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A writer’s journal or notebook is a great resource for a writer and reader. 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]

Thoreau ended up writing 2 million words. I am looking for something a bit more condensed. Here is the gist of the journal assignment (and my expectations):

You will be required to keep a journal in the course. First, you will use this journal to begin your response to the assigned reading before class. Under each reading assignment (on the Assignments page) you will see “Questions” for you to consider before class; use these to shape your initial journal response. Next, we will each use the journal in class (so have one available at all times)–responding to any questions I pose in class, and also conversation that emerges in discussion. Finally, another important use of your journal will be before, during, and after your writing projects–as you shape your ideas and responses into publishable forms.  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 deliberate writing in the projects you will develop. 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.] In addition to responding to the questions that I provide on the Assignments page, you could consider a basic response to each reading that addresses the three parts of response you will use for the Blog assignment: initial reading (summary); closer reading (interpretation of key passages); further reading (questions, confusions, what’s next). Another rubric you could use to organize your notes: philosophy (key ideas, principles, themes put forth in the text), rhetoric (key aspects of what the text is arguing for, what makes it persuasive or not), poetics (key aspects of the language and style of the text that get your attention).

As a basic guide, about 1 page worth of response and notes (and if you are like Thoreau, sketches and doodles) seems about right for each reading assignment.

I will collect journals at midterm as part of the feedback I give regarding participation. During conferences about your writing or work in the course, 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?

Along with the text assigned for that day, you will be expected to have your journal with you in every class for writing and response to reading and discussion. If you don’t have it, you won’t be able to participate.

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