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The Journal as a Valuable Tool in Writing a Book

In an essay that was published in the book Writers and Their Notebooks, (edited by Diana M. Raab Author Sue Grafton explains why the journal is an invaluable tool when she is working on book projects:

“The most valuable tool I employ in the writing of a private eye novel is the working journal. This notebook (usually four times longer than the novel itself) is like a letter to myself, detailing every idea that occurs to me as I proceed.

“The journal is a record of my imagination at work, from the first spark of inspiration to the final manuscript. One of my theories about writing is that the process involves an ongoing exchange between the Left Brain and Right. The journal involves a testing ground where the two can exchange. Left brain is analytical, linear, the timekeeper, the bean counter, the critic and editor, a valuable ally in the shaping of the mystery novel or any piece of writing for that matter. Right brain is creative, spatial, playful, disorganized, dazzling, nonlinear, the source of the Aha! or imaginative leap. Without Right Brain, there would be no material for the Left Brain to refine. Without Left Brain, the jumbled brilliance of Right Brain would never coalesce into a satisfactory whole.

“In addition to the yin/yang of the bicameral brain, the process of writing is a constant struggle between the Ego and the Shadow, to borrow Jungian terms. Ego, as implied, is the public aspect of our personality, the carefully constructed persona, or mask, we present to the world as the “truth” about us. The Shadow is our Unconscious, the Dark Side – the dangerous, largely unacknowledged cauldron of “unacceptable” feelings and reactions that we’d prefer not to look at in ourselves and certainly hope to keep hidden from others. We spend the bulk of our lives perfecting our public image, trying to deny or eradicate the perceived evil in our nature.

“For the writer, however–especially the mystery writer–the Shadow is crucial. The Shadow gives us access to our repressed rage, the murderous impulses that propel antisocial behavior whether we’re inclined to act out or not. As repelled as we may be by the Dark Side of our nature, we’re drawn to its power, recognizing that the Shadow contains enormous energy if we can tap into it. The journal is the writer’s invitation to the Shadow, a means of beckoning to the Unconscious, enticing it to yield its potent magic to the creative process.”


  1. This is an intriguing idea, never easy to balance both sides of the brain. And we as writer we keep dabbling what we do for work and what we do for our passion. If it is matched we are blessed. Yes, we have our ego and we have our shadow behind us, the darker side in our sub-conscious mind and not visible to the public…
    Love this post…
    Have a great weekend.


    • Nihar, I’m glad this post appealed to you.It is indeed a challenge to balance the left and the right brain. Exploring the shadow side of our being can also be uncomfortable. That’s why journaling about the characters in our stories appeal to writers. Wishing you an awesome week!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I also just dealt with the similar topic, it is so fascinating to know how we manage both sides of our brain, and how we have to handle multiple tasks and balancing this act as art is wonderful journey by itself…
        Yes, exploring and controlling the shadow side of being is never easy and a challenge we keep fight with self.
        You too have a lovely Sunday.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Susanne says

    You’re very convincing with your journaling arguments. I’m starting to feel this is something I need to take seriously.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Try it Susanne. Just try it. 🙂 I can just imagine how interesting Harry’s and Lady Spock’s egos and shadows would be


  3. Hmmm. Maybe I should start writing mystery so as to give that private side of myself a real place in the world – under the guise of fiction. Good post.


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