The Journal: The Writer’s Compost

The journal is a writer’s compost bin. It’s tucked out back, behind the fence or along the alley where the smell won’t waft into the kitchen and the fruit flies won’t irritate the gardeners. You add to it daily, or at least whenever you’ve got a heaping bucket of scraps (read: baggage) to unload.

Compost works best if you add equal amounts of “green” (grass, veggie bits) and “brown” (leaves). An occasional sprinkle of ash helps. Regular water and air speed up the decomposition, so it’s good to give it a stir. Likewise with the journal, which can be a dumping ground—and worthwhile as such—but with a smallest amount of intention grows fertile. How? By adding a bit of this, a bit of that: dreams, questions, memories, beliefs, secrets, as well as the daily flotsam and jetsam. As soon as you find yourself in a journaling rut, stir it up.

But for the most part you ignore the journal. Just let it cook.

There are two modalities of personal writing. The first I call “horizontal,” that daily generation of material that keeps you in the game. Journaling is horizontal writing, as is blogging and morning pages and any practice that gets words, sloppily but regularly, on the page. Horizontal writing, done over years, develops the writer’s voice, hones the writer’s capacity to listen to the deep currents of emotion and thought within, and strengthens the writer’s ability to heed inspiration.

The second I call “vertical,” writing where you take a single idea and dig deep. With vertical writing, you develop a piece. You revise it. You bring to bear on it craft and skill and time and intention. You complete it. When we practice the literary arts, we engage in vertical writing.

Writers frequently dismiss the journal or are shy about it; they don’t consider journaling to be “real” writing. But it’s all writing. Every gardener worth her salt and every wise farmer knows that caring for the soil is foundational to raising plump veggies or abundant blooms. The journal is a great place for writers to tend their soil. Let’s reclaim it as a vital and worthy tool.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew


Hooray for summer! I hope yours is a good one.  June brings one last Spiritual Memoir drop-in session at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality, June 9 from 1:30-3:30.  Come for a dose of revision inspiration!

Looking Ahead:

Fall 2017: Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.: Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions, Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality. Topics to be determined.

October 2-6, 2017: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.

September 24-28, 2018:  Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.


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