How Keeping a Journal Makes You a Better Writer

keeping a journal

Keeping a journal makes you a better writer.

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.

Writing every day is the best way to acquire lots of experience.

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.

Keeping a Journal

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 keeping a journal.

Writers who are not working at the professional level are juggling their writing projects with full-time jobs, families, school, and a host of other obligations. Writers also get stuck. You’re working on a manuscript and then one day, the ideas 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.

Journals can be used for many things, but first and foremost, keeping a journal is a solution. Journaling is best known for its artistry and highly recognized for its self-help or 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. And it’s superb for fostering a daily writing habit.

In other words, keeping a journal can make you a better writer. That’s not to say it’s the only way (there are many ways to become a better writer), but it’s a good way.

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 to write in your journal. This gives you time to step away from the project that is stuck and provides a space for you to continue writing (and possibly 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. Keeping a journal provides a time and space where you can explore ideas, develop good writing habits, and sharpen your writing skills, so when there is finally time in your schedule to write that book, you’re ready for it.

Distractions and 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. There are no distractions, so you’re less likely to procrastinate.

The Benefits of Keeping a Journal

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 model, writing heavily for a few months and 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.

Keeping a journal 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 keeping journals.

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

10 Core Practices for Better Writing

Journal Writing Ideas: Fusing Art and Words Together

journal writing ideas with artistic flair

Journal writing is an art unto itself.

Journal writing is most definitely an art, but how often do we actively use art in our journals?

We writers are passionate about our journals and notebooks, those sacred spaces where some of our best ideas manifest.

So it makes sense to rig our journals so that they inspire us as much as possible. And what’s more inspiring than art?

Let’s look at some ways we can fuse art with journal writing in order to cultivate inspiration and creativity.

The Art Journal

Artists keep journals just like writers do. But instead of filling their journals with words, artists fill them with images — sketches and paintings. Like writers, artists fill their journal pages with ideas, and they treasure their journals as sacred creative spaces.

What happens when we fuse art and words together, when an image is accompanied by a few lines of text or when a paragraph is accented with an illustration?

Words and images complement each other. And since writing is an art, writing and art can live side by side in your journal, coming together to keep you inspired and motivated.

Fusing Art and Words for More Creative Journal Writing

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So why write a thousand words when you can say it with an image? Save the words for whatever can’t be said with a picture or use words to expand on what an image represents. Next time you sit with your journal, experiment with art and illustration.

Here are some ideas for merging art with your journal writing:

  • When words won’t come, doodle in your journal instead. You don’t have to be a trained or skilled artist to draw symbols and stick figures.
  • Use your journal to sketch pictures of your fictional characters. Again, they can be stick figures. Use colored pencils to shade in their hair, eyes, etc.
  • Start collecting images that inspire you. Pick up postcards that capture your imagination and clip images from magazines, and then paste them into your journal. Use them as prompts and write about what you see.
  • Practice writing descriptions. Tape an image in your journal, then write a full-page description. Does the description you wrote render the image in the reader’s mind? Imagery is an important element in writing, and crafting descriptions will help you hone your imagery skills.
  • Mix journal writing and art within the pages of your notebook. Draw a little, write a little. Let the words run over the pictures and vice versa. Use light-colored markers to create big, bold shapes and then fill the shapes with words.

You can add more art to your journal, too. Jot down your favorite song lyrics. Describe a favorite piece of music. Include your favorite photography. Allow all of the arts to come together by merging journal writing with other creative forms of expression.

And don’t worry about artistry, except when it comes to words. Lots of writers enjoy other arts, but it’s impossible to master them all. Stay focused on writing if that’s your greatest strength, but allow yourself to explore the full potential of your creativity.

Do you have any journal writing tips? Got any writing ideas to add or experiences to share? Leave a comment, and keep writing!

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Creative Writing: Reflective Journaling

creative writing reflective journaling

Reflective journal writing cultivates personal awareness.

Technically, a journal is a chronological log. Many professionals keep journals, including scientists and ship captains. Their journals are strictly for tracking their professional progress.

A writer’s journal can hold many things: thoughts, ideas, stories, poems, and notes. It can hold dreams and doodles, visions and meditations. Anything that pertains to your creative writing ideas and aspirations can find a home inside your journal.

Today, let’s explore an intimate style of journal writing, one in which we write about our own lives.

Personal Journals and Creative Writing

Some personal journals are diaries. A diary is merely an account of one’s daily activities and experiences. In a diary, we record what we did each day.

