photo credit: Auzigog
Every expert in the world thinks you should keep a journal. Physical trainers suggest keeping an exercise journal, and nutritionists recommend keeping track of your meals. Oprah insists on a gratitude journal, and business consultants promote journaling throughout one’s career.
How much journal writing can one person do?
Of course, journals are, first and foremost, the forté of writers. Journal writing provides a sacred space where thoughts, ideas, stories, and poems can be recorded. We turn to our journals for inspiration and when we’re inspired.
Some journals are topical while others are a hodgepodge. You might use several different journals, each for different projects or topics, or you might use one journal for everything. There’s no right or wrong way, and there are no limits to the journal ideas you can use to inform and inspire your creative writing projects. Read more
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 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. Read more
I know some writers are diligent about keeping their journals pristine. The pages are crisp, the lines straight and legible, and every word is thoughtfully selected. The theme is consistent — a dream journal, an idea journal, a diary. It’s an orderly affair done up in a tidy fashion. And that works for some people.
But it doesn’t work for me.
If I’m going to be creative — if I’m going to let my creativity flow — then I need to let things get messy. I need to dig my toes in the mud, bury my fingers in the clay, and splash paint across the walls. I can’t be confined by order or logic. I need to write sideways and upside down. I need to doodle. Jot down song lyrics. Make smudges. I need to be free.
And I’m not the only one. Read more
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 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. Read more
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:
- Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
- Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
- Stephen King’s Misery
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’re 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 at any time for any type of writing project.
Below are some links you can follow to learn more about dreams:
- Twelve Famous Dreams
- UC Berkeley has made an entire course on the Psychology of Dreams available online (audio format).
- Do you have a hard time remembering your dreams? Try a few techniques for better dream recall.
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?
Where do dreams come from? Many philosophers, psychiatrists, and other experts, as well as everyday people, have made conjectures about the sources of our night visions. But they remain a mystery.
Some dreams are obvious, of course. We’ve all experienced dreams that are clearly relevant to what’s going on in our lives or dreams that are some reflection of the past. Some people claim they’ve dreamed events before they actually happened — precognitive dreams that allow a dreamer to peer into the future.
Some of us remember every single dream we have. A few of us may even take time to jot down our dreams in a dream journal. Others cannot remember any of their dreams and will claim they don’t dream at all. There are those whose dreams are so vivid that they are induced into sleepwalking, and there are those whose dreams carry the essences of their greatest fears — nightmares.
Some dreamers are so attuned to their dreams that they can actually control a dream while they are having it (this is called lucid dreaming). They decide to fly in a dream, and they are off, soaring through the dream-sky.
Dreaming for Inspiration
Dreams may unlock mysteries, answer questions, or give us new insights. They inform artists’ work, help scientists solve complex problems, and they give writers plenty of fodder for fiction and poetry.
In fact, many famous works of art and inventions were inspired by dreams. In an article titled “Dream Art,” Wikipedia provides a list of artists and their works, which came directly from dreams. Some of the most notable artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers who have captured dream material to produce great works of art include William Blake, Salvador Dali, Clive Barker, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Stephen King, Carlos Castaneda, David Lynch, Rush, Paul McCartney, and Roger Waters, to name a few.
Dreams can even provide the answers to complex technical or scientific problems. Sewing machine inventor Elias Howe was having trouble figuring out how the needle on his machine would work, until one night he had a dream in which he was imprisoned by a group of natives, who were dancing around him and holding spears that had holes near their tips. This image finally gave Howe the idea he needed to make his invention work: a needle with a hole at the tip, which was designed much like those natives’ spears.
Journal Prompts and Dreams
If you’ve ever kept a dream journal, then you have some experience with exploring your dreams during waking hours. When you keep a dream journal, you learn to pay more attention to your dreams, and you start remembering your dreams better and in greater detail. Dream journals are ideal for generating raw creative material.
Today’s journal prompts aren’t based around a dream journal, and they don’t ask you to keep one, although doing so is definitely recommended. If you do happen to keep a dream journal, then you’ll have an advantage here, because these journal prompts do require that you remember a dream or two. Yet the main goal with these journal prompts is to add another tool to your writer’s toolbox, to leverage a little bit more of your imagination by paying attention to the messages, images, and signals that your subconscious is sending you when you’re sound asleep.
