Check out the rest of this mini series if you've missed the previous sessions!
Blogging has really taken off in the past five years or so. Most people write (or have written) their own blog, know someone who writes a blog, or reads blogs themselves. The word "blog" is short for "web log", which is essentially an online diary. Most blogs are open to the public so that anyone can read them, although blogs can be formatted so that only the writer can view them, or so that only "invited" readers can view them. This helps to protect the privacy of the writer if they want the ease of typing a diary on a computer without the hassle of the entire world seeing what they have to say, or if they want to share their day-to-day life with close friends and family whom they don't see on a regular basis.
Your options are endless when it comes to blogging. It can be done for free on platforms such as Blogger or WordPress, or you can pay a monthly fee (usually it's between $5 and $10) to be able to have more control of the look and feel of your blog. As to what you can write about, your options are endless there, too. As an active participant in the health blogging community, I visit a lot of blogs covering a whole range of health topics: weight loss, disorders, nutrition, fitness, general health, women's health, body image, recipes, particular diets, and many more. And that is all under the blanket term "health". You can imagine how many other topics and kinds of blogs that can be found under the headings "politics", "literature", and "pop culture", for example.
Probably one of the most well-known blogs is Perez Hilton's celebrity gossip blog, in which pictures are plastered on each blog post, paparazzi-style. But blogs are cropping up everywhere: most newspaper columnists also write blogs as part of their contract with the newspaper they work for, and many websites for all kinds of corporations and organizations have a blog affiliated with them.
The reason that blogs are on all of these kinds of websites and associated with newspapers is because blogging has an advantage over most other kinds of media, such as regular websites or television, radio, and newspaper: blogging acts as a forum for discussion. Unless the writer makes the decision to "close comments", which means that no one can voice their opinion on the blog post, anyone is able to leave a comment at the end of a blog post, offering their own thoughts on the blog post. This provides more contact and interaction between writer and reader, and allows the writer to understand what the reader wants. There is more direct communication happening with a blog.
Print media is also falling by the wayside as we become more obsessed with the Internet and other forms of technology. When we have such easy access to the world at just a click of the mouse, buying a newspaper seems redundant. This, too, has caused an explosion of blogging. It is especially useful for journalists who want to be the first reporter to share the latest news with the world. When Bill Clinton was discovered to having an affair, the news was leaked on a blog before any other form of media got to it. Blogging is a powerful tool.
There are drawbacks to blogging, of course, as well. Because it is so easy and anyone can do it, there can be a lot of nonsensical garbage out there. It can also be problematic if people write a blog and hit "publish" without thinking twice about their work; if they write something controversial, it can have a very negative impact on their reputation. Furthermore, even if a published post is deleted, there are always ways to find deleted information on the Internet, so it pays to be careful about what exactly we write.
The style of writing within blogging changes dramatically depending on what kind of blogging you are doing. If it's a personal blog, it will likely have a more conversational tone, whereas a politician's blog will likely be more professionally written with more distance between writer and reader. Although some bloggers may write sporadically, if you want more readers to stick around on your blog, it helps to write on a regular basis (for example, Living Rhetorically in the Real World is updated every Tuesday and Thursday; Living Healthy in the Real World is updated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday).
As previously mentioned, blogging is a very powerful tool: the world is at your fingertips when you engage with this form of journaling.
Check out the rest of this mini series if you've missed the previous sessions!
The Dream Diary
Dream diaries tend to be a very personal form of journaling. They are a record of the unconscious mind; the idea here is that, upon waking in the morning, you write down the dreams you had while you were sleeping. Often these journals are organized by a dating system to log exactly when the dreams occurred. Sometimes these entries will also be accompanied with extra information to give suggestions for why certain dreams may or may not have risen to the surface of the unconscious mind. The extra information could be the type and time that food or drink was consumed the night before, the activity level that the person engaged in the day before, their geographical location (if they are at home or are travelling), any stressors which may have influenced dreams, and the emotional mindset of the person before falling asleep.
This style of journaling, because it is such a private document, can be written in many styles. Some people prefer to write in point form or just one or two sentences to trigger their memory of the dream. Other people like to write lengthy, detailed descriptions of their dreams. If you do not tend to remember your dreams, you may find that you will only have the vaguest recollections of your dreams. If, on the other hand, your dreams are vivid and you remember them with intimate details, you may find it more beneficial to write in a very specific manner.
