Keeping a journal

I’m doing a MOOC at the moment… this means I’m taking part on a massive open on-line course – there are thousands of them., literally in every subject you can think of and some you could never imagine; the one I’m doing is about writing fiction – I thought I needed a refresher, thinking perhaps I’ve become a little stale.

The course is for people who have just started writing, or maybe who haven’t started yet but want to. This isn’t me, but I do want to go back to the beginning and rethink how I do things. It’s the second week now, but one of the things which was emphasised in week 1 was keeping a journal – place to jot notes,make observations, do little bits of writing as you think of it and use it actively to help writing.

I have to confess, I’m hopeless at keeping a journal, I really am… For practical reasons as well as feeble excuses – the practical reason is my handwriting is so terrible, that unless I print, it’s illegible to me as well as anyone else. But I will try – belatedly for the course as we’re into week two, I will try.

The first exercise to go in the journal was observation – the idea being that you carry your notebook around with you and scribble in it things you notice or observe, thoughts, ideas, etc. I tend to do that here, I write here every day and often I’ll explore things which have inspired me, ideas for new stories, observations, memories… If I see something which catches my attention I become absorbed in looking at it, or watching, sucking in the details, making a little mental snapshot – writing as I observe is a distraction, and I become less focused on what I’m seeing and more focused on what I’m writing.

But to the journal… we were given a short video which we had to make notes on – jot down our observations; this is what I wrote:

  • boy reading intently
  • girl anxiously waiting
  • girl at bus stop looking away
  • another with a sleeping bag
  • is the looking away girl watching the other?
  • boy in…? (can’t read what I’ve written)
  • another girl observing tutorial, making notes
  • (students?) are having tutorials in a café
  • girl being criticised (her work by a tutor) and upset
  • watching girl finishes making notes

This a rough transcription, because honestly, I cannot actually make out or understand some of what I’ve written.

I can’t remember the boy who is reading, the anxious girl or the other boy in the undecipherable note. I do however, have my clear mental snapshots of the two girls at the bus stop, one with the sleeping bag, the other who keeps glancing up and down the road, as if looking for the bus to arrive girl; the girl in the café making notes in a very smart and interesting looking journal, with very neat and attractive handwriting; the girl who is having a tutorial (although I only have a vague impression of the female (?) tutor, maybe with blond hair) – she is listening but seems to me to be holding back feelings of upset and disappointment, trying to be brave as what she had worked so hard at was being pulled to pieces; the watching girl finishing her notes, closing her journal, and placing her keys on top of it as if ready to depart.

Has the exercise helped me with observation? I’m not sure – maybe I don’t need to make notes at the time, but properly write up (not hand write up!) my thoughts as soon after the observation as possible.

A useful exercise!

Here’s a link to the course – we’re on the third out of eight weeks so it’s not too late to join!

… and here is a link to my books:



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