A reflective journal is similar to a diary in that we document our experiences. However, reflective journal writing goes deeper than diary writing; it strives to gain greater understanding of our experiences rather than simply document them.

Reflective journaling is a form of creative writing that allow us to practice self-reflection, self-exploration, and self-improvement, and through reflective journal writing, we gain greater awareness through observation, contemplation, and writing. By chronicling various aspects of our lives, we become more self-aware.

Reflective Journal Writing

We all have stories to tell. With reflective journaling, you write about your own life, but you’re not locked into daily chronicles that outline your activities or what you had for dinner. You might write about something that happened when you were a small child. You might even write about something that happened to someone else — something you witnessed or have thoughts about that you’d like to explore. Instead of recounting events, you might write exclusively about your inner experiences (thoughts and feelings). Often, reflective journal writing reveals tests we have endured and lessons we have learned.

The Art of Recalibration (by Kristin Donovan, who is a sisterly spirit but no relation) is a perfect example of reflective journaling in which stories about our lives are interwoven with our ideas about life itself.

Reflective journal writing has other practical applications, too. Other forms of creative writing, such as poems and stories, can evolve from reflective journaling. And by striving to better understand ourselves, we may gain greater insight to others, which is highly valuable for fiction writers who need to create complex and realistic characters. The more deeply you understand people and the human condition, the more relatable your characters will be.

Do You Keep a Journal?

I guess I’m a journal slob because my journal has a little bit of everything in it – drawings, personal stories, rants, and reflections. It’s mostly full of freewrites and poetry. I realize that a lot of writers don’t bother with journals at all; they want to focus on the work they intend to publish. But I think journal writing is healthy and contributes to a writer’s overall, ongoing growth.

I once read a comment on a blog by a writer who said she didn’t keep a journal because she couldn’t be bothered with writing down the events of each day; I found it curious that she had such a limited view of what a journal could hold. A journal doesn’t have to be any one thing. It can be a diary, but it can also be a place where we write down our ideas, plans, and observations. It can hold thoughts and feelings, but it can also be a place where we doodle and sketch stories and poems.

I’m curious about your journal. Do you keep one? What do you write in it? Is your journal private or public? Is it a spiral-bound notebook or a hardcover sketchbook? Does journal writing inspire or inform your other creative writing projects? Tell us all about it by leaving a comment, and keep on writing!

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Writing Ideas: Using Sketchbooks for Journal Writing and Brainstorming

writing ideas sketchbooks

Writing ideas: sketchbooks for journaling and brainstorming.

These days, we writers use computers for most of our writing. But a lot of us admit there’s still something about good old-fashioned pen and paper that really gets creativity flowing.

It’s difficult to brainstorm on a computer or jot down notes and random thoughts, and it’s impossible to doodle in the margins (unless you have some extra fancy equipment). So for journal writing, note-taking, and brainstorming sessions, I like to do it old school.

Over the years, I’ve collected hordes of journals and notebooks. Some of them are pretty and whimsical. Others are simple and functional. I always go through lots of spiral notebooks for business note-taking, but when it comes to journal writing and creative brainstorming, I have learned (the hard way) that I have pretty basic but specific needs that my journal must fulfill.

Journal Writing Needs

What we need from a notebook depends on how we use it. If it gets carried around, dropped, and spilled on, then it needs to be robust. If we like to draw or sketch, then it’s better if the paper is unlined. Some notebooks are throwaways but sometimes we want to create something that lasts.

I use several notebooks that are throwaways. These are primarily for planning, outlining and taking business-related notes. When they’re filled up, I pull out the pages I want to keep, stash them in a binder, and recycle the rest. However, I keep journals for writing poetry, developing ideas, and recording my thoughts. These journals are keepers, not throwaways.

I need a hardbound journal so it can withstand lots of use. It can’t be too big or too small. Something in the 5×8 inch range is just right. The paper must be archival quality because there’s less yellowing and tearing with higher quality paper. Most importantly, the pages have to be unlined. I like to doodle and draw when the mood strikes. Occasionally, I write sideways, upside down, or even in circles (a technique for breaking through writer’s block). They can also handle markers, which I use often in brainstorming.

Sure, I can brainstorm and mind-map right over a line-ruled page, but why should I? Those lines are inhibiting and I need creative freedom.

