A writer’s journal or notebook is a great resource for an essayist. Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the great essayists in American culture, lived in his journal, continually responding to what he read and thought all day, working those responses into lectures and the lectures into essays.
Another great journal writer and essayist, Henry David Thoreau, Emerson’s neighbor, wrote this about the journal in his journal:
Associate reverently and as much as you can with your loftiest thoughts. Each thought that is welcomed and recorded is a nest egg, by the side of which more will be laid. Thoughts accidentally thrown together become a frame in which more may be developed and exhibited. Perhaps this is the main value of a habit of writing, of keeping a journal, — that so we remember our best hours and stimulate ourselves. My thoughts are my company. They have a certain individuality and separate existence, aye, personality. Having by chance recorded a few disconnected thoughts and then brought them together into juxtaposition, they suggest a whole new field in which it was possible to labor and to think. Thought begat thought. [Thoreau, Journal, January 22, 1853]
The gist of the journal assignment (and my expectations):
You will be required to keep a journal. You will use this journal to respond to reading before and after classes; you will use the journal in class (so have one available at all times)–for in-class responding and thinking; you should also use the journal, at your own pace, for observing and exploring your possibilities for your own writing–the final project for this course and beyond (other venues and publications). Your journal should be old-media technology (paper notebook and pen/pencil) to complement the new media publishing we will do with the blogs.
How much to write? I am looking for a level of engagement that is necessary for deliberate reading of our authors and the essay genre and for deliberate writing in the genre that you are working toward (your final project). So, I suggest an entry (some response) for each assigned reading as well as thoughtful use in class. Going beyond that should only help you better prepare for active participation in class and thoughtful writing.
How to write in it? Mostly up to you. The writing is not supposed to be finished, need not be edited. [the blog postings you will do, which can emerge from your journal, are where you can start to give more attention to the shape of your writing and thought.] A good reading response, like a good blog response, good discussion in class, and good writing project, will in some way begin to explore the three areas of inquiry that we are using for our writing:
hear/come to terms (basic summary, review, keywords and other notes);
notice/forward and counter (key passages, quotations, interpretive response to such passages);
wonder/take your own approach (questions, confusions, where do you go next with this?).
I won’t be grading your journal directly. However, I will collect at midterm as part of the feedback I will give regarding participation. And during conferences about your writing, I will expect you to have your journal and you should be prepared to answer this question at any point: What do you have in your journal, how have you been responding to this idea from reading, from class discussion? Also, you will be expected to have it with you in every class for writing and response to discussion.