The main reason that people will keep a dream journal is so that they can learn something about their unconscious mind from the dream. There are many "dream dictionaries" that you can buy at any bookstore which suggest that certain parts of our dreams have symbolic associations and meaning for our waking lives. Colours, people in our dreams, the shapes and objects within them, and our feelings and mood all could have significance.
When you record a dream diary, the more frequent that you write in it, the more vivid your dreams will become. You will find that you are able to recollect more and more from your dreams upon waking. You may be able to not only learn something about yourself from the dreams, but you might find that you are even able to control what happens in the dreams as you continue to write about them. For these purposes, it is best to keep the diary and a pen right beside your bed so that you can write them down as quickly as possible when you wake up. Even a minute of scrambling for a pen and paper in the morning can contribute to forgetting a good portion of your dream.
The drawback to recording a dream journal is that if you have nightmares, you may not necessarily find a way to make them stop. Recording the nightmares and analyzing them with a dream dictionary could only result in the nightmares becoming more strongly vivid, causing restlessness and difficulty in both falling and staying asleep. I myself am subject to nightmares, and after years of keeping dream journals, I would advise against it to anyone else who also suffers from bad dreams and poor sleep. It might be that you will find the solution to ridding yourself of the nightmares, but I found that for myself, the act of recording my dreams and analyzing the dreams intensified them rather than helped them to go away. This is certainly not desirable!
Dream diaries are an entirely personal form of journaling, but for novelists then can be highly useful as triggers for ideas. Even for non-writers, dream diaries can be a good way to learn more about yourself and to get in touch with your unconscious mind.
Check out the rest of this mini series if you missed them last week!
Just as Nature Writing implies going out into nature before writing about it, Travel Writing involves embarking on some kind of adventure. It is not necessary to go far, either: this form of journaling can include a road trip, a hiking journey (although this would border on Nature Writing as well), exploring a new place within your own province or even city, or a trip by airplane or overseas. As long as it involves leaving home, it has the potential to be considered a form of Travel Writing.
When we travel anywhere, we will find ourselves coming across things which are unfamiliar or even exotic compared to what we are used to. Travel journals are excellent modes of expression to document our reactions to our new surroundings, our interactions with the locals or with other travellers, and the new experiences that we encounter.
For the most part, when we keep personal travel diaries, we reflect on how we are growing as a person and how our experience has given us new perspective on the world and our place in it. We might be more candid in writing about what we do and do not like about the place that we've travelled to, about the frustrations we have with a different language or culture, or about other struggles we may have.
On the other hand, public travel logs are more likely to include practical details such as warnings against pick pockets or scams, suggestions for good places to eat, and advice on the must-see sights. Travel Writing intended for the public eye usually gives information for how to contact hospitals in case of emergencies and offers a "cheat sheet" regarding prices, tips, and correct forms of greeting and interaction.
Travel Writing covers a wide variety of topics. It can include spiritual journeys, extreme sporting excursions, historical tours, or city/wilderness explorations, among other kinds. Travel writing can take the form of a novel-style, such as Bill Bryson's work, or of the style of a guidebook, such as the famous Lonely Planet series.
Peter Mayle (author of A Year in Provence) is an example of a writer who travelled to one specific place and then stayed there for a long period of time to write his book, although most travel writers prefer to take the "travelling" angle of staying in their destination for a short period of time. Many writers also enjoy jumping from one place to the next, thereby being able to focus more on the travel aspect itself of moving from one destination to another.
Travel Writing captures the author's personal experiences and impressions of a place or a journey (or both), and thus it is limiting in that it often does not provide a very well-rounded perspective if someone else is interested in the same type of travel. However, Travel Writing is unique in that it provides the reader with a frank assessment of the author's experiences. Something unexpected is bound to come up, and that is one of the aspects of the travel journaling genre that makes it so intriguing.
Check out Part One: Introduction to Journaling if you missed it on Tuesday!
This form of journaling often involves going out into nature, rather than sitting in the comfort of our homes. Although experiencing nature is essential to nature writing, it is not necessary to do all of your writing outside: even taking a few notes while you're outside should be enough to get you started once you are back in front of a computer or at your desk.