The best thing about the Watson-Guptill (and other unlined, hardbound sketchbooks) is that if you are an artist and a writer or someone who likes to paste photos or clippings into your journals, they’re perfect because the pages are thick and unlined.

The Watson-Guptill sketchbooks come in several different colors including red, black, green, and purple. I’ve got one in every color! They are 5.5 by 8.5 inches and contain archival-quality blank, unlined paper. You can also get a larger size (about 8×10 inch) and landscape-oriented editions.

I find that when I work in these books, writing ideas flow effortlessly. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the hardcover (it feels so much like a real book). Maybe it’s the potential in all that white space. All I know is that I start feeling creative just by looking at one of them!

What Are Your Favorite Journal Writing Tools?

So there is only one journal for me: the Watson-Guptill Sketchbook. And the more I use these sketchbooks for my journal writing, the more I love them.

I know that writers love to rave about Moleskines. My confession for today is that although I have one, I haven’t used it yet (although I’m looking forward to trying it). When the right project comes along, I’ll break it out and do a little comparative analysis.

What’s your favorite type of notebook for journal writing? Do you find that your writing tools (pens, notebooks, etc.) spark or inhibit the flow of creativity and writing ideas? Do you keep separate notebooks for planning, note-taking, and different types of writing?

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Sleep and Dream Your Journal Writing Ideas

dreams and journal writing ideas

Harvest your dreams for journal writing ideas.

There’s something mysterious and magical about dreams. In the dreamworld, anything is possible. Our deepest desires and greatest fears come to life. Whether they haunt or beguile, our dreams represent the far reaches of our imaginations.

Journals can have similar qualities of mystery and intrigue. If your journal is full of freewrites, doodles, cryptic notes, and random ideas, then it might read like a road map through your imagination or it may feel like a crash course through your subconscious.

Journal writing is a great tool for dream exploration, and dreams are an excellent source of inspiration for writing ideas.

You can tap into your daydreams or your sleeping dreams as a way to inform and inspire your journal writing:

  • Record your dreams so you can better understand them.
  • Capture the images in your dreams and turn them into poems and song lyrics.
  • Transform monsters from your nightmares into creepy villains for your short stories or novels.

Sleep, Dreams, and Journal Writing Ideas

Dreams have been a subject of great interest in the fields of neurology, psychology, and spirituality, to name a few. Yet we still know relatively little about the nature of dreams. Where do they come from? What do they mean? In one dream, you’re working out problems from your subconscious, and in the next, you’re a character from your favorite TV show. The white rabbit in your dream symbolizes a call to adventure but the white rabbit in your best friend’s dream represents fertility.

According to Wikipedia:

Dreams are a succession of images, sounds or emotions that pass through the mind during sleep. The content and purpose of dreams are not fully understood, though they have been a topic of speculation and interest throughout recorded history. The scientific study of dreams is known as oneirology.

Like I said, we know relatively little about dreams. But that doesn’t mean we can’t put them to good use. Throughout history, dreams have often acted as catalysts for artists, writers, musicians, and inventors. Here are a few famous literary works that were affected or derived from authors’ dreams:

Keeping a Dream Journal

There are many ways you can use dreams in your journal writing. The most obvious is to keep a dream journal. Just keep your journal by your bed and jot down your dreams as soon as you wake, before you even get out of bed (otherwise you risk losing or forgetting the dream). It only takes a few minutes.

You can also jot down a few notes and later use your dream as the foundation for a piece of writing. Your dreams can provide you with characters, scenes, imagery, and even plot ideas.

Journal Writing with Daydreams

Let’s dive right in to what Wikipedia has to say about daydreams:

While daydreaming has long been derided as a lazy, non-productive pastime, it is now commonly acknowledged that daydreaming can be constructive in some contexts. There are numerous examples of people in creative or artistic careers, such as composers, novelists and filmmakers, developing new ideas through daydreaming.

The imagination is a bizarre and wondrous thing. Humans have the capacity to conjure up incredible things, but contrary to popular opinion, using one’s imagination requires time and energy. It might look like you’re sitting around doing a whole lot of nothing. But who knows? You could be plotting the next Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

In some ways, daydreams are a better source of inspiration for journal writing than nighttime dreams. Since you’re awake, you can take breaks from your daydreams to jot down notes. You’re also more likely to retain a daydream because you are awake for it. Many people have a hard time remembering the dreams that they slept through.

