“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from the emotion RECOLLECTED in tranquility.”
William Wordsworth, Lyrical Ballads
Reflections Log: A place to experiment with your craft.
I was introduced to Reflections Logs by one of my English Literature professors. What I’m sharing with you today is a version of what she taught me with a few adjustments.
Writing isn’t an occupation you do in one moment. Every time you sit down to write you change one small perspective of how you arrange words. The trick is to become aware of how your writing approach changes. Awareness will allow you to bolster your growth and become a better writer for your audience.
Not everything you write is publishable, as you may have noticed if you’ve ever had a story workshopped – and I highly recommend it.
Having a group of people read and critique your work aloud and in front of you brings much needed insight to how your reader perceives your story.
It will be painful the first few times to hear someone say that she thought your main character was an alien or that he assumed the neighbor’s dog had washed away in the storm and you think to yourself, “Where in the world did you get that!” But, take a deep breath. These assessments will sharpen your ability to hear your own words.
That’s why Reflections Logs are ideal. You don’t have to be perfect.
The goal of a Reflections Log is to get you, the writer, to engage in the writing process and come up with an honest self-assessment of where you are as a writer without fear of what others may say or think. It gets you into a mindset where you’re willing to experiment and make mistakes so that you can go back into the public arena and say, “Let’s keep going. I’m not done yet.”
1. Organization Keep it simple. I like to begin each entry with the date and maybe a brief summary of where I left off in the last entry (only one or two sentences).
Because I intern for a local museum, I’ve gotten into the habit of recording everything, including the time. Lately, I’ve been varying the when of my writing routine. Having my Reflections Logs with a time stamp is a great way for me to see how my stamina is progressing and what time of the day I am at my best.
The format of my entries looks something like this:
August 25, 2013 4:09 p.m. I’m writing. I’m writing and then I end. 4:10 p.m.
After you have your heading and basic structure setup, start reflecting. Here are the three questions I use: What parts of my writing worked well? What sections could use improvement? What can I do differently tomorrow to make my writing better?
I like to establish my questions and sometimes bold them at the beginning of the entry after the summary.
The third question – “What can I do differently tomorrow to make my writing better?” – is the most important. It’s the part where you get to come up with fun experimenty strategies to hone your craft.
Consider writing about how to improve the amount of time you write. One strategy could be using a timer.
First record and establish the ground rules of your experiment in an entry by answering questions like how long are you setting the timer for (30 minutes? 1 hour?), how many times in the day are you going to use the timer method, and for how many days.
Then write an entry assessing how it went. Did you enjoy the structure of having a timer? Did your page count increase or decrease with each day you used the timer? Did the clarity of your sentences increase, decrease, or stay the same? Would you use a timer in the future?
2. Personal Philosophy Take time in your reflections to make definitions, especially for beginning writers. There are many ways to approach your writing, but it is ultimately up to the individual writer to define what works best for him.
Some topics include:
Writing the first draft from scratch vs. using a well-researched outline
Writing at night or in the morning
Do you prefer typing or handwriting your work? Follow-up this question with what’s your favorite writing implement: pencil, ball point pen or quill pen and ink stand
Sitting at a desk or walking around the room
A Reflections Log is also a great place to record your short term and long term writing goals. What’s your writing schedule for next week? What do you hope to accomplish by next year?
3. What’s the Question? As we learned in high school English, always remember the prompt! In the case of a Reflections Log, the questions you make up are your entry’s prompt. Go back and re-read what you’ve asked yourself at the beginning of your entry at different points in your reflection time.
At the same time, don’t get discouraged if you have a lot of tangents in your early entries. Tangents in informal writing are healthy, and you will see a lot of them as you get used to reflecting. Embrace them, but don’t let them control your writing. You never know what definitions and strategies you may come up with in a tangent that you can add to your magic bag of tricks for when writing gets tough (and it will).
4. It’s Time! Make time in your writing schedule to reflect back on what you’ve done for the day. Even if it’s for ten minutes, reflecting on your daily writing can help you be cognizant of your own development and keep you moving toward your writing goals.
5. Where was I? Writing is solitary work and sometimes we writers lose perspective on how far we’ve come. Think of this regression like your opening a letter you wrote to yourself when you were a child. -My how you’ve changed. – Think about how you’ve grown in your writing, and compare where you are now to the struggles you faced in an entry a month ago, six months ago. Were you able to master point of view? How’d you do it? Is it still a topic you struggle with? Maybe it’s time to network to the writing community. Don’t forget to record what you’ve learned for future use.
Play around with it and see what new writing strategies you can discover.
Feel free to leave a comment below on how you take time to reflect on your journey as a writer.