For the past two weeks, I have been immersed in the Italian culture, observing and absorbing everything I can. In order to do this, I’m keeping a journal of my experiences. No detail is too small to record – I want the words to prompt my memory later, so that perhaps I can tell inspiring tales of my adventures studying in Florence. It’s also come in handy in the class I’m taking here, which is, appropriately, Travel Writing.
But keeping a journal when there are so many other things to do is difficult. Why spend hours staring at the pages of my notebook when I could spend them exploring the century-old streets of this city or one of the numerous museums scattered throughout? Why remain indoors when there are views available like those from the Piazzale Michelangelo and San Miniato al Monte, or even the one outside my apartment window?
So much of writing is discipline. We call it a practice because that is what we must do in order to better ourselves in our craft.
I admit that I have not written every day – some days I leave in the morning, and when I return at night it is only to eat a well-earned dinner and collapse into bed for the night. When I have the time, however, I sit down to record the events from my day, or even from previous days, which make good stories or stand out as different from home. I attempt to capture as many images, impressions, and perspectives as possible. I have a running list of notes in my phone, just a word or two each, to prompt entries I want to compose when I have the time.
I keep my phone and notebook on hand at all times, either for jotting down quick notes, snapping a photo of something, or using a bit of free time to really write something. This has been incredibly useful in maintaining my discipline. I do the same thing at home, although my days there tend to be less eventful. You never know when a good idea may present itself. It’s easy to think “I’ll remember this later,” but then the thought that seems so strong, so present in the moment slips away when you aren’t paying attention. My dad often tells me that success happens when opportunity meets preparation; I make an effort to be perpetually prepared.
Journaling is a useful practice for all writers. It might not necessarily be a narrated record of events, as I have been keeping during my time abroad. It can be a list of impressions; a collection of quickly drafted poems; it can be daily; it can be sporadic; it can be whatever you want it to be. My journal at home tends to be far more eclectic. But having one place to record thoughts, especially a place you can carry with you at all times, means that when an opportunity does come along, you are prepared to take advantage of it.