Slice of Life Journal Technique: How to get started--and why you should.

Recently, I've been taking our conversation deeper into your journaling habit. 

Today I'm going to focus in on a specific technique that I call writing 'Slices of Life.'  Here's what we'll talk about today

  • Why capturing and writing slices of life is an essential writing technique--one your favorite novelists use and that you can use too.
  • How capturing your moments and translating them to the page is not just a writing technique, but a way of life.  
  • How you can start practicing this super-easy technique on your own, at home in a way that's simple, fun...and life-changing.  

Oh and if you're already a step ahead of me and you're wondering what you'll do with all of those slices of life you put down on the pages of your journal?  

Following this post, I'll be delving into a three-part series on that very topic. Because these fast and furious writing sessions will take you to some unexpected places. 

So today, let's get started...I can't wait to see where it all leads!

The slice of life journal technique: a practice for sharpening your writing skills...and a way of life.

The slice of life journal technique: a practice for sharpening your writing skills...and a way of life.

Why capture the moments in your life leads to great writing.  

Well, fellow book-lover.  I think you probably already know that the magic of books is their ability to transport you into another time and place, to slip you into someone else's shoes and send you off to experience life from another point of view.

On each adventure you choose, you live something.  Your brain reacts as if you were there.   

This is true of any good work of fiction. And I'd argue it's true for many memoirs or other non-fiction books that tell a story, that invite us to live an experience.  

How does it happen?  Well, you may have already noticed this when you read:

There you are, immersed in the language, but forgetting that you are actually reading.  The words slip away and you have only the experience:

  • Read about cinnamon, fennel or cardamom and you can actually smell them.  
  • Read about someone walking a beach on a rainy day and you'll feel the sand in your toes, the water on your face, hear the sea birds...

As far as your brain is concerned--you are there.  And it's these details--the cinnamon, the sand between your toes that makes this transportation possible.

Capturing moments in your writing--a skill, an art, a way of life. 

So if peppering our writing with these delicious sensory details will help the reader experience the story...

Well that's what we want! Of course.  And capturing those details, it's a skill, like any other that you can observe when you read fantastic fiction (or nonfiction that tells a story.)  

The incredible thing is that life is full of these moments that can help you with your writing...but you have to notice them. 

But here's the thing: You can't capture what you don't see...

Pssst! Looking for a little writing inspiration?  Try this free self-paced course .  Draw inspiration from short stories online, your life and some creative writing prompts to get you started. Who knows where you'll end up!

Pssst! Looking for a little writing inspiration? Try this free self-paced course.  Draw inspiration from short stories online, your life and some creative writing prompts to get you started. Who knows where you'll end up!

Start by being present--by living!

Well, maybe you're better at this than I am...

Personally, I'm someone who lives quite a bit in my head--I spend a lot of time, reading, working in front of a computer, forgetting the world around me. Tuning it out.   

And you? 

Even when you go out into the world, it's far too easy to stay 'in your head'--as if protected by a giant bubble of goals and thoughts.  Desires, worries, reminders swirl by and capture your attention.  

So, not only did I have to learn to 'capture my moments on the page,' I kind of had to learn to live them too.  

It happens faster than you think. Maybe it's happening to you...

By the way, I have a 'dumb phone,' but I hear that smartphones and other forms of constant conectedness can have a similar effect to living in your head.

Either way, if we're not careful, the effect is the same:

Your moments are stolen from you.  They slip by unnoticed. 

And you can't capture on paper what you didn't savor yourself. 

How to keep a journal of your moments...

What I'm suggesting is simple, and yet essential. What I'm going to describe here is not a complex set of steps--far from it.  But that doesn't mean it's easy to do.  It takes your attention, and it takes repeated practice, showing up. 

Think of yourself like a painter--learning to see light, shades, form, to observe something and then to practice capturing it again and again.  

How to get started capturing 'Slices of Life.'

Try this every day for a week, or a month.  Like I said, it's simple...and it isn't.

  • Each evening (or the next morning works also) stop and think of a moment in your day that you could describe down to its details: the sights, smells sounds...and just write about that moment. Capture it.  
  • What if you realize you're having trouble finding a moment to write about? That happens to me if I'm in front of my computer all day, for example.  In that case, focus on anything you can, no matter how small.  For example, I light a wood stove every morning in the winter, so I get to appreciate it's glow at 5AM.  Then there's my 'coffee ritual.' Sometimes the way the light hits the countryside when I drive my kids to school. Or just my kids--the way they move, smell, what they say...
  • Each day, spend some time trying to notice something you can 'capture' later. This is key to your efforts--and life-changing too!  Take in the smells, the textures, the movements--the conversations you overheard.  All of it.  
  • And if all else fails and you can't capture a present moment? Well, think back!  Even a dreamer like me has got piles of moments stored away where I can remember the slant of the sun, the prick of the grass under my body...I'll bet you do to. 

Like I said, it's simple, but it's an art form. If you do this for a week, I think you'll notice yourself seeking out 'slices of life' during your day. 

I think you'll also find that you'll start to like what you've written when you read it over. 

What can I do with all of these slices of life?

I'll be going into this topic in further detail next time.

But I truly believe that scribbling down these slices of life is the cornerstone to your writing habit. It's a fundamental writing skill, it's a fundamental life skill.  

Even if you took all the notebooks containing your slices of life and burned them in your wood stove until they were nothing but grey ash--or tossed them into an ice-crusted winter river...

You would still carry your memories, your life's lessons and your new writing skill with you forever. 

And you? 

Do you do anything like this already in your journal? How could it change your writing?

Do you walk around in a bubble of your thoughts like I do? Or have you learned to be more mindful of your moments?

Capturing slices of life will change your writing and your life.   Let me know if you decide to give it a try.  

And if you've got questions on getting started with this part of your writing, I'm here. Leave me a comment below, get in touch, or join the conversation at the Vagabond English Book Club.