Monday, November 12, 2012

Middle-grade Marissa's Writing Tips

Marissa's Top Secret Journals
My very first Diary
I’m learning not to hate my overcrowded inbox, and my favorite e-mails are from middle-grade readers.  I thrill when they tell me they loved visiting the Land of Story, but hearing that they are working on their own writing projects is even more delightful.  Often, they’ll ask me for writing advice.  My complicated and completely original tips are: 1. READ as much as you can and as widely as you can and 2. WRITE whenever you can and about whatever you can.

When they ask me about my early writing attempts, I like to tell them about my journals.  At school visits, I’ll sometimes even allow them a peek at my very first diary.  Just a peek, however, because as you can see from the photo, there is a Stern Warning for unsuspecting readers.  (In case you can't see the text, it reads: "If you have managed to find and unlock this, I prefer you do not read this until I give permission or I am dead. If you do read this, please do not tell a soul about anything recorded here.  Thank you."  Now don't you wonder just what juicy secrets happened in my 4th grade classroom?)  I’ve found journals to be an outstanding and relatively low-pressure way to develop my writing, with the added bonus that you have a completely biased (and often hilarious) record of past events.

I think of this whenever I re-read my well-loved collection of L.M. Montgomery’s journals.  You rediscover her familiar sharp wit and keen insight into humanity on the pages of her journals, yet she’s also preserved a fascinating historical account of everyday life in turn of the century Canada.  I’m not suggesting my pink teddy-bear diary would provide the same to future readers, but it’s of priceless worth to me and my family.  Long forgotten memories burst forth in full color when I see my childish scrawl and remember the accompanying emotions. 

Recreating real-life scenes on a blank page is a useful exercise for writers.  Challenging oneself to get the setting of the classroom exactly right and then recreate the emotion of The Most Embarrassing Moment can inspire good writing when the plot-well has run dry or the idea of writing a full story seems impossible.  Recording overheard conversations can aid in developing an ear for dialogue, and a scathing description of the Mean Girl in P.E. class can sharpen character-development skills. 

Of course, this translates to adult writers as well, and I continue to take great delight in picking out a New Journal once I’ve closed the pages of another volume.  My favorite thing these days is to get a blank sketchbook, and fill its pages with written words and inspiring photos and even a sketch or two.  Have I convinced you yet?  Whatever your age, I declare in my completely biased opinion that a journal is an essential tool for the writer, so head on out to your local bookstore and have fun picking one out. Just make sure to get a lock.  Or make sure no one can find them without your permission or until you are dead.

What do you think, Readers of Mayhem?  To journal or not to journal?  Even better, tell us what your favorite (or first!) journal looks like, and, if you dare, what precautions you’ve taken to make sure its privacy is secured. 


  1. I think my first journal had a lock and key as well!

    I journaled assiduously for many years, but the onset of blogging has done away with my journal practice. I still crack it open when I have bursts of emotion which I don't want to share for public consumption.

    As for what my journal looks like, I am partial to ones with quotations printed in them. Oftentimes the quotation will set my mind spinning and fun things are written.

  2. I'm going to re-read LM Montgomery's journals next year and am so looking forward to it! I prefer my journals unlined, but they're not always easy to find.

  3. Oh, I totally write in a diary! I adore picking out new journals every time, too. And looking back over past diaries, it's always fascinating to see what younger me found particularly important back then.

  4. I have never been a journal writer, although when my children were infants and toddlers, I kept a scrapbook account of their lives. My girls (now ages 12 and 15)still read through them today.

  5. I never journaled much, but I did write other things. Sadly, I have none of them still.

  6. I'm Canadian and was smiling to see you mention it.
    I've never read L.M. Montgomery's journals, but am intrigued. Is this the same Montgomery that wrote "Pat of Silverbush" and "Magic for Marigold" ? I loved those books as a kid.

    I'm late to the writing world I'm afraid. Lots and lots to learn. I know I ought to journal...but there's something about journalling that scares me. I can't stand being alone with my thoughts (depressing? dwelling? worrying?). I know I "should". Maybe a resolve for the New Year!

    Good post.


  7. My journal is in a sketchbook (no lines) and doodle and past in all kinds of interesting writing-related stuff, as well as writing about my day and my writing ideas. I don't work in it every day, but on the days that I do, I feel a tiny bit of accomplishment from the thinking that I do to fill that writing space.

  8. I am so not a journal girl! I can barely write a grocery list, let alone keep track of my daily thoughts! ;) I have such great respect for those who do and I think it's a great exercise in getting to know yourself, not to mention writing great 1st person characters (i.e. YOU!).

    Great Post, Marissa! :)

  9. JILL - yes! That LM Montgomery. We are big PEI fans over here. :)

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!