A word comes from French and originally meant a day-to-day record of what you see, hear, do, think, feel. A journal collects your own experiences and thoughts rather than quotations. But, of course, you may combine the two. If you add your own comments to the passages you copy into a commonplace book, you are also keeping a kind of journal.
Many professional writers use journals, and the habit is a good one for anybody interested in writing, even if he or she has no literary ambitions. Journals store perceptions, ideas, emotions, future material for essays or stories.
The Journals of Henry Thoreau are a famous example, as are A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf, the Notebooks of the French novelist Albert Camus, and "A War-time Diary" by the English writer George Orwell.
A journal is not for others to read. So you don't have to worry about niceties of punctuation; you can use abbreviations and symbols like "&." But if a journal is really to help you develop as a writer, you've got to do more than compose trite commonplaces or mechanically list what happens each day. You have to look honestly and freshly at the world around you and at the self within. And that means you have to wrestle with words to tell what you see and what you feel:
July 25, Thursday. . . . Today: clear, flung, pine-chills, orange needles underfoot.
myself am the vessel of tragic experience. muse not enough on the mysteries of ^dipus—I, weary, resolving the best and bringing, out of my sloth, envy and weakness, my own ruins. What do the gods ask? must dress, rise, and send my body out.
But journals do not have to be so extraordinary in their sensibility or introspection. Few people are that perceptive. The essential thing is that a journal captures your experience and feelings. Here is another, different example, also fresh and revealing. The writer, Rockwell Stensrud, kept a as he accompanied an old-time cattle drive staged in 1975 as part of the Bicentennial celebration:
Very strict unspoken rules of cowboy as drunk as you want the night before, but you'd better be able to get up the next morning at 4:30, or you're not living by the code of respectability. Range codes more severe than high-society ideas of manners—and perhaps more necessary out here. What these cowboys respect more than anything is ability to carry one's own weight, to perform, to get the job done well—these are the traditions that make this quest of theirs possible.
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