Article by: Cia
[Image description: Diary entry. On the left, a seated man and a standing woman hold hands. They are collaged onto a magazine Venus and surrounded by lips from beauty magazines. On the right, various poems and phrases are written in blue and outlined in black.]
Welcome to the second instalment of the ‘Beginner’s Guide to Poetry’ series! This time around, I’d like to walk you through one of my personal favourite parts of my writing process: gathering ideas and inspiration. The journal I’ve shown you here (click to enlarge each image!) is the second one I’ve ever had of its sort. It’s a hard-cover A5 spiral bound notebook from Accessorize - I haven’t been able to find one like it online, so here are some that seem quite similar.
As obvious as it may seem, I feel like A5 is the ultimate size for notebooks of any sort: A4 notebooks are too big to carry around in a backpack amongst other things; I find anything smaller than A5 too hard to hold on to. I think that my hands are too big.
[Image description: Diary entry. On the left, a collage of cookery-themed postcards and an image of a cat. On the right, various poems and phrases are written in blue and outlined in black.]
In the two-ish years that I’ve had these sorts of diaries, I’ve typically followed the same layout on every double-page spread: I’ll have the writing in blue biro, outlined with black felt tip on the right-hand page, and an image or a poem of some sort on the left. Of course, it’s not always like this - sometimes I’ll have a few pages of continuous writing or collages - but I feel like balancing things out like this works for me.
[Image description: Diary entry. On the left, two pairs of arms embrace a plastercast of a female torso with pink lines drawn on, next to Carol Ann Duffy’s poem ‘Valentine’. On the right, various poems and phrases are written in blue and outlined in black. Two pink flowers adorn the corners of the page.]
The writing bit on these pages tends to come about in one of three ways:
1) I’ll write down a word or phrase that I’ve overheard, whether in real life or on television. For example, the ‘thrumming tedium’ quote in the pink Carol Ann Duffy spread comes from Richard Ayoade’s complaints in this episode of Travel Man on Channel 4. (Side note: watch Travel Man on Channel 4.) You’d be surprised at how pretty everyday dialogue can be if you listen closely.
2) I’ll copy out bits of published poems or prose that I like. In the spread above, I copied out ‘Valentine’ by Carol Ann Duffy on the left. If I’m feeling particularly keen on a passage or poem, I’ll often end up copying it out over and over again over the space of a few months, a recent example being pages 290-291 from Zadie Smith’s Swing Time. Although this is probably something I shouldn’t admit, I do often copy out only a stanza or cherry-pick the bits I like from texts if I can’t be bothered to write out the whole thing.
3) Freewrites! I talked about free-writing in the Beginner’s Guide To Spoken Word, but I’ll sum it up briefly here, too: all you have to do is write down every single word that comes into your head (without putting down your pen, or pausing for breath; talk about a workout!) for five, or ten, or fifteen minutes at a time. I don’t do this as often in this notebook - it tends to get rather messy very quickly, and the spiral spine does get in the way.
[Image description: Diary entry. At the bottom of the pages, a row of men sit at a table to eat. There is purple glitter at the top. In between the diners and the glitter, there are lines of blue handwriting.]
As for the images: most of them come from National Geographic (subscribing is far cheaper than you'd think) and pretty much anything I can get my hands on: tickets, leaflets, newspapers, postcards, photo albums... From time to time, I venture out into the world of cosmetics, too. I'm not very good at putting blush or lipstick or glittery nail polish on myself so I put them in here instead.
[Image description: Diary entry. On the left, a collage of a young woman holding fruit with a papaya for a head in front of a cookery postcard. On the right, various poems and phrases are written in blue and outlined in black.]
[Image description: Diary entry. On the left: ending passage from Etgar Keret’s ‘Creative Writing’.On the right, various poems and phrases are written in blue and outlined in black.]
Of course, some of the pages aren't as 'pretty' as I want them to be, but that's okay. There's nothing that a felt-tip can't fix. The format that I almost always use took a while for me to find - maybe you’ll be lucky enough to find your ideal format immediately. As unhelpful as it may sound, I reckon that the best way to start one of these journals is to do what you want - see what comes naturally to you. Maybe you’re more easily stimulated by imagery than words, or vice versa; these are all things to take into account.
[Image description: On the left, small girls with headscarves against a background of green leaves. On the right, various poems and phrases are written in blue and outlined in black.]
Since I’ve shown you my diary, I’d like you to return the favour, too: please send us pictures or scans of your writing/poetry diaries to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to get featured on our site!