Thursday, May 08, 2008


Cynthia Gregory, winner of Glimmer Train's most recent Very Short Fiction contest, advises writers to keep a journal.

Your journal isn't about you. No offense, and as important as you are, your journal is not an extension of you. Rather, it is like a Polaroid camera that you aim at everything around you and with which you snap a photo. This café. That conversation. That wide, beautiful coastline with clouds hovering over the water like cotton candy and the smell of the surf pushing spring toward the dessert on a mission from God.

For the life of me I have never been able to grasp this concept of a journal. Exhibit A: this blog, which is about me, me, me. If I make a written snapshot of "this cafe," it's "this cafe" with the back of my head in the foreground. You can see me looking.

I suppose this has something to do with my resistance to "show, don't tell"--the dictum to do every part of the story in scene and not summary. In telling, I, the author, can be more present, as in "look at me telling you this." Whereas in scene, one has to efface oneself, become a window through which the reader looks. Bleh.

The best example of the Polaroid style of journal that I can think of is Yuri Olesha's No Day Without A Line. It really is a book of snapshots, written with surreal visual clarity.

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