Keeping a Reading Journal

10 11 2012

I don’t use a quill, but it looks awesome – right?

Do I seem like a journal-keeper? I talked about a prayer journal and a blog journal in previous posts. I’m a fan of writing down thoughts so we don’t lose them. That’s the point of a journal.

Last week I talked about keeping a reading journal to help us improve our writing craft. I’d like to delve more deeply into specifics of that today.

If you’re like me, a pile of multicolored, spiral notebooks surrounds your writing space.

  • A blue one has pages of story ideas. Sometimes an idea is just a few sentences, or reads like the blurb on the back cover. Other times, several pages are filled up with the main plot idea and some interesting sub-plots.
  • The yellow one is all about characters and character arc.
  • A black one is filled with notes taken while reading books on writing craft. Completed exercises from the book are scrawled next to all caps announcing catchy acronyms to help organize ideas.
  • The red one has ideas for the blog. Inside, Kristen Lamb’s expert advice from her best-selling books intersperse with personal anecdotes. A quick line sparked while reading someone else’s blog that might expand into a future post.

I pick these up for 10/$1 at Back to School time.

The bones and brains of my current work in progress reside in a purple spiral notebook. I have pages with notes on the characters. Ideas for complications. There’s an origin story for my fantasy universe because world building is essential if I’m going to involve my reader. I have snippets of prophecies, names I think sound unique and even diagrams of the different ambits. When inspiration hits, I pull out the notebook and jot the ideas down. Unfortunately, it isn’t the most organized notebook I’ve ever seen.

Organizing Yourself

Making a writer’s reading journal is a great way to attain inspiration for reading like a writer. If you missed my earlier post on this subject, you can read it here.

  1. Select a notebook. If you’re like me, it will probably be another spiral notebook. Some people prefer loose-leaf notebooks so they can easily move things from section to section so it stays organized. Get what works best with your organizational style (What? You don’t have an organizational style? I’ll address this at a later date).
  2. Divide the notebook into sections. If you’ve got a spiral notebook, I use little sticky notes for tabs to mark the sections. In the loose-leaf notebook, you can purchase the ready-made dividers.
  3. Decide on what broad categories you will use to organize your notes. Maybe you’ll just use the basic elements of literature: Plot, setting, character, symbols, theme, point of view and style. I think these are a pretty good road marker for the notebook. If you have specific things you’re trying to improve, maybe you’d make a section for that. Perhaps you want imagery or description or vivid language or turns of phrase as sections in your notebook. Maybe you’re weak with realistic dialogue, so you might have a section for that.
  4. Start filling it up. Pull out the latest novel you’ve been dying to read. Stack the sticky notes next to you and start reading. When you come across something amazing, put a sticky in and keep reading.
  5. After you finish the book, go back and find your sticky notes. Now you transcribe the interesting passages into the blank pages of the notebook. Leave space after each entry to write your own analysis. You might be able to synthesize the information right at that moment, but you’ll probably have to come back later to complete that chore.
  6. Go back and comment on each passage you copied down. What did you like? How did the author make it work? Try to emulate it in your current work in progress.
  7. You’re a better writer already.

Remember, reading like a writer doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy devouring a book. Relish it. Just use those itty-bitty sticky notes to mark places that were especially amazing so you can learn from them.

Good writers are readers.

Great writers are observant readers.

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