Journalling to save your life is writing as though it may be your last chance to write anything down ever again, so it needs to have practical use and justify it's existence. In my case, it's heading for one, big autobiography packed with ancedotes, essays, photographs, artwork, inspirational themes and Native American history of the places I've been. Bear in mind that I've already filled and lost many journals over the years - some 400 pages thick. It's been a long time coming and I've had some time to work a lot of this out.
Oh, yeah. This is Tessa. She thinks I'm smart because I use a three-tiered system of writing that begins with scribbles on a scratch pad, more organized writing in a notebook and my best writing in a leather-bound journal.
Step 1: "The Figure Is Already in the Marble... Sleeping" - Michaelangelo
Give your thoughts room to breathe. Leave a space between them so you can note their connections later. Don't worry so much about paragraph structure or making it look like something you'd find in a "real" book. Real books start with a completely different form than what you see on the shelf. It's not time for that, yet.
When the page is full, I look back to see what the main subjects are and what the big deal is about them. Then I choose one subject that dominates or is best and I write it in all capital letters at the top so I end up with at least one, good, usable thought from each page - one that can be easily located and compared with the others.
Step 2: Narrow a Topic, But Remain Open
Let's see, the story took place in Northampton, Massachussets, it was winter, I was about to hitchhike south all the way to New Orleans with nothing but a backpack and a boombox... Hey! That's a much better story. I'll go with that instead. They'll like that. So much for the frozen beer story, for now.
See how this is going? I'm in and out of first and third person and not really caring too much about how it sounds or feels. This is the story talking to me.
Also, now is an opportunity to tighten up your penmanship - for the reader. Don't stress, just take a deep breath once in awhile, slow down and keep it legible. You'll be more inspired to continue your work long-term, as well.
For what I'm trying to do, this much information is enough for me to put it in an outline with a bunch of other places I've been and determine which stories are should be kept for further processing and which should be set aside for some smaller, colorful detail in a bigger story. I don't want to waste a lot of time developing a story that's not going to be used. I'm journalling to save my life, here.
Step 3: How-to Entries
See how I use brackets to isolate subjects and then bracket the accompanying note so they match? I've gone through the previously mentioned 400 page journals and dissected them after they were full by drawing matching shapes around all the subjects in the book in order to find their connections.
Also, You'll notice that my thoughts fit the page. It basically sounds like this: "Blah, blah blah. This happened and this happened and then this one guy said "hootie-hoo!" and that was it. Wasn't that the damnest thing?" And then it ends with room at the bottom for notes later. Consider the amount of space you have and make it work for you.
These pages were written in one take with one pass at corrections. The first paragraph has a direct, challenging claim, each paragraph has worthwhile, interesting information, balanced meter and length and the first two paragraphs support the third by way of comparison. Wow. I'm better than I thought.
Step 4: Chronology
This is what I was talking about earlier when I said I had enough information for me to compare the story to the others and determine if it's worth keeping.
Step 5: Systems Back Online!
You know how to type an outline, right? You're just listing details about subjects in an indented list, like this, except there is no indentation feature in this data field.
Tattoo on forearm: "Send 'Em Back"
Loved to knock everything off the table
When these list items start resembling paragraphs, you're nearing their finished form. What more to say about dear old dad? I'm making all this stuff up and even I can see where this is going. The next entry is going to sum up this little story and prepare it for the next big shuffle of all the subjects. Here's what it would look like:
One day she came home with a "no war" t-shirt on and he did his famous one-armed table sweep of everything on the table, but this time, a bottle hit Aunt Ruby and gave her a concussion. Ruby still has a scar on her forehead that makes him bite his lip whenever she walks by.
What do you think? It can be blown up and used for something. In the mean time, there's much more to do. Cut, print, next.
Step 6: Figure Out How to Use It
At the top of the page I've described what I'm trying to do in order to keep me moving in the right direction.
All that's left is to keep rolling through this thing from end to end, like an assembly line and keep on filling in details and finding creative ways to tie all the characters and events together until you have what you feel is MORE than enough material than you'll need (what's going to make it exquisite is slicing away all but the very best on the way to publishing).
For example, I've noticed a dumpster fire in one end of the journal and a fiery dream at the other and a shady character with a notorious car in the middle - all unrelated - but then it occurred to me that maybe HE was the guy who started the fire and he tried to get away in his CAR but it was so NOTORIOUS that...
But that would be giving it away before it's wrapped, now wouldn't it?
See how that works? Now do that with everything.
Step 7: Read My Follow Up: Advanced Journal to Real Book
BTW The Instructables.com community the reason I'm actualizing this dream of writing my book. Your 16,000 hits on my article, "Urban Survival 101: Mobile Computing on the Fringe" https://www.instructables.com/id/Urban-Survival-101-Mobile-Computing-on-the-Fringe/ and numerous, (mostly) supportive comments have been the approval I needed to drive this stake and I'd like to thank you all.
One more thing. THIS is what I'm talking about when I say journalling to save your life. By scribbling in that notebook I not only got my book started, I also wrote a cool article on Instructables.com about the process itself and it may help others write their books before mine's finished. I'll leave you with a tale about Hippie Bill that you'll read about in the book.
Step 8: And My Movies Are on YouTube for Free Now
Here's "My Big Fat Homeless Berkeley Movie" part 1 of 7 :
And the trailer for "Last of the Big Fat Homeless Berkeley Movies":
Have fun. If everybody wants to send me a dollar, mail it to Johnny Allen Shaw c/o NOSCW PO Box 11406, Berkeley, CA. 94712-2406.