We got to church a few minutes early for a change and sat in an empty pew and got settled. Sister Whittaker came and sat in front of us. She’s the real nervous type and I was worried our family would disturb her during the meeting. No sooner had I told the kids they would need to sit still and be especially reverent, when Tristan went tumbling along the bench doing forward rolls at breakneck speed.
“Tristan,” I quickly warned, “Stop, before you hit…” It was too late. His skinny little legs, clad with oversized cowboy boots, came up and whacked Sister Whittaker right on the side of her head, which kind of snapped to the side. I was completely mortified!
“Oh my! Sister Whittaker! Are you okay? I am so sorry!” She just sat there a bit stunned, staring with wide eyes like a deer caught in headlights. “Sister Whittaker?” I wondered if she had a concussion. I scooped up the kids, diaper bag, activity books, Cheerios, and all other paraphernalia and slinked to the back of the chapel. I prayed she came to her senses before the meeting started. Maybe by the time she regained consciousness she wouldn’t know who or what hit her.
And so was my journal entry back in December of 1989.
As authors we sometimes experience what Sister Whittaker did (hopefully not because we got whacked up the side of the head by some little hellion in clunky boots); we sit staring at a blank document, wide-eyed like a deer caught in headlights. How in the world should I start this chapter? What in the world should I write next? And we wait to come to our senses. But if we had been keeping a journal, we would have a rich treasure trove of ideas and experiences to use as spring boards into writing creatively and compellingly.
People love stories, and they love seeing how someone (you, the author) faced a challenge and overcame it or succeeded at something or how your situation applies to their own lives. Listen, you probably have a hard time remembering what you had for breakfast yesterday, let alone a week ago, month ago, or year ago. And you won’t remember every cute or clever thing your child said, or the wisdom gleaned from an astute stranger on the bus, or any number of significant moments. Keeping a journal not only can help in your personal growth as you reflect back on your life, it also provides anecdotal material to breathe life and personality into your non-fiction book or even a novel. Your characters need to be authentic, not flat, and what better way to round them out than with real-life drama or humor that you experienced in your own life?
Another journal entry:
One night this month hubby was working and my parents and aunt went out on the town, leaving me at home by myself to take care of Grammy (who has Alzheimer’s) and the five kids. Tristan (age 6) and Summer (age 4) put their money together a few weeks ago to buy a pair of toy handcuffs, which soon broke, leaving only the plastic key. So Summer comes into the kitchen crying really hard, pointing to her nose. There was the hand-cuff key protruding from one of her nostrils. I tried to gently remove it, but it was stuck fast. No matter which direction I tugged, the key would not come out. So, I started crying, which made Summer wail all the louder. I didn’t know what else to do, so I called 911 and explained that my little girl had a key stuck upon her nose. Maybe I should have called a locksmith instead. A few minutes later Summer started laughing through her tears, holding the key in her hand. I asked her how she got it out. “I don’t know Mommy. I just turned the key and my nose opened.” I called the paramedics and told them they didn’t need to come.
So let’s see; how could I use those entries in a book? They can be horror stories for parents, how to develop a fine reputation at church, lessons on why you shouldn’t put objects in bodily orifices, the list could go on. And I did put those stories and more in my book Mormonism, the Matrix, and Me, a book that would have been flat and dry without all the experiences and events I had recorded in my journals over the years. It turned out that the life I would have remembered as rather ordinary was in reality one of extraordinary adventure, and I’m thankful to have my journals to remind me.
So I encourage you; if you haven’t started keeping a journal, do it now—today! It’s a tool you need in your author’s toolkit. And if you’re ready to create journals for others, grab your spot in The Book Ninja Academy and get instant access to 3 complete Journal Design courses! Happy writing!