The Journal Newsletter
- Tips & Tricks
- Writing Prompts
- Article: Journaling as a Problem Solving Tool
- Submission Information
This month we have an article by Steve Pavlina, called “Journaling as a Problem Solving Tool”, and we also serve up an extra tip this month, in honor of “National Novel Writing Month” (November). And, of course, Susan serves up another collection of writing exercises.
Thank you for using DavidRM Software’s The Journal!
TIP: Getting Large Icons on the Toolbar
If The Journal’s toolbar icons seem too small to you, you can double their size by doing this:
1. Right-click on the menu bar at the top of The Journal, and choose “Customize…”
2. Bring up the “Options” tab.
3. Check the “Large Icons” option, and click “Close”.
November is “National Novel Writing Month”, aka “NaNoWriMo”. According to the NaNoWriMo Web page:
“National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.
“Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over talent and craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.
“Because of the limited writing window, the ONLY thing that matters in NaNoWriMo is output. It’s all about quantity, not quality. The kamikaze approach forces you to lower your expectations, take risks, and write on the fly.”
NaNoWriMo boils down to this: Write 1500-2000 words a day, every day, during the month of November.
Here’s how you can use The Journal for NaNoWriMo:
1. Create a new category just for NaNoWriMo.
1.c. Choose “Every Day”, and click “Next”.
1.d. Click on “Document Entry”, then “Next”, and finally “Finish”.
2. Every day, beginning 1 November, open up your NaNoWriMo category and just start typing. Don’t stop typing until you have written at least 1500 words.
2.c. If 1500 words a day seems too daunting right off the bat, use this gradually increasing schedule and ease your way into it:
Dates Target Words/Day Nov 1-2 500 Nov 3-5 1000 Nov 6-10 1,500 Nov 11-30 2,000 ===== ===== Total 50,000
3. At the end of the month, you can export the whole category to a rich text file (*.RTF) and see the whole thing at once. You can also (and probably should) re-organize your novel into a loose-leaf category, with chapters and drafts. For some useful tips about how you can do that, check out these past newsletter articles:
How I Use The Journal
by Allen Johnson
(NOTE: Even though Allen’s article refers to The Journal 2.x, it’s still good.)
How I’m Using The Journal To Organize and Write a Non-Fiction Book
by David Michael
Learn more about NaNoWriMo, and sign up here:
by Susan Michael
Free Writing Exercise – Write for 20 minutes in any genre using the phrase, ” The door shut, before I….”. Or, “Three scenes depicting *__________”. (i.e. death, love, karma.)
Poetry Exercise – Write a poem using images of things that are connected, such as “paperclip(s)”, or “trains”.
Prose Exercise – Write a story that uses an animal as an omen of good or bad.
Journaling Exercise – Start an entry that devotes one day to writing about the events that you see happening around you. The next day, record the images that you see, taking particular note of specific items. In the next entry, write about sounds and aromas and colors, textures in a more abstract manner.
Memoir Prompt – Write about the things that you enjoy most and are most passionate about. Do you feel that you devote enough time to each?
About the author: Susan Michael currently facilitates the Tulsa Writers Cafe for the Arts & Humanities Council in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ms. Michael has also led writing & creativity workshops for children, teenagers, and adults.
JOURNALING AS A PROBLEM SOLVING TOOL
By Steve Pavlina
One the most powerful personal development tools is simply to keep a personal journal.
I’ve been keeping paper journals since 1996, and two years ago I converted to journaling software, which I find much faster and more convenient. The program I use is called The Journal. I just bought a second copy of the program for my wife to use, since she’s getting into journaling herself. Although you can certainly keep a journal on your computer with just a word processor, what I like about this dedicated journaling software is that it has a built-in calendar to make it easy to instantly view entries by date, and you can also search past entries for specific keywords.
What do I do with my journal? Although many people use journals or diaries to keep a record of life events, I don’t normally bother with such entries, and I rarely even go back and read past entries. For me it’s primarily a problem solving tool, a way to think through complex decisions until I reach the point of clarity. I average about 5-10 journal entries a month, and I usually begin a new entry by typing a question or a problem I want to solve. Then I proceed to explore the possible solution space of the problem.
