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Excerpt from Chapter 2: Speed Journaling

This is an excerpt from the bestselling book, Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!) by Dave Fox.You can order autographed copies on this website or download it for Kindle.


 

…When you’re off on a big adventure, you want to be out having that adventure, not sitting around for hours with your nose in your notebook. Even the most dedicated travel journalers are travelers first and journalers second. That’s why we must journal quickly and efficiently when we travel. Our time to write is limited.

The challenge here is that most of us have been brainwashed. We’ve been taught all our lives not to write recklessly. In first or second grade, we were indoctrinated into the Cult of Neat Handwriting. If we wrote quickly and messily, we were scolded. By high school, we were taught to write, and rewrite, and rewrite again in search of the perfect prose that would convince our English teacher he or she had discovered the next Ernest Hemingway. We’ve carried these ideas with us as we’ve become free-thinking adults. With such lofty goals, it’s no wonder we freeze when so-called “perfection” does not flow effortlessly from our pens.

There is not enough time to write everything down, and there is especially not enough time to write everything down if we are going to try to be “perfect.” We have to write fast, and we have to be selective about what we cover….

Your Former English Teachers Might Hate Me But…
… The basic idea behind speed journaling is to splash as much detail onto the page as fast as possible, without wasting time searching for the perfect word, or fretting over punctuation, or worrying whether your handwriting looks sufficiently pretty. On the surface, this might sound like a lousy way to keep a travel journal. We don’t want our “ultimate souvenirs” to be a bunch of messy, hastily concocted scrawl. But ask yourself this: Years from now, when you read your old journals, which reaction would you like to have:

  • “Wow! All of these pages bring back so many great memories!”
  • “Wow! This journal doesn’t tell me much about my trip, but look how totally awesome my spelling and punctuation are in the three paragraphs I did write!”

…If you want to write exquisitely-crafted travel essays, that’s great, but exquisitely-crafted essays take more time than the time we have during our vacations. So let your travel journals serve as a memory triggers — rough drafts that will bring you back later to the places you’ve visited, with lots of detail….

…Later in this book, we’ll explore other techniques in which we can slow down our writing if we want. But even if speed journaling sounds like it’s not your thing, give it a try. Once people get the hang of it, they’re often amazed how much better their journals become. Contrary to what you might expect, many people discover speed journaling makes their writing richer and more exciting. I’ve even had high school English teachers confess to me they had no idea how productive this seemingly reckless method of writing can be.

How Speed Journaling Works
Speed journaling is deliciously simple. It will free you from your perfectionism and enable you to write more boldly, more fearlessly, more descriptively than you ever can write if you spend time editing, critiquing, and censoring your thoughts. The basic premise is simple:

Don’t think. Just write.

How can you write without thinking? Well, you can’t. We are always thinking. Our minds are always working. But there’s passive thinking and there’s perfectionist thinking. Don’t stop to worry about whether your writing is good or not. Just keep going.

Speed journaling is based on techniques by creativity gurus Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron. Cameron, in her book, The Artist’s Way, describes what she calls “morning pages,” in which, first thing in the morning, you fill three notebook pages with whatever tumbles out of your brain and onto paper. The goal is to write so fast that whatever is on your mind gets written down before you have time to decide whether or not it’s okay. Cameron suggests that when you do this, you clear the emotional fog from your brain that would otherwise weigh you down throughout the day.

Goldberg, in her groundbreaking books such as Wild Mind and Writing Down the Bones, teaches us to free ourselves from the fear that way too often leads to writer’s block. She offers a technique she calls “timed writing.” Timed writing differs from morning pages in that we write, unbridled and uninhibited by self-censorship, for a certain amount of time rather than a certain number of pages. In timed writing, Goldberg explains, you can set whatever time limit you want — five minutes or two hours — but during that time, the idea is to write and write and write, without pausing to worry whether the writing is good or not….

Cover the Highlights. Cut the Flab.
If you’ve fretted in the past that your writing was boring, the tone of the following paragraph might sound familiar:

Today I woke up early. I had a croissant and coffee at the hotel. Then I went to see the Eiffel Tower. Paris was beautiful. Then I walked around the Champs Elysées. I found a nice café for lunch. I had a ham and cheese baguette. Then I went to the Louvre. It was so amazing to see the Mona Lisa. After the Louvre, I caught the metro back to the hotel. My feet hurt. Blah, blah, blah…blah, blah, blah, blah.

All too often, journals fall flat. They’re bland, step-by-step accounts of our day: “I went here. Then I went here. Then I did this. Then I….”

Yawn.

They become pedestrian. There’s no emotion. No passion. In trying to write about “everything” that happens, we pad our big adventures with a whole bunch of boring stuff….

…Pick three or four highlights and let go of other events. Write in detail about a few choice moments or topics. We’ll learn more about how to capture those details in later chapters.

Hidden Thoughts
Often when we speed journal, thoughts that we didn’t know were there bubble to the surface of our minds. There are all sorts of things we passively recognize about ourselves but never put into words. Writers often have fears that hold them back.

One thing I love about speed journaling is it strips away our desire to “sound like a writer.” It’s natural and non-pretentious. It’s the real us, our true voice. Many people find that once they get the hang of speed journaling, their writing becomes more sincere, more fearless, because they stop censoring themselves and holding back certain thoughts. Regardless, speed journaling gives you more time to enjoy your travels. In a 10-minute writing blitz, you can cover all the highlights of your day. Then you can go out and have more highlights.

Contrary to popular belief, great writing is not nearly as much a “gift” as it is a learnable skill. The more you practice, the better you will get. With more polished forms of writing, this improvement shows as we revise our work and mold our words just as we want them. With speed journaling, the more you do it, the more relaxed you will become, and the more detail you’ll be able to splash onto the page.

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Published on Thursday, May 15, 2008

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