to record. Never let the magic of the moment be lost because you were too busy writing it all down.

Creating chapbooks for poems and anthologies for short stories help me organize my smaller works into more manageable forms.

Short-term memory holds a thought for about a minute (or less), so keep a scratchpad in every room in the house, in your purse or pocket, next to your work desk, in the glove compartment of your car, etc. Text yourself if you have to. I write over 100 poems a year and could not do this if I didn’t jot something down as soon as it came to me.

When you write from life, you become a data miner. I save emails, newsletters, photos of random things, fliers, quotes, links, obituaries/newspaper clippings, and even job descriptions. This piece, for example, was inspired by some of the event fliers I saw posted on bulletin boards around campus.

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