Nature writing, or writing on the environment, can take any number of different turns: it may involve a poetical voice, a rant, a description of your surroundings, a philosophical treatise on the human-nature relationship, or a practical examination of nature, among other styles.
A big part of the style that you choose depends on your audience. Who are you writing this journal for? If it is for your own notes and thoughts, likely the form that your nature writing will take is a description of your surroundings, or philosophical musings. If it is to persuade others that as humans we have a negative impact on the earth, you may wish to include scientific facts, anecdotal evidence, and expert opinions in your writing.
The reason why most people write nature journals is to encourage people to re-acquaint themselves with nature and to get in touch with their "wild" side (as opposed to the domestic). Especially with the rapidly increasing public concerns for climate change and global warming, many nature writers write to convince their readers to change their ways so that the environment can be salvaged. Nature writing, therefore, has taken less of an emphasis on poetry, and more of an emphasis on urgently telling people how they can change to protect the environment.
The rhetorical strategies that nature writers use differs depending on the style that they choose, but most writers focus heavily on the human-nature relationship. This is because readers are more easily persuaded when they can relate to the issue at hand; hearing about environmental degradation isn't as likely to compel us to take action unless it is discussed with how it will affect humans. "Trees are dying" is easily shrugged off by most people, but "humans won't be able to continue making x equipment and will be without access to wood and fuel because vast numbers of trees are dying" is more likely to cause people to pay attention. If we put the problems into context, we will be more driven to change our ways.
Annie Dillard is particularly famous for her lyrical voice in her book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She spent a year "in nature", away from civilization, and recorded what she saw and what she thought about during her experiences.
Bill McKibben, on the other hand, makes use of analogies and scientific evidence between relaying his own stories of personal experience in his book The End of Nature. This is because his focus is on spreading awareness about climate change, whereas Dillard is more concerned with bringing people closer to nature so that we appreciate the environment. Although these two strategies are very different, they are equally effective.
Nature writing retains the most credibility when the writer has some experience of being in nature. This does not necessarily mean going to the extremes that Annie Dillard went to of escaping civilization, or the extreme that Bill McKibben has gone to of living with his wife in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Some writers will simply go out camping or on hikes to experience nature; others have lived on ranches or farms, or will live in the city but explore different aspects of nature- even parks or forests within the city- to get closer to nature.
I wrote a nature journal as part of my Rhetoric of Nonfiction: Writing on the Environment course that I took this past semester. Our task was to find a spot in nature and write about whatever we felt like. I chose a spot in a small park about half an hour's walk from my house, right on the river with trees all around. I found that although I wrote a few observations about the squirrel that played nearby where I sat on a fallen log or about the shadows that danced across the ground, my usual form of writing was to consider the problem of human impact on the environment. Inevitably whenever I sat down to write, I would question our place in the world, and how the way we see ourselves and the rest of the world greatly impacts how we act.
The best way to get started with nature writing is to get outside, even just for a few minutes, and find one of these "nature spots" and jot down a few notes. What you write about can be whatever comes to mind, but it is likely that you will find you are drawn to one particular aspect about nature, the same way that I was. Nature writing can be done by anyone: the first step is to get outside, into nature, and go from there.
Introduction to Journaling
I very much enjoyed our last mini-series on Giving a Presentation, so I decided that we'd do another one: this time we're focusing on Journaling.
Journaling as a way of writing is excellent for documenting the world around us, to remind ourselves of significant events, and to share our thoughts with other people. They can be private or public and they come in a wide range of genres. For simplicity's sake, I have taken four main genres which I have experience in that I will discuss over the next couple weeks.
Although keeping a daily diary is probably the most common and well-known form of the journal, I am omitting it from this mini-series because a) we will analyze the daily diary under Part Five: Blogging, and b) I think there is a lot more to be said about these other kinds of writing, which you may not be as familiar with.
Throughout our Journaling mini-series, we will look at how to write in these four genres, notable published authors who have written in these styles, the purpose of keeping these different kinds of journals, and the advantages and limitations of each of these styles of journal-writing.
In this mini-series, we will look at the following:
If you have any requests for further information about any kinds of journaling, be it one of the above four genres or a different genre entirely, please leave them in the comments and I will do my best to address your requests within this mini-series.