Thank You Sue Grafton

Sue Grafton is one of my heroes. When she was the Guest of Honor and spoke at Crime Bake 2009, I learned that she keeps a writing journal in a computer file for each novel. Every day, she opens both the manuscript file and the journal file. When her brain stops working in one file, she switches to the other. She says this helps her to keep going. Happily, her journals are online at

An online writing journal. A terrific idea—but it soon escaped my sieve-like brain. This May I opened a book called Writers Dreaming by Naomi Epel, in which writers describe how their dreaming mind aids their writing. In the book, Sue Grafton again described how her journaling helps her write her novels.

This time the idea took. I decided to give it a try. So, for the last few months, I’ve been keeping my own writer’s journal.

So far this experiment works well. In the morning, I open the journal file and reflect on how my writing is going, what problems I’m struggling with and my goals for the day. After breakfast, I open both the manuscript file and journal the file and work in each as needed.

Another tip from Sue Grafton is that from time to time she re-reads her entire journal. I’m not sure I believed her when she advised that such a re-reading will often remind you of problems you’ve already solved. As it turns out, her observation was right on. Which I learned the first time I re-read my whole journal and found, staring back at me, the answer to a then-current problem.

For this helpful advice on how to improve my writing process, I thank you, Sue Grafton.

How about you? Do you use a writing journal? If so, how does it work for you? Is there some other advice from a favorite author you have found particularly useful?


About Nancy Gardner

Nancy Gardner’s short stories have been published in magazines, anthologies and online. Currently she’s working on a mystery set in Salem Massachusetts and featuring a present-day Salem witch who uses her ability to walk into the dreams of others to learn their secrets and solve crime.
This entry was posted in Craft, SinCNE, Uncategorized, Writers, Writing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Thank You Sue Grafton

  1. Lisa Jackson says:

    What a fabulous idea! I like the in-tandem with journal and writing. I journal, and I write, but never thought to journal about a particular in-process work while I was working on it. Thanks so much for sharing this, I can see how it can work for me!

  2. Nancy Gardner says:

    Wonderful, Lisa! And I love the fact Sue shares her notebooks online!

  3. Rhonda Lane says:

    I’m so glad the writing journal is working so well for you, Nancy. I gave it a whirl myself after Crime Bake. Sue’s talk about her Shadow and working with her Shadow resonated deeply with me, so much so that I realized that, one day while skimming my journal, I realized it spooked me – and I deleted it. And then I deleted the Deleted Items folder, too. I didn’t write anything really dark or “crazypants” or incriminating. 🙂 Besides, I also felt what was there had served its purpose already anyway.

    • Nancy Gardner says:

      That’s fascinating, Rhonda. It is definitely a scary thought–that Shadow–and one I’d forgot Sue mentioned–oh, and did is say I have a brain like a sieve? Anyhow, I’m reading a book called Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power & Creativity of Your Dark Side by David Richo. It’s a wonderful book. You might want to check it out.

  4. Sue Ellen Snape says:

    I haven’t done it consistently – usually when I’m stuck on a plot point, when it’s a big help getting the story moving. It’s so easy to get lost in the plot, and and lose your grip on the story. On re-reading my WIP notes, I picked up on a key point – and by golly, I’m going to keep up that journal! I still the Donald Maas presentation alight in my head, supplemented by his “Fire in Fiction.” Chapter 8 bailed me out of my latest rut. Also, I keep hearing him say, “make it worse, make it worst possible thing that could happen, and then make even worse.”

    • Nancy Gardner says:

      I totally agree, Sue Ellen, about the ability to get lost in the story and lose your grip! Ah, and Donald Maass’s book–thanks for reminding me about it!

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