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Following My Own Advice

Red journal with penI managed to let the entire month of October slip by without a regular ‘From the Journals’ post, so I decided this past weekend that it was again time to scan the pages of my past and see if I stumbled across anything interesting.

It seems that over a four-day period in 2005, sprinkled between more traditional entries, I penned seven “Writer’s Rules”. Reviewing them almost a decade later I found myself asking an interesting question: have I been following my own advice?

I’ll answer that question in a moment, but first, here are the rules which, upon review, still hold up:

Writer’s Rule #1: If your pen doesn’t flow easily over the page, or feel comfortable in your hand… replace it.
Writer’s Rule #2: Always write down your ideas, no matter how odd they sound. And place them somewhere you can easily access them… like an idea box.
Writer’s Rule #3: You have power over words and your words have power over others. With power, there is responsibility. Always remember that.
Writer’s Rule #4: You’ll never be a brilliant writer unless you allow yourself to be an awful one.
Writer’s Rule #5: You should tell your readers enough, but you don’t have to tell them everything. Sometimes it’s important to let them figure things out.
Writer’s Rule #6: Worrying about what others will think of your story will paralyze you. At first, think only of your need to tell the story.
Writer’s Rule #7: Some people need a special writing place. Some people need a special writing time. But you may need neither or both. Experiment, and find what works for you.

I have no idea why I decided to scribble these back in 2005, though I’m pretty sure I never thought I’d be re-reading them eight years later and assessing whether or not I had indeed followed my own advice. It’s interesting to do that though, and upon reflection I’d have to say the answer is ‘for the most part.’

Over the years I’ve become even more particular about the pens and paper I use, and in the space of time it takes to write a single line can sense whether I need to switch pens. I’ve not only used idea boxes, I’ve also written about them. I’ve written a lot of stuff –– journal entries, attempts at fiction, dialogue –– that definitely belong in the awful category. I’ve experimented with writing times and writing places, ultimately coming to terms with the fact that because of the many demands on my time, I need to be able to write anywhere and at any time of day. And I’ve never ever forgotten that words have power.

Which brings me to the most important revelation from this whole unintended Sunday afternoon review.

Words do have power. But that power isn’t just over the people who read them; it’s also over the people who write them.

Writing, especially the kind of writing that takes place in a journal, can help us work through things we don’t understand. It can help us see through a different lens and from a new perspective. It can offer feelings of pain a place to reside outside ourselves. It can capture moments of joy so they’re never lost. It can give shape and form to our dreams, maybe not immediately, but perhaps over time.

And apparently it can provide advice that, almost a decade later, is still so very valuable.