How to Develop Better Writing Habits with Journaling

better writing habits with journaling

Journal your way to better writing.

The more you write, the better your writing becomes. That’s not an opinion; it’s a fact. Experience breeds expertise, so if you write a lot, you’ll become an expert writer.

Ideally, you’ll write every day.

Writers who come to the craft out of passion never have a problem with this. They write every day because they need to write every day. Writing is not a habit, an effort, or an obligation; it’s a necessity.

Other writers struggle with developing a daily writing habit. They start manuscripts, launch blogs, purchase pretty diaries and swear they’re going to make daily entries. Months later, frustrated and fed up, they give up.

When weeks have passed and you haven’t written a single word, when unfinished projects are littering your desk and clogging up your computer’s hard drive, you can give up entirely and take out a lifetime lease on a cubicle in a drab, gray office. Or, you can step back, admit that you have a problem, and make some changes.


Journal Writing

One thing sets successful writers apart from unsuccessful writers: commitment. When you’re committed to the work, your chances for success increase exponentially. And one of the easiest, most natural, and creative ways to commit to your own writing and produce better writing over time is to keep a writing journal.

Writers who are not working at the professional level are juggling their writing projects with a full-time job, families, school, and a host of other obligations. Writers also get stuck. You’re working on a manuscript and then one day, the ideas just stop flowing. You decide to step away for a day or two, and three months later, you’ve practically forgotten all about that book you were writing. In fact, you can’t remember the last time you sat down and actually wrote something.

Journal writing is many things, but first and foremost, it’s a solution. Journaling is best known for its artistry and highly recognized for its self-help (vent-and-rant) benefits. But few young or new writers realize that a journal is a writer’s most sacred space. It’s a place where you can jot down or flesh out ideas, where you can freewrite or work on writing exercises when you’re blocked, and where you can tackle writing prompts when you’re short on time. It’s a space where you develop better writing skills and learn new techniques through trial and error.

Inspiration and Productivity

The three biggest barriers to a writer’s success are writer’s block, time management, and procrastination.

Writer’s Block

If you’re working on a big project and writer’s block sets in, a good solution is to take a break and work on something else for a while. Too many writers take “something else” to mean “a different novel.” Instead of breaking from one big project to launch another big project (and ultimately ending up with several unfinished projects), use the break for journal writing. This gives you time to step away from the project that is stuck and provides a space for you to continue writing (and possibly to work through the problems you’re having with your project).

Time Management

Everyone wants to write a book, even people who don’t consider themselves writers and who don’t want to be writers. But who has the time? Aspiring writers often complain that they’d love to take their writing hobby to the next level, but they are too busy. Journal writing is an ideal way to bridge that gap. Journaling allows you to keep your writing skills sharp and develop ideas, so when there is time to write that book, you’re ready for it.

Procrastination

You can keep a journal on your computer (or you can use an old typewriter, if that kind of thing appeals to you). But most writers use a good, old-fashioned notebook: pen and paper. While we can certainly crank out more words when we type, we are also at risk for the many distractions of the computer and the Internet. When your journal writing sessions are offline, your productivity may increase tenfold because you spend the entire session writing. After all, your journal doesn’t have Twitter or solitaire on it.

Good Writing Habits

The truth is, you don’t have to write every single day to be a professional or published writer. Daily writing is the best practice but many writers keep a regular, five-day work week. A few writers get by on the binge-and-purge model, writing heavily for a few months, then not writing at all for a while. But one rule remains firm: those who succeed treat their writing as a job and they commit to it.

Journal writing is an ideal way for writers to fulfill that commitment. When you keep a journal, you rid yourself of excuses. You can no longer say that you’re stuck on a plot twist because you can write in your journal until the plot becomes untwisted. In fact, writing in your journal may help you do just that. When you’re short on time, you can always turn to your journal for a quick, ten-minute writing session, even while larger projects are sitting on the back burner. And your journal is distraction-free, so you can stay focused during your journal writing sessions.

Do you have to keep a journal in order to succeed and become a professional or published writer? No, of course not. There are many paths to better writing and journal writing is just one trail on the mountain, but it’s a trail that is entrenched with the footprints of successful writers throughout history who have benefited from journaling.

Do you keep a journal? How do you use journal writing? How often do you write in your journal? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

About Melissa Donovan
Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She writes fiction and poetry and is the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with creative writing tips and ideas.

Comments

37 Responses to “How to Develop Better Writing Habits with Journaling”

  1. Jo Lamb says:

    Hi Melissa, great blog and on a subject I blogged about a few days ago! Having let my morning journal slip, I have just rediscovered it again and it is really helping with my writing. For me the greatest benefit is ‘writing out’ some of those difficulties, be it characterisation, dialogue, setting, plot, it doesn’t happen immediately but will eventually result in getting somewhere!
    The other thing is not to get too stressed out if you let it slip for one day…
    JO

    • I kept a journal for many years and I always turn back to it when I’m in a writing slump. Of course, that doesn’t happen very often now that I have a blog and copywriting business, but I always keep it close and it’s so handy for jotting down interesting notes and thoughts. I mostly use it for writing down ideas. Yes, it’s definitely not worth getting stressed if you skip a day. But on the other hand, you have to be careful that one day of not writing doesn’t turn into a week, month, etc. Thanks Jo!