To complete these journal prompts, you do need to be a dreamer. If you don’t make a habit out of remembering your dreams, or if you rarely remember them, then you might try keeping a dream journal for about a week. As you fall asleep, remind yourself that in the morning your first task will be to write down your dreams. Promote dreaming and remembering dreams by using affirmations such as “I will dream” and “I will remember my dreams.” Then give these journal prompts a try.
- Write down a full account of a dream you’ve had recently. Try to include as many details as possible.
- Think back over some of the dreams you’ve had and try to identify recurring themes. Perhaps you’re often being chased in dreams (or doing the chasing), maybe a lot of your dreams are set in nature or feature animals.
- Identify the people, creatures, and animals in your dreams by describing them. Could they become characters in your next short story?
- Do you ever notice minute details in your dreams? Elias Howe noticed that in his dream, the natives’ spears had holes in them. Try to pinpoint seemingly minor details that appear in your dreams and write descriptions of them.
- Do your dreams ever stick with you throughout the day? Are images from your dreams haunting you as you go about your business? Why do you suppose this happens with some dreams but not others? What are the images that linger?
- Have you ever felt like a dream was trying to tell you something or send you an important message? What was the dream? What message did you come away with?
- If you could construct a full, vivid dream, which you will have tonight and remember in full tomorrow, what would happen in the dream? Who would be there? Where would it take place?
Interesting Facts About Dreams
- The scientific study of dreams is known as oneirology.
- Abraham Lincoln dreamed of his assassination.
- At one time, some experts believed that dreams only happened in black and white. Most people actually dream in color.
Good luck with these journal prompts! Now let’s talk about dreaming and how we can use dreams to inspire our writing!
Practice makes perfect, right?
That’s exactly why keeping a journal is essential for writers. The countless benefits of journaling include getting regular writing practice, establishing a space where you can explore your creative ideas, and fostering a daily writing habit.
Do all writers keep journals? Of course not. But most of us have kept journals at some point, and for most of us, journal writing has been instrumental in our development as writers.
Probably the most famous application of journal writing comes from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In it, she encourages people who are trying to connect with creativity to write every single morning. “Three pages of whatever comes to your mind — that’s all there is to it.”
Writing morning pages is like boot camp for your muse. By writing every day at the same time, you train her to show up when you say it’s time to work. Cameron’s methodology also involves turning off the inner censor, that little voice that berates every sentence.
The key is to simply let the words flow.
Think about it — if you write three pages a day, in seven days, you’ll have twenty-one pages. In a month, you’ll have about ninety pages, and in one year, you’ll have well over a thousand pages. That’s a lot of creative material to pull ideas from. And those are just a few of the benefits of journaling.
Get on the Writer’s Express
If you’re new to writing or want to explore writing as a career or hobby, then journal writing is your ticket onto the expressway to becoming a writer. You can use your journal to draft stories, sketch characters, jot down poems, or record the events of your daily life. Maybe after one year and over a thousand pages, you’ll be able to do some editing and publish your memoir.
Journaling is also great for commercial writers (technical writers, copywriters, etc.), who spend all day writing and editing copy for clients. This type of writing is a lot different from writing stories or poems; keeping a journal can help to get your head out of business and into more creative forms of writing. The creativity you cultivate will then seep into your professional writing, and it will become more vivid and engaging.
Sticking to a Schedule
Even if you don’t stick to a rigorous schedule, it’s important to write somewhat regularly to get the most out of the benefits of journaling. This helps keep ideas and language flowing and helps you build the journal writing habit. You may only be able to journal on weekends or on certain days of the week. Sticking to a schedule (preferably daily) is the best way, but it’s not always realistic.
The most important thing is that you commit to keeping a journal and then keep your journal with you or nearby at all times. You can also carry smaller notebooks or scraps of paper and either glue or tape them into your journal later.
You’ll Need a Journal
I’ve been writing a journal on and off for more years than I care to admit that I have under my belt. Throughout all those years, I’ve tried every type of journal under the sun, and finally, I found my favorite for journal writing.
