Back when back to school sales started, I came across a 2 pack of notebooks — one spiral bound and one small — at a ridiculous sale price. You may have seen the photo on twitter bragging about my find. They feature beautiful watercolor covers that I just adore.
That was maybe a month ago. They came wrapped in protective cellophane, and I’ve left them safely protected, unsure what I intended to do with them. Until today.
I set aside the spiral bound notebook. It didn’t have the feeling I was looking for. The little one, with its silvery spine, was calling to me. Beckoning me to fill it’s pages with my words.
I didn’t need another notebook for Once Upon a Time in Iowa. I already have that spread out across four of them, and one is a five subject one.
I miss English class
I loved writing for English class, and my professor loved having us write. We wrote about paintings and music and life. We even had lunch at a local hot spot and wrote about our experience there. The place was called The Raven and was set up like a book lovers wet dream.
And then, there was the journal entries. Oh how I loved the journal entries. She didn’t require that we write in them daily. Just a set number of times per week. I believe it was four. It didn’t matter to me. I filled that thing religiously.
We’re not talking Dear Diary. She wasn’t interested in our daily lives. She wanted more from us. What she wanted was observation. She wanted us to stretch our descriptive muscles.
She wanted entries that spoke about the weather. Don’t tell her it was sunny. Describe it.
The bright sun hangs high in the sky. Its light reflects off the buildings below, blinding the passers by who dare to glance their way. The brightness of the day gives the deception of warmth. The bitterness of the cold air slaps you in the face as you step out the door. It’s no surprise when the blue skies suddenly begin to vomit sleet on the world below. Everything is quickly covered by an icy sheen and the deception of warmth is soon washed away.
She encouraged us to people watch and write about what we saw. Describe their look, their mannerisms, their habits, and their style. Write about their actions and give them a story.
She didn’t care if you wrote about that piece of fruit sitting in the bowl on your counter as long as your words made it so that she, too, could see the fruit.
It begins with a single entry
I was sipping my coffee and playing Roller Coaster Tycoon on my phone. We’ve got the flu over here at our house, and I wasn’t really feeling up to doing much. I’d made my rounds on twitter, and was pretty much out of money (again) on my game. My eye kept drifting to the window.
It was still dark, which just didn’t seem right as sunrise had been hours beforehand. The streetlight was still lit. It doesn’t have a set time, but rather lights itself whenever it’s dusky and shuts off whenever the sky has brightened enough.
The sun was struggling to push through the swollen clouds and cast any light on the gray skies. The clouds were holding tightly to their loads, barely allowing the tiniest of leaks in the form of occasional light drizzles.
Still it remained dark, and my table side lamp continued to burn away money while the sun struggled to make its appearance. Suddenly the skies brightened, and I switched off the lamp. Minutes later the clouds let go of their heavy burdens as if the sun had burst through them.
The initial rainfall sounded like a waterfall cascading on the roof. As it slowed, the drops went tap, tap, tap, splatter on the windows. It created a beautiful melody.
Inspiration struck me
I suddenly knew just what I wanted to do. I wanted to capture those moments. Inspired by the sun that struggled its way through the clouds I pushed through my foggy flu brain and grabbed my new journal.
My quick little entry took up only the front and back of a single page. It’s probably not terribly different from the description of the sun’s rough start that I gave you above. But, it’s there, and I’ve stretched my descriptive writing muscles and started myself a new writing journal with a new plan for writing meant to strengthen and hone my skills.
Passing it along to you
I felt better after writing my little journal entry. Like I’d worked a muscle I hadn’t used in years. Of course, this isn’t entirely true. I write descriptive prose all of the time.
Then it hit me. It was the journaling I hadn’t done in years. The sitting down and writing in the moment about the moment. This feeling better in spite of feeling like utter crap from the flu is what brought me here to you. I wanted to share this writing advice inspired by my favorite English professor’s unique lesson plan.