Keeping a Writer’s Log

September 30, 2009

It seems like many of us struggle with the idea of calling ourselves “writers.” I know that’s true for me, and I know many of my writing friends feel that way too. In a writing group I belong to, one of the great sayings is: “A writer is one who writes.”

I love that phrase. It is simple and inspiring. And unarguably matter-of-fact. Even so, sometimes I still doubt.

One method that I have started using which has helped me immensely in any number of ways is to keep a writing log. No, not a journal. It is not a place to write. Rather, it is a way for me to keep track of my writing.

A typical run of entries might look something like this:

9/30/09 Wrote 2 pages.

9/28/09 Edited 7 pages.

9/18/09 Wrote 2 pages.

9/15/09 Read 10 pages, edited 3.

9/12/09 Cut 4 pages.

And so forth. This technique has helped me so much. First, it keeps me accountable, if only to myself. If I choose to share it with friends (as I have elsewhere), it makes me even more accountable. If they are paying attention, they can tell me “hey – I see you haven’t written anything in the past few weeks – everything OK? Need a jump start?  Keep going, you can do it.”  Or, they might notice that I’ve had a good run, and might cheer me on. Even if they don’t respond in any fashion, it still helps me to be accountable to myself, and to a community of writers.

Second, it’s useful for me to see where my time is going. Have I been mostly writing, or mostly editing?  After a few weeks or months of keeping a log like this, I may be able to notice patterns. I might find that I’m more productive at the end of the month. Or that when I am editing, I move much faster than when I am writing. Or that when progress seems slow, that’s OK, because it will be followed by a strong outburst of activity.

Keeping a log like this also helps keep me in a routine. I know that every night I write, I have to “check in” and make a note of my progress. It’s kind of like the ol’ marks on the wall to mark a child’s growth. These are my marks. Sometimes the growth is tiny and incremental; other times it comes in great bursts.

Finally, what I like best about keeping a log like this is when I tally things up at the end of the month. I come up with some amazing and surprising numbers.  For instance, all along, maybe my progress has been “write 2 pages” or “edit 4 pages” for many days.  Well, at the end of the month, it’s not unusual for me to total everything up and be astonished to discover that I’ve written 60 pages – or edited 80!  Yes, folks, those are real numbers. And I am not a full time writer.

It helps me realize that even just a page a day can add up to a whopping 30 pages by the end of the month. That even the smallest work, if done consistently, can add up, and can get me where I want to go. I can now say, with confidence – I am a writer!

© writingreading, 2009

Famous Women You’ve Never Heard Of #4 – Melba Pattillo Beals

September 25, 2009

If you know about the Little Rock Nine and the events of 1957, then you already may know this famous woman. But I imagine that most Americans would not recognize the name of Melba Pattillo Beals.

In 1957,  Melba Pattillo was just fifteen, and she was one of nine young African-American students to integrate Little Rock High in Arkansas. Her story is told in her memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry.

At the end of the school year before, she raised her hand when her teacher at her all-black school asked if any students were interested in attending all-white Central High. Melba did not tell her mother, so it came as a shock when she was selected to attend Central High the next year.

The courage and cruelty that Melba writes about in her memoir is moving and personal. She was threatened with hanging, rape and violence, and people hurled words at her that no child – no person – should have to endure. Such hatred. People threw rocks through her windows at home, and her grandmother sat watch more than once with a shotgun poised for defense.

The Arkansas National Guard closed the doors of Central to the Nine, keeping them out, until Pres. Eisenhower ordered in federal troops of the 101st Airborne Division to enforce the desegragation orders. The situation was so tense and violent that each black student had their own soldier who guarded them against extreme violence, but who could not interfere when the students were called vile names and otherwise tormented. Thumbtacks were placed in seats, people walked on the back of Melba’s heels until they bled, she was tripped, and every day, every hour, was a battle.

Her story would be impressive and inspiring, regardless, but to realize how terribly young all of the Nine were – and to know that they changed the world – is awe-inspiring. Ms. Beals’s story is one that could give any teenager inspiration, strength and comfort, and one that can educate any adult about the price paid by those brave young students all throughout the country who desegragated schools in the 1950s.

All of us are in her debt, and those of the rest of the Little Rock Nine: Thelma Mothershed, Minnijean Brown, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls, Gloria Ray, Ernest Green, and  Elizabeth Eckford.

© writingreading, 2009

High Heels, or Elephants?

September 10, 2009

I’m no physicist, and even less of a mathematician, so my ability to fully understand the data at the  Pressure Under High Heels page  is limited, but the important point is this:  a woman in high heels exerts significantly greater pressure and force than…yes, an elephant!

One scientist (or whoever these folks are who study these “weighty” concepts) puts it this way – would you rather have your hand run over by 10 women in high heels or a herd of elephants?  Opt for the elephants, my friends!

No wonder my mother’s feet are literally crippled from years of wearing heels. No wonder – and perhaps now, I’m grateful – that I literally cannot wear them (doctor’s orders).

And one of these folks even compares the pressure exerted by a woman’s typical shoe heel versus a man’s typical shoe heel. The guy, he’s cruising easy. The woman – well, let’s just say there’s a reason they are called “stiletto” heels. Sure, they can be used in self-defense – but they are also suicidal. Kinda gives the term “sensible shoes” a whole new meaning.

Check out the findings at: Pressure Under High Heels and see the proof for yourself!

© writingreading, 2009

Remembering Haymarket

September 7, 2009

It is the end of the Labor Day weekend here in America, and many people (including myself) had the day off today. Unfortunately, like many 3-day weekend holidays – the origin and significance of the holiday itself has been lost. These days, it’s all about football, hot dogs, and getting away. That’s fine, all well and good. But I believe it is important to remember what price was paid so that we could have this holiday.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Haymarket Riot.  May, 1886, Chicago. Workers marched in protest, advocating for an eight-hour workday. In the events that followed over the next few days, 2 workers were killed, seven policeman died, and seven labor leaders were sentenced to death, though only four were executed.

Haymarket is a complex story, and one that I am still struggling to grasp and understand, myself. But what is important to me to remember this Labor Day weekend is that people died so that I could have the things I take for granted today. I count all of the people who died in the Haymarket events to have paid the price for benefits that I enjoy today – so many of which I take for granted. Like the eight-hour workday. And a holiday off.

The battle for the eight-hour day did not end at Haymarket, and in fact, was entirely derailed because of the violence and controversy surrounding those events. It wouldn’t be until after World War II that the eight-hour day became law.


The Dramas of Haymarket from Chicago Historical Society – lengthy and detailed essays about the history and significance and lasting impact of Haymarket, and links to digitized materials.

Super short summary and links from Kent State.

Episode on the PBS program, History Detectives about Haymarket.

History of Labor Day from U.S. Dept. of Labor

© writingreading 2009