Technically, the Watson-Guptill Sketchbook is just that, a sketchbook. The pages are blank instead of lined, so you can doodle and write sideways, and I love adding color with Crayola Markers, too!
Some writers can journal using anything — composition books, legal pads, napkins. I can do that too, but I don’t feel the same connection to it as when I have my own sacred space especially for journal writing.
Recently, I’ve got it into my head that I’ll start journaling on the computer. But it’s just not the same as having that pen and paper in my hand. It’s almost like I’m closer to my creativity or my subconscious when I’m using a pen. I’m not sure if that’s true or even possible, but it sure feels that way, making the tactile experience of working with pen and paper yet another benefit of journaling.
Have you ever kept a journal? Do you keep one now? Let’s talk about how journal writing has impacted our writing or even our lives. What type of notebook or paper do you use for your journal, or do you use a computer? Is your blog your journal? What benefits of journaling have you experienced?
Journal writing is something I’ve done on and off since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to keep a reading journal, but usually I inhale books, leaving little time between chapters to jot down my thoughts and reactions.
And by the time I finish reading, it’s often the wee hours of the night and time to fall asleep, which means I’m far too exhausted to post entries in a reading journal.
Next thing I know, I’m on to the next book without a minute to spare.
But lately I’ve been trying to capture my reading experiences by writing down notes about what I’ve read, and I find it incredibly helpful.
The Benefits of a Reading Journal
Keeping a reading journal:
- Increases retention
- Pushes you to contemplate the material you’ve read and study it as a writer while broadening your understanding of the material
- Provides a time and space for writing practice
Most writers already practice regular journal writing. There’s no reason you can’t start including your reading entries there, or if you like to keep things neatly separated, start a separate reading journal. Use a Word document, launch a blog, crack open a notebook. The important thing is that you record your thoughts and your reactions or observations about what you’ve read.
Creative Writing Ideas and Journal Writing
A reading journal can also help you grow as a writer, because you can note what works and what doesn’t. Which scenes in the novel were compelling? What character traits made you fall in love with the protagonist or loathe the villain?
You can keep notes about all your reading, not just books and novels. Jot down your thoughts after reading a magazine article, news story, or blog post. If you really want to get all-inclusive, you can even include music lyrics, movies, and TV shows. All of these are sources of inspiration.
Even if you don’t want to start a whole new reading journal, try writing down your reaction to whatever you read over the weekend. Look for writing techniques, such as plot twists and brain teasers, and make notes on the writer’s style and voice. See if knowing that you’re going to make notes changes the way you read something, and see if those notes benefit your own writing.
Do you keep a reading journal? Is there another genre of journal writing that you prefer? Share your experiences by leaving a comment.
Have you ever tried to write comedy? It’s not easy.
Artists are often regarded as a tortured bunch. From drug-addled rock stars to alcohol-infused writers, we’re all known for madness and melancholy.
But comics form the ranks of some of the most talented artists in the world. The gift of laughter is a rich one, and writing funny material can enrich your work.
After all, art must reflect life and life is a balance of highs and lows. So for today’s journal prompts, we’re going to work on humor.
Use these journal prompts to bring a smile — or better yet, a giggle — to someone’s face. Who knows? One of these prompts might lead you to write a hilarious scene for your next short story.
- Write about your favorite comedy film or TV show. Who’s the funniest character? Is the comedy physical, emotional, or intellectual? Why does it appeal to your personal sense of humor?
- Think about someone in your life who always gets a giggle out of you. Can you remember some of the funny things that person has said or done, which made you laugh? Write them down.
- Off-the-wall comedy is silly and ridiculous. How do you feel about slapstick?
- Think back on some embarrassing moments that you’ve experienced, especially ones that invoked laughter. Write those moments as scenes and infuse them with humor.
- Many dramas use comedic relief to add balance and realism. Write about how this is done successfully and the positive impact it has on readers.
When you’re writing, don’t forget about humor. Hopefully these journal prompts will help you keep humor in mind, even if you’re writing a dramatic piece or if humor isn’t your specialty.
And always remember, laughter is good medicine! Keep writing.
