In my last post, I made an reference to journaling. In this particular case, the journaling was keeping a diary of my medical situation, and it kind of evolved from there. However, you will hear from a lot of writers that at one point or another they kept some form of writing journal - a formal notebook for poems, a diary, or just some loose pages that would accumulate over time. These all count in that they are devices that the writer used on a fairly regular basis. And they all build us up as writers, whether we know it or not.
Of course, our teacher didn't want to reveal all her secrets at once, but it would've helped me to know that once I got into the habit of regularly writing in a journal, not only would it become easier but it would help me develop my thoughts and my ability to convert things in my brain to words on the paper. At the time, I didn't fully understand that as I wrote, I thought about things. As I thought, I processed ideas. As those ideas became more elaborate, I needed some good tools to properly express them, and that's what this process was all about.
A simple statement - from our first written words, we are writers. However, most of us start out with simple sentences. "I like my cat," "Today was a good day," "I am looking forward to vacation," and so forth. These are informative but not particularly enlightening. However, as we write about how we like our cat, we acknowledge that this is a complex feeling and start expanding on it. "I like my cat because he stays with me even when everyone else is mad at me." At this point, some thoughts are starting to couple together, and we get used to things like explanation and expansion. And, as we read these, we start asking ourselves questions about just why a situation is that way. Then our writing starts growing on its own.
One other reason that journaling is great that Ms. Lester would never dare tell us is that it is private. Needless to say, the journal I kept in school wasn't very private because my teacher read it every weekend, so certain things would never be put on that page. However, I did recognize that I could communicate deeper thoughts in my writing that I would dare not tell my goofball friends, my family, my girlfriend, or even my cat. Once I was journaling for my sake and not for my teacher's assignment, I realized I could put some intense thoughts on that page and it was totally safe. And as those intense thoughts came out, I processed them, picked them apart, and really explored their meaning. This is a mandatory part of being a writer - the ability to ask yourself scary questions and feel comfortable with whatever truth leaps into your mind.
Journaling isn't that difficult of a habit and I recommend it to all writers as a regular practice. I recommend just getting a little loose leaf notebook and just start filling the pages. And don't worry - Ms. Lester will never see what you write.