From Journal Writing To Drafting

Journal writing is an essential part of my own composing process. In fact, most of the articles, chapters, and books that I write in my publish-or-perish life as a college professor start out as ideas discovered and explored in my journal. I even keep a separate journal when, during summers, I travel around the country on my motorcycle, and even this journal has led me to writing articles. Here, for instance, is a note from my nonaca-demic travel journal kept while attending a one-day motorcycle riding school in New Hampshire:

3:40 last riding session just over—I came in two laps early—very much afraid of my own tiredness at this time of day—several people had just passed me, the FZR and a K75—tempting me to overreach and pass them back. But I've I really learned to trust my tires, maybe more than myself— especially coming out of the hairpin (turn 3) and entering the bowl (turn 4).

This entry is typical of my fast road writing, with little attention to the formalities of language, but much to the details and insights that I can record in a few minutes. Remember, it's seldom the journal, as it is written at the time, that will be published, but more likely the careful thoughts it inspires.

I so enjoyed my day at the New Hampshire track that I wrote an article about it for a motorcycle magazine that published rider stories. In "Trusting My Tires, Trusting Myself" (BMW Owners News, April, 1994) here's a passage that reveals what became of the hasty journal entry:

Twice in the afternoon I leave the track a few minutes early, so tired I scare myself, aware now among Stirling Moss fantasies, the draining concentration it takes to drive for even thirty minutes with total, absolute, one hundred percent attention—anything less and you're off the track, into the barricades, into the grandstand wall, embarrassed or maybe dead.

The only things left from the original journal entry are the time of day, the references to leaving the track early, and the seed of my final title. These details helped make my story, but when I recorded them in the journal, I didn't know that.

This entry also helped in another, more abstract way, by reminding me of what I knew but had not recorded. In other words, long after the event, the journal prompts your long-term memory to produce further thoughts and insights.

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