Dream Your Next Piece of Writing

Dreams are borne of human consciousness and imagination, which provide an endless stream of writing ideas and inspiration that can inform your journaling sessions. Your journal can function as a repository for all of these visions, and you can revisit your journal as an incredible idea warehouse anytime for any type of writing project.

Explore More

Below are some links you can follow to learn more about dreams:

Discussion Questions

Do you ever write down your dreams? Have you ever kept a dream journal? Has a dream (daydream or night-dream) ever provided inspiration for your writing? Is journal writing a habit for you? How often do you write in your journal and how do you use it with your other writing projects?

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Journal Writing Ideas: Daily Gratitudes

writing ideas gratitude

Be grateful and you’ll never run out of writing ideas.

In honor of the forthcoming holidays, here’s a post on using gratitude to come up with writing ideas.

You might call your journal a notebook or diary. It’s the handy place where you store your thoughts, ideas, experiences, and your work, either on paper or in an electronic file.

A journal is an ongoing log, usually with dated entries. Some journals are topical (dream journals, travel journals, freewriting journals), while others are left open to explore just about anything.

Many topical journals are meant to improve the quality of life. For example, people who are working to lose weight might keep a diet and exercise journal. Folks who are trying to better themselves might keep a self-improvement journal. Parents may keep a journal of their children’s development. But there’s another type of journal that suits just about anyone, writers and non-writers alike, and that is the appreciation journal.

Journal Writing and Gratitude

Where do you get your journal writing ideas? Do you ever sit down to write in your journal and find that you don’t have anything to say? When you practice daily gratitude, you’ll always have something to write about.

There are a couple of ways to use gratitude to inspire journal writing ideas:

  • Every morning, spend 15 minutes writing about one thing you’re grateful for.
  • Every night, write a short list of things that happened throughout the day that you’re thankful for.

Don’t limit yourself to writing about big, momentous things. Be grateful for the little things, too. You can even dedicate a notebook for your daily gratitudes.

Over time, you’ll find that you have a lot to appreciate. You may also notice people around you who are ether appreciative or unappreciative. These observations can inform your fiction and poetry writing and will certainly influence your work if you write memoirs or personal essays. For example, a gracious neighbor could inspire a character for your novel, just as an ungrateful co-worker could inspire a villain in one of your stories. The people and things that you appreciate could become the subjects of poems and essays.

Benefits of Gratitude

While exploring your own gratitude can provide you with plenty of writing ideas, there are other benefits as well. Here are five reasons why documenting what you’re grateful for can be beneficial:

  1. A great way to start your day. It’s not always easy to roll out of bed and propel yourself into your daily routine. Some days it’s downright dreadful, like when you know you have to attend a long, boring meeting, take a test, or see the doctor. If you write in your appreciation journal in the A.M., it will jump-start your day on a positive note and a day that starts off good is less likely to turn sour.
  2. Good for the soul. The process of thinking about what you are grateful for and expressing your gratitude just makes you feel good. This could be contagious, and other people around you might absorb some of that positive energy. This makes life better for everyone.
  3. Promote positive thinking. Because the things for which you’re grateful are the positives in life, when you focus on them, you are directing your attention away from the negatives. According to some experts, concentrating on the good things in life attracts more good things to you.
  4. Generate new thoughts and ideas. This is especially useful for creative people, like writers. When you force yourself to sit down each day and think about something, the result is a string of thoughts and ideas. Some of these will be great fodder for articles, stories, and poems.
  5. A great way to end your day. When it’s time to wind down and shift into relaxation mode, thinking about the good things in life will help you clear your mind and put you in a lighter, brighter mood. That’s an excellent way to prepare for a decent night’s sleep!

Over the years, I have kept an appreciation journal on and off. I find that after a few weeks of daily gratitude in my journal writing, being thankful becomes second nature. Though some days there’s not enough time to write down my thoughts, I try to start off each day by thinking about at least one thing that I’m truly grateful for. The result? My attitude is more positive, it’s easier for me to put a smile on my face (even when I’m dealing with adversity), and minor annoyances tend to roll off my shoulder. I just feel better overall. I’ve also found that thankfulness in myself and others (or lack thereof) has given me plenty of writing ideas, especially when I’m creating characters.

Try it for yourself and see how beneficial gratitude can be!

Do you keep an appreciation journal or any other kind of journal? Have you ever written a list of things that you’re thankful for? What are they? Do you spend much time on your own journal writing? How do you use your journal to promote creative thinking and inspire fresh writing ideas?

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