Use Writing to Stoke Your Creative Fires

3 March 2019

You may see no purpose to keeping a journal. The idea of tapping out notes on your phone or speaking into a voice recorder may leave you cold. But hear me out on this. Writing stuff down has a deep purpose.

Painters write. Photographers write. Illustrators write. Designers write. Composers write. Even though their prime creative work might have nothing to do with writing, keeping a journal to hash things out in words means the world to them. Writing is therapeutic.

Okay, you want specifics.

Albert Einstein kept a journal. Charles Darwin. Marie Curie. Thomas Edison. Frida Kahlo. Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks remind us that you don’t have to call yourself a writer to get value from writing things down. (Leonardo was also an advocate of naps.) Keeping notebooks will help you develop your ideas, not just remember them. I’ve written about the value of the handwritten brain dump and of writing by hand. These are habits worth having. And they work best as habits, not onetime whims.

Edward Weston, the photographer you may know for his pictures of nature, kept what he called daybooks. They make for a great read because in them he tells the story behind some of his greatest images.

Weston’s daybooks crack open the fuzzy space between driving around in the desert wondering if you can find a place to get a beer and realizing that you’re in a landscape that you should be photographing right now. Or the moment that you turn to face your passenger and realize that the light on her is perfect. You should pull over and photograph her now.

Weston did.

This meant getting out a big camera, setting it up on a tripod, putting a cloth over his head and getting the right amount of light on a plate. Yes, that kind of camera. That kind of slowness. His subjects had to stay still. When they didn’t, you can see the motion, the life, the moment that image was made.

Writing things down, even random things, opens you up to an inner process. You can watch your own gears turn. You can spy on your feelings as they swim in their primordial soup, before they have names.

You can write to forget, putting events behind you. You can write to remember. Journals deliver patterns so you can see them clearly, and patterns are indispensable for good storytelling in any medium. In journals, visual artists literally connect the dots. Musicians listen. Places remembered become buildings to be designed or scenes to be set.

And I said writing was therapy. If you’re stuck on something, writing by hand can unstick it. Writing every day about what you’re grateful for or what you’ve accomplished will make you less crabby. (I know this from personal experience.)

If you don’t want to write you can record yourself and then transcribe it. (Try an app for this called Otter.ai.) You won’t get the deep effects to be had when you write by hand, but at least you are cataloguing your ideas and reactions to the world.

If you journal, let me know how it’s working for you. If you don’t, give it a try.

Thanks for reading,

Lee


(c) Lee Schneider 2021. Take care of each other. Subscribe.