Observe and Write


At nineteen I acquired my first full time job at the local dog pound. My  day jobs ran the gamut from fielding complaints of little old ladies about dog packages ruining their lawns to, in my last full time work, fielding complaints of engineers and supervisors about my policy team ruining their lives. In the “busy-ness” of life I gave little thought to the teachers and mentors who had fostered my early bent toward creativity.

As a full fledged writer I developed a new appreciation for the subtle suggestions and wise words floating in my head, words that had been planted decades before. Norman Siringer comes to mind. He was my first Creative Writing teacher. I was thirteen.  The sole assignment for his summer school class was to keep a journal, to observe  our daily lives and comment on them. He then said magical words (at least to me) from Socrates: the unexamined life is not worth living.

The words rolled over and over in my mind all week, all month, all summer long. They rolled on through the years too. I had never considered that I could look at my life. I was too busy living it.  But now I was being asked to stop, to observe, to write it down. And I did not stop at the end of the summer or fade out when the school year commenced. I am still writing that journal today.

My journal has carried me through thick and thin. It has been an unpaid therapist, a steady advisor, a sounding board, a standard and truth bearer about what it means to be me. I observe, I analyze and I write. I question not so much out of curiosity but out of the necessity to be true to myself.

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2 Responses to Observe and Write

  1. Kasi says:

    Personally, I get SO BORED with myself, when I actively write in my journal. I find that day-to-day is the same year-after-year and I start to wonder “Is this all there is?”. So, then I stop the day-to-day observations of the mundane life and use my journaling as a form of counceling…when I have something on my mind I need to work through. But, this poses it’s own problems, too. I look back over the journals that are records of moments in my life, and all I find are entries full of anger, hurt, resentment and shame. You can tell when I’ve taken these trips through memory-lane because suddenly I’m complaining about being such a whiner and I start to use my journals as a place to list that which I should be grateful for. At some point, I must start feeling better about myself and my life again, because there will be a gap in my entries. Presumably where I’ve returned to LIVING instead of OBSERVING.

    Then something happens. I get pissed off at someone or hurt by something and the whole cycle starts over again!

    So….now what?

    • Jo Meador says:

      Great writing often comes in the heat of the moment, ideas spill out, observations emerge from the gut, the ego is put aside and truth jumps out uncontrollably. This writing does not make for great reading, which must be shaped and toned for other purposes. From such emotional bursts I have discovered great insights, clear writing and often the kernel of story which resonates through my later, more composed writing. This is good stuff.

      The day to day observation of mundane life is part of the writer’s craft and a skill needed to conjure up details when later needed in building a story. It is most difficult to imagine such precise detail when you are imagining the scope of a large story. There may be a kernel of detail that starts the story which you have burned in your heart, but thousands of other details are necessary to guide the reader with you through story. It is best when these details are seated in concrete images, like the ones from boring old life. Your daily writing will not only capture the physical essence of the detail, but it will also present it in the sea of mood and emotion and sometimes conflict. These little snapshots will feed your story telling mind.

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