  2. A Mom's Choice says:

    Good article. I’m slacking on doing my journaling. I need to get back on that horse. I’ve wrote prompts to journal. If you’re a crafter you could make a creative journal. Tesha Moore has a great idea for combining journaling with writing. My writing is a stress reliever. I’m an emotional writter. I’m a subscriber of your blog.

  3. James Thayer says:

    Sometimes journals can become great literature. James Boswell’s biography of Samuel Johnson was regarded when it was published in 1791 as a work of genius, but few people then could believe that Boswell–something of a sot and sycophant–could possibly have produced such a work. Thomas Macaulay wrote that, “Of the talents which ordinarily raise men to eminence as writers, Boswell had absolutely none.” Boswell’s work is still regarded by many as the greatest biography ever written in the English language, but critics wondered about such a perfect work coming from such an imperfect fellow. The biography was viewed as a freak occurrence. The biography was proof that “any fool may write a valuable book by chance,” Thomas Grey said at the time. Then in the 1920s, Boswell’s journals were discovered. They are wonderfully observant, and now rival Samuel Pepys’ journals in the esteem of historians. And so the truth became evident: Boswell was a superb writer, didn’t matter how much he drank and whored around. Boswell may not have known he was working on art when he would return to his writing table after an evening out, but it turns out he was. Maybe we are, too.

  4. Hannah Kincade says:

    I do keep a journal and I completely agree. It helps in so many ways and clears my mind from other things that are plaguing it and clogging up my creative process. I think we need to have closed door writing habits. So many of us just write to have others read it and sometimes it stifles our creativity. It’s so nice to write something where I don’t have to worry what others will think or if I used a million adverbs. Great tips!

  5. I journal about and for everything — the usual things, like ranting about the things going on in my life, but also for “thinking out loud” about whatever I’m writing, puzzling out how I want to approach things. I use journaling to create goals for myself. And I use it as a basis for memoir. It has been, for me, the foundation of my writing practice. Which is why I appreciate your post so much and am linking to it in today’s “BlogTalk: Journaling News” at http://www.writingthroughlife.com.

  6. Shureen says:

    I just came across the site and thought it was really eye opening! I’ve never really tried journalling until recently. I felt like it would be a good way to track positivity and keep me on track to erase some of the negativity in my life. I got a notebook and started writing but felt like it was going wrong. So i ripped out the page and started again…And I think this went on for a good 5/6 pages. And then I just gave up because I felt like I wasn’t doing such a good job of it and didn’t feel happy with what i had to say.

    I am going to give it a try.. again- bearing in mind the tips you’ve given on this site, and I’m hopeful that pretty soon I will stop ripping out pages, accept what I am writing and be happy with it

    Thank you

    • The trick is to just stop ripping out pages and keep writing. If you’re a new writer, you shouldn’t set your expectations too high. Just write and let your creativity flow. If you keep going back through every single page in your journal, you will want to rip them out. Try breaking up your journal writing with drawings and doodles. When you come across a particularly good piece of writing, make a copy of an excerpt and paste it in your journal. Read a lot. When you feel ready, set a goal to write a well crafted piece — an essay, article, or short story. And remember, the real work of writing is rewriting. Don’t shy away from making revisions.

      Good luck Shureen!

  7. Jude says:

    Good article, thanks. A journal with unlined pages gives me scope for making mind maps, drawing and random writing all in one place whenever I feel like it. The journal is small enough carry everywhere but big enough to be useful. Its good to have a place to work that is for my eyes only. Not great literature, but a starting point. When an idea develops to a certain point I switch to the computer and take the best bits from the journal entries to create a more polished piece of writing.

  8. Reader says:

    Great post! I’m an aspiring writer, and ever since I started writing I’ve only been doing journal writing. I do short stories once in a while, but I’m more inclined (or interested) to write personal journals. And I’m not satisfied with those to reach my goal (to be a published author), because it’s only person and not presentable. I tried writing presentable pieces but none of them are appealing to me (maybe I need to show them to other people for feedbacks). But now your post convinced me that my journals, after all, aren’t recycle bin worthy, and thank you!

    • If nothing else, journals are ideal for practice and working out ideas. Sometimes when I have an idea for a blog post but can’t quite get the words right, I turn to my journal and just start writing about the topic. For some reason, the journal is freeing and I always end up finding my way. Then, I can take the good sentences from my journal and use them to form an article. So yes, journals are incredibly useful tools for writers in many different ways.

  9. Janet Wagner says:

    My journal entries tend to a mix of prose and poems. I write several days throughout the week, and I use my journals for mining ideas for poems.

