Something I noticed about the layouts in the gallery this month was just how pithy the journaling was. Maybe it’s the smaller amount of time we have to scrap in the summer? The call of the great (warm and sunny) outdoors? Just a little trend? Or a combination?
I’m not exactly sure, but what I do know is this: just because you only have a small space for journaling, or less time to write or fewer things to say, doesn’t mean your words have to be of the fluffy "fill the journaling requirement" type. Instead, it’s absolutely possible to write short journaling that’s still full of meaning—what think of as "pithy" journaling.
First, let’s think about that word, pithy. Its dictionary definition goes something like "full of substance and point, but brief." But here’s an even better way to think of it:
If you don't like to mince words, you'll make every effort to be concise in your writing, which means to remove all superfluous details. Succinct is very close in meaning to concise, although it emphasizes compression and compactness in addition to brevity. A pithy statement is not only succinct but full of substance and meaning. (from The Writer’s Thesarus)
So how do you write pithily? Let’s start with some short, but not really pithy, journaling:
We went on such a great hike today. It wasn’t too hot but the mud from all the recent rain had dried up. The sunflowers were blooming in the meadow where we stop to rest and the sky was cloudless. We saw some turkeys, a mountain goat, and a rattlesnake. It took us just over 90 minutes to get to the peak, and then after eating some cherries we started the very steep trip down. Jake was so strong the whole way and didn’t complain once.
Now—there’s nothing really wrong with that journaling. It conveys the information and fulfills the "succinct" concept. But it feels a little bit flat...the substance is missing. Here are some writing tips that might help:
1. Make the substance be the reason you are writing this bit of journaling. That means skipping meaningless filler like "We went on a great hike." Take a few minutes to think about the substance—the guts, the reality, the point—then start with it immediately.
2. Skip adding modifiers. Tossing in a "so" or a "so much" or a "very" might seem to add power to your writing, but really they draw attention to a not-quite-right word. Maybe, for example, Jake wasn’t "so strong" but "tough" or "steady" or even just "strong," as it’s, well, strong enough to stand on its own!
3. Use the most specific words possible. Going back to the greatness of that hike—what does "great" really mean, anyway? Did you learn something from the hike, or feel completely in tune with nature, or have a unique mother-son moment? "Great" is vague; "illuminating," "satisfying," "thrilling," or "exhausting" work harder at making a mental image for your reader.
4. Focus on the "why" of the story, then work the who, what, when, and where in as details. For example, was it the wildlife-spotting that hike great, or the steepness, or Jake’s lack of complaining?
5. Don’t be afraid to write about emotion. That’s where the substance is, even though it’s hard to write about. The key is writing about authentic emotion—what you really felt, not what you’re supposed to feel. (Read more about emotion in journaling here.)
Here’s a re-write of that journaling:
Not until we’d made it up all 4,000+ feet of Slide Canyon, had our traditional cherries at the top, and were halfway back to the car did I realize Jake hadn’t complained once. In fact, he hiked that steep trail (which, so late in the season, smelled like pine and sunflowers) as if exhaustion didn’t exist in the world. The mountain seemed to reward effort by letting us see more wildlife—a snake, a brood of turkeys, and a mountain goat—than we ever have before. It was nearly an epiphany, his tough striding along the trail: he’s growing into a strong man.
Same information, but it packs a greather emotional punch because it tells the why without getting caught up in fluff.
Writing tips and tricks aren't the only want to learn how to write journaling that's pithy. Having an idea of what to write about, or how to write about a topic, also helps. Here are some layouts from the July gallery with especially pithy journaling and some ways to add a similar sparkle to your words:
1. Write your journaling as a series of questions and answers. Here’s a little piece of journaling:
"When we went to the beach, the baby kept eating the sand. There were lots of mosquitos and the traffic was pretty bad. Everything wasn’t perfect. But it was still worth going because the day was amazing."
It relays some information, but it lacks luster. Now, go read the journaling on Marie’s layout. See? Same information, but the structure she used—the questions and the snappy responses—makes the story shine.
To do this, keep your questions short. Vary the style of your responses, too, with words and phrases like "absolutely" and "without a doubt" and "of course not." Don’t be afraid to address the less-than-perfect aspects of your subject. Finish with one question-and-answer that sums up the entire emotional point of the journaling.
Francine’s layout also starts with a question, and then she answers it with more details.
For my layout, I followed Marie’s journaling concept pretty closely:
2. React to a conversation. There are so many good stories to be told, and quite often they happen simply through a conversation. But your response to the conversation adds substance. Take Emily Pitt’s gallery layout. Her conversation with her daughter is sweet and a little bit funny. But Emily’s reaction to the conversation is what gives meaning to the writing.
I also reacted to a conversation I had with my son Jake. This still makes me giggle:
but, you know? I still remember that happiness, too. ("Except for all the owl violence" has become one of my kids' go-to response when I get freaked out about a movie's suitability for teenagers.)
3. Pick something you wouldn’t usually thank—and then write a thank you note to it. This is a good exercise for getting right to the point, because you have a specific meaningful topic to start with. Don’t fill the writing with explanation. Just start writing your gratitude.
This idea comes from Marnie’s layout. I love the twist of this journaling; generally we'd expect a daughter to say thank you to her mom for braiding her hair, not the other way around. But in it, Marnie writes about being grateful that she still gets to braid her daughter’s hair because of the connection it creates. See how expressing gratitude also helps her express something deeper?
In my layout:
I went a little bit crazy with the gratitudes, expressing my thanks to the myriad things that had to happen for me to have this moment with my youngest.
Deb shared this gratitude layout:
And Lisa O. shared this fun 6x12 layout
So, tell me: are you a fan of short journaling? How do you make it sparkle?