Sometimes the problems may be very simple, such as “What topic should I select for my next speech (or article)?” But other times I explore much broader subjects, like “Where do I want to be in 2010, and what do I need to start/stop doing now in order to get there?” Sometimes I’ll just brainstorm possible solutions, while other times I’ll write about a problem from different angles to understand it more fully. For example, I might ask myself, “How would Albert Einstein solve this problem? Leonardo da Vinci? Jim Carey? Captain Picard?” Or I might ask, “What’s good about this problem? How might I avoid even needing to solve this problem? What would the optimal solution to this problem have to look like?”
I find these kinds of exercises very valuable. When I try to solve a problem in my thoughts alone by thinking it through, I often meet success with simple problems, but thinking things through often fails to solve more complicated problems. Either I won’t find a satisfactory solution at all, or I won’t understand the problem well enough to feel good about the solutions I do find, or sometimes I’ll find a solution that I feel good about, but after I’ve slept on it and looked at it fresh the next day, it doesn’t seem quite so intelligent anymore.
So instead of thinking things through in my head, I tackle those big, hairy problems by writing them through. Thinking can often become circular, and our brains have a tendency to overgeneralize; i.e. we’re always looking to simplify things by classifying them according to patterns. However, sometimes it’s important to consider the raw facts of a problem without trying to pre-maturely pattern-match it to a previous problem we’ve already solved. For example, if you run your own business and experience a temporary sales drop, which happens to be a problem you experienced and overcame once before, you may still need to consider the possibility that this sales drop has a unique cause and cannot be overcome by re-applying the previous solution.
By exploring problems on paper, I avoid circular thinking, and it’s also easier to identify gaps in the possible solution space that have yet to be considered. Once I’ve written about a problem from a particular angle, I can put that part to rest and move on to exploring the next part, and the written record makes it easy to consider the problem from a sufficient number of different perspectives to leave me feeling confident that I understand it fully enough to make an intelligent decision. So essentially, journaling allows me to overcome some of my brain’s functional limitations, effectively expanding the mental working memory that’s available for solving problems.
Some problems are by their very nature just too big to fully understand in our thoughts alone. We can only focus our conscious minds directly on a small part of any given problem. Our brains are fairly powerful, but our conscious minds are still extremely limited in their ability to hold onto multiple simultaneous thoughts. For example, you can close your eyes and visualize an apple tree, but can you visualize that tree from one hundred different angles all at the same time and thereby select the one with the most apples visible? Even a question as simple as, “What should I have for dinner?” is enough to run us up against our mental limits. To truly make the best possible decision, we would have to consider all possible dinners we might eat, prioritizing their taste, texture, nutritional value, cost, convenience, etc. Now for a relatively simple decision like this, we might consider a mere three or four options and then pick the one that seems best to us in the moment. But what if we’re faced with a much more significant decision with far-reaching consequences, where it’s much more important to feel confident that our choice is at least close to optimal?
Life is full of these kinds of choices. What career should I choose? Where should I live? Should I get a divorce or remain in an unhappy marriage? These are all major life-changing decisions. You can certainly choose to make them haphazardly and without careful consideration, but you’ll be the one who has to live with the consequences. If you fail to put forth the effort to apply the full extent of your intellect to making the best possible choices when the stakes are so high, then what does that say about the value you place on your own life?
While even journaling can’t overcome the major limitations of our conscious minds to systematically consider solution spaces with millions of possibilities, writing things through is at least a step in the right direction. We still have to delegate a major part of our decision-making to our subconscious minds, to our intuition, and to our emotions. But the more of this process we can pull into our conscious minds (by using either paper or a computer screen as an extension of our consciousness), the more clarity and focus we gain in knowing that our decisions are the right ones. And in the long run, after years of exercising the mental discipline to make more conscious decisions, we reap the harvest of far greater results.
If you would like to contribute to the “How I Use The Journal”, “Writing Exercises”, or “Tips & Tricks” sections, or would like to submit an article about journaling, writing, or another The Journal-related topic, we would love to hear from you.
Submissions for the newsletter should be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are submitting for a particular section, please indicate which one. Try to limit your submissions to 500-1000 words. Submissions may be edited for length and content.
If you prefer to remain anonymous, please state this in the email. Otherwise your name (but not your email) will be used in the article heading.
As always, if you have any suggestions for, or bug reports about, The Journal, please feel free to email them. Both are always welcome.