Author Amy Tan gave a lecture in Seattle last week; I sat in a nearly sold-out auditorium to hear her talk about her writing process and who she is as a writer.
I didn’t know whether to feel reassured or discouraged when she said, “I revise constantly—usually 100 times,” and “I’ve never written a novel I consider to be finished.”
Tan spoke my mind with, “What I observe becomes what I’m writing, and what I’m writing influences what I observe,” and “I write to understand who I am.”
I especially appreciated the response she gave to a teacher’s question about what advice she would give to young readers.
“Read, read, read,” Tam said. “And keep a journal.” Tan spoke about the value of making notes about your thoughts, your observations, dreams, and memories. “In fact,” she went on, “make someone buy you a really nice journal.”
I did a mental pump fist with that last recommendation. I had been putting the final touches on a limited edition set of hand-bound writing journals for a show at Chimera Gallery, and I was hoping that people would find them inspiring. They’re really nice journals.
Even more than hearing Tan’s support of journals like those that I make, I appreciated her acknowledgment of the act of putting pen to paper. Although I do most of my composing, revising, and editing on a computer (and frankly wouldn’t want to have to give up this invention), I appreciate the benefits of writing longhand in a blank journal.
Long before people had computers, journaling was a part of Quaker practice. In 1972, Howard Brinton published Quaker Journals following his study of the 300 journals in his own library. He found they all had several things in common: simplicity and truth in writing; personal experiences, experiences in early childhood, and dreams were only written about if the writer believed they had religious significance; humility. He also found they recorded similar stages of development: divine revelations in childhood, then a period of youthful playfulness (usually looked back upon as a waste of time), an experience of a divided self, and finally following the leadings of the Light.
Mary Morrison, a writer and former Pendle Hill teacher, has this to say about journaling in Live the Questions: Write into the Answers: “A journal is an instrument of awareness, through which we can watch what we do so we can find out who we are.” Amy Tan would agree.
And from Ann Broyles in Journaling – A Spiritual Journey: “Journaling becomes spiritual discipline when we use pen and paper to strengthen our faith in God. We can use journaling as a companion to prayer, Bible study, fasting, or any other spiritual discipline that is already part of our life in God. Journaling can be a significant tool in deepening our spiritual lives because by its nature it leads us to further revelation of who we are and who God is in our lives.”
How about you? Is journaling part of your writing and/or spiritual practice?
Do you have a really good journal?