Did you find these journal prompts helpful? If you use any of these, share your experience by leaving a comment.
We usually understand a journal to be a place for writing about ourselves, but journals can be used for plenty of other purposes, many of which are especially useful to writers.
I’ve had my share of adventures in journal writing. As a teen, I kept a diary. Later, I had a poetry journal. I tried dream journaling, art journaling, and sometimes I keep a gratitude journal.
I believe journal writing is a huge boon to writers, especially when we’re not working on a specific project or when we’re looking for our next big project.
Today, I’d like to share a few of my favorite journal writing tools and resources.
A Place to Create
It’s been said a million times: If you want to be a writer, you have to write. I would add that if you want to be creative, you have to create. Sitting around and waiting for a big, blockbuster idea won’t do you any good. You’ve got to practice. And keeping a journal is a great way to practice writing and foster creativity every single day.
What I love best about my journal is that there are no rules. It’s my own little creative space. I use it for freewriting, sketching, and writing down my thoughts. I don’t write in my journal every day, but before I started blogging and writing professionally, I was pretty diligent about using my journal for routine writing practice.
I’ve been poking around the web in search of some of the best tools and resources for journaling with an emphasis on creativity and writing. Here’s what I found:
Moleskines are the most popular notebooks for writers and artists. They come in various sizes ranging from pocket-sized to 8 x 10 (inches) and with various paper, including blank or lined pages, thick paper, or regular note paper. There’s a pocket in the back, a placeholder ribbon, and a strap that keeps the journal closed. Moleskines were popular with Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway, so they’ve got solid endorsement. I’ve had one for several years but only recently started using it and discovered that I absolutely love it.
The Artist’s Way
This classic book for writers and artists is well known for giving us “morning pages.” It has inspired writers and artists to create on a daily basis. The Artist’s Way has become a staple among all kinds of creatives from filmmakers to crafters. You’re sure to find something to help you establish a writing routine, improve your writing skills, or overcome writer’s block in this book, which includes a twelve-week program packed with activities and exercises that you can do.
Paper Mate Profile Pens
I’ve never been into fancy, expensive pens. Frankly, I go through far too many pens to spend a lot of money on them, and we all know how easily pens get lost. I also like to have a range of colors at my disposal. I’ll use a color that matches my mood, or I’ll use colors to create outlines and mind maps that are color coded and easy to navigate. These Paper Mate Profile Pens are the best! They write smoothly, have a nice grip, and are affordable. Plus, you can buy them singly or in a package of assorted colors. They’re also great for doodling and sketching in the margins!
Day One Journal App
One of the great things about technology for writers is that it provides a simple way to create, organize, and store your work. Gone are the days when we filled notebooks with novels and then transcribed them on typewriters. New technology is just as useful for journaling and keeping notes. Day One is a journal app available for the Mac, iPhone, and iPad. It’s one of the most popular journal apps with features that include password lock, calendar view, photos, and inspirational messages, plus it syncs with iCloud and Dropbox.
Wreck This Journal
Wreck This Journal unleashes your inner artist and allows you to be creative without fear of failure because the journal is designed to be wrecked. It’s a great way to get your creativity out of the box. As you work your way through the journal, you’ll cut, tear, and thrash the book. You start letting go of constraints and inhibitions, allowing yourself to make mistakes and create poorly crafted prose, giving your creativity the courage it needs to take risks.
A Few More Goodies
- I love this: 1000 Journals traveled from hand to hand throughout the world.
- Here at Writing Forward, we’ve talked a lot about writing groups, but did you know there are also journal groups? (I didn’t!)
- Before Moleskine, this was my favorite journal: The Watson-Guptill Sketchbook. I’ve been using these for well over a decade and they house my most precious journal writing material (freewrites, poems, reflective journals, drawings). They come in various sizes and colors, and they feature hard covers and blank, unlined pages.
- Last but not least, this lovely little video explains the art of journaling and the freedom that a journal brings:
People use journals for a variety of purposes: for self-improvement, personal reflection, heritage preservation, creativity, tracking professional progress, and writing practice. Do you keep a journal or use a notebook? How has journal writing helped you? Got any journaling tips or resources to add to this list? Leave a comment, and keep journaling!