    • I find that the majority of my journal entries end up being freewrites, which I later harvest for poetry material. Also, lately I find that when I get stuck on a writing project, if I turn to a notebook (good old-fashioned pen and paper), my ideas flow much better.

  10. tom says:

    I journal at least a few times a day. I dont plan on becoming a professional writer but since i journal as often as i do, its not impossible that this will come naturally for me.

    I journal about things that are happening within my mind and also what things are going on i my life.

    I find that it helps me to understand myself.

    Im at a point in my life where i know exactly what my likes and dislikes are and my opinions on things.

    I cant imagine my life without it

  11. Lenni says:

    I’ve heard the advice to avoid journaling because it takes time away from “real” writing. I’ve found it to be one of my most reliable ways to break writer’s block and clear my mind. Second only to working out. I absolutely keep a journal; and a written one, not an electronic one. I get the added bonus of the organic feeling of putting pen to paper. :)

  12. Tom Gunn says:

    Great suggestions, especially the part about satisfying the need to take a break without cheating on your novel with a sexy young project.

    I’ve found lately that it’s useful for my writing life to keep a writer’s log inspired by the Captain’s log from Star Trek. I use it to reflect on my work for the day and take a moment to reward myself, recognize progress I’ve made, vent about frustrations regarding the work, etc. I’ve also found it helps me to set up my work for the next day, setting goals and agenda for what I’d like to accomplish.

    I keep a separate account on journamatic.com exclusively for this purpose. I don’t think of myself as the kind of writer that benefits from a lot of planning. I’m allergic to outlines. But this is different. This is as much about self care as anything and it really helps my work stay focused and purposeful.

  13. Yvonne Root says:

    Yes Melissa,

    Practice, practice, practice.

    And you’re right about needing to write. Not writing for some of us would be like saying something along the lines of, “I think I’ll take a break from breathing for a while.”

  14. I believe that journaling is one of the most important and valuable activities that a person can engage in. Writing my thoughts, fears, and anger out through a great deal of adversity helped to calm my mind and ease my anxiety. I don’t believe that there can be found any better therapy. I suffer from major depressive disorder, and my journal became my best friend and confidant. I worked through many issues by writing in my journal late at night after everyone else had gone to bed. Writing is crucial to my existence–asking me not to write is like asking a dog not to bark. I can get creative in my journal and carry that creativity over to my current project. My best friends are my colorful spiral bound journal and my fine point black gel Tul pen.

    • I think that creative expression in general is therapeutic, but writing is definitely more accessible in the sense that more people can write than (think they can) draw or play music. Yes, I’ve always felt like books and notebooks are friends. :)

  15. R. Bruce Magee says:

    Please beware hyperbole. For example, do you know for sure that journaling is “a trail that is entrenched with the footprints of millions of successful writers who have benefited from journaling.” Millions? What’s your source?

  16. Marsha Posz says:

    I’m the type of person who keeps a few different journals. I have a journal for writing exercises and for generating blog post ideas. I have a travel journal about the occasional trips I take out of state. I have a mental health journal that I write in when I am having episodes to sort of work through my symptoms. And then I have a journal for keeping track of hopes, dreams, fantasies, novel ideas and things I hope to get to in the future. I almost always have a paper and pen on me. I have kept them in my purse for years just in case I need to jot anything down–anything to a friend’s phone number to things I want to get done during the week to the ideas for my writing. I do not journal daily, but I am working towards doing so. Some days I write for hours and some days just a few minutes or not at all. I really like the themed journals, though. Sometimes it is nice to go back and read about my travels or see how far I have come in my mental health journey without digging through other entries to find what I am looking for. I like to use fancy journals myself, but I have a couple of simple notebooks as well.

  17. RICH SATTANNI says:

    HI I am a published writer.I at times used a journal but now I write notes to remember the projects I need to get done.I agree a journal sure keeps you on track.BY the way my first book came out 8/22/12.The title is THE SIR DAVID THOMAS SERIES BY RICHARD ANTHONY SATTANNI.IT took 6 years almost to reach my goal.IN order to become a published writer it takes lots of practice and hard work.The outcome feels good when you can hold your first book in your hand -like holding your first born child.

    • Six years is a long time, but I think it’s worth it if you are proud of the book you’ve written. I’d gladly take six years or more to finish a novel, and maybe I will!

  18. I do my best to write a daily poem in a designated small journal. The word “daily” is not a constant, although my intentions are honorable. I use found words or snippets of thought at the beginning of my day. It’s enough to get the juices pumping––jamies and all. I open my notebook, enter the date on a fresh page, and set down a word or two. It’s amazing. Stream of consciousness takes over, I write fast, and don’t worry about structure or mechanics. That’ll come later. I shut the book until the next day. As a result, I’ve built a healthy collection of drafts, and have refined several along the way.
    Keeping a journal for writing fiction is not as straightforward or constant. I do my best and am rewarded.
    I’m intrigued by the Star Trek comment later in this role. Thanks.

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