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 one’s career.
How much journal writing can one person do?
Journals are, first and foremost, the forté of writers. Journal writing provides a space where thoughts, ideas, stories, and poems can be recorded. We can turn to our journals when we’re inspired, and then we can turn to them again when we need inspiration.
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.
Journal Ideas for Writers
These journal ideas foster creative thinking and promote regular (daily) writing. Some are good for keeping track of your ideas. Others are ideal for solving problems or keeping yourself inspired and motivated to write. Try one or try them all, or just create one omni-journal for all your creative writing.
The Dream Journal
The subconscious is a wondrous thing. Artists and geniuses alike have attributed some of their best work to inspiration that came in a dream. A dream journal is useful for anyone who’s interested in exploring the subconscious, where creativity often lives and breathes. This type of journaling is also ideal for folks who are interested in dream interpretation or trying to achieve lucid dreaming. For writers, journals that hold dreams will provide images and concepts that the mind simply can’t drudge up during waking hours. Keep your journal near your bed and jot down your dreams as soon as you wake up, otherwise with each minute that passes, you’ll lose chunks of your nighttime imaginings.
Sometimes called stream-of-consciousness writing, freewriting is a way to clear your mind of clutter and unearth creative gems. If you keep at it long enough, some pretty interesting stuff will emerge through your freewrites. If you can stop your conscious thinking and let the words flow, you’ll be amazed at the creative stew that is brewing just beneath the surface. You can do straight freewriting or try guided freewriting in which you focus on a specific word, image, or topic. It’s a great way to hash out conversations with your characters, accumulate raw material that can later be harvested for poems, and brainstorm for just about any writing project that you’re planning or working on.
How many ideas have you lost? If you make it a point to note your ideas in your journal, there’s a good chance you won’t lose any at all. This is why so many writers keep a journal or notebook with them at all times. In fact many writers use miniature notebooks for this very reason — there’s nothing worse than coming up with a brilliant idea when you’re at a party, in the middle of a phone conversation, or trying to fall asleep. Keep your journal near your person at all times, and you’ll never lose an idea again. Or pick up several miniature notebooks and keep them in convenient places — your nightstand, purse, car, desk drawer at the office, even the bathroom! And if you’re ever struck with the ever-dreaded writer’s block, you can turn to your idea journal for inspiration.
Inspirational Writing Journals
What inspires you? A sunset? A day with friends and family? A mind-blowing movie or a song that makes you want to dance? Quotes from the greats? You can record all the things that inspire you in an inspiration journal, taking notes from some of the world’s most successful creators. You can even paste photos, clippings, and other memorabilia to capture moments from your life that were especially inspiring. Then when your creativity meter is running low, you can flip through your inspiration journal to grab ideas that ignite your passion (and your next writing project).
Even us writers have to admit that a picture is worth a thousand words. Symbols are particularly powerful and speak directly to the subconscious, which is where your muse might be hiding. Like a dream journal, an art journal is a fun and creative way to get in touch with the deeper recesses of your mind, where some of your most creative ideas are lurking. You don’t have to be a fine artist to use an art journal. Doodles and stick figures will open up your right brain too! An art journal is also perfect for sketching your characters, scenery, and maps of the worlds you’re creating for your fiction. And if you don’t want to draw, you can always use stickers, collage, and ephemera in your art journal.
Life Events or Diary
A diary is pretty straightforward — you simply record the goings-on in your life. Some people keep diaries for special times or events in their lives, such as when they’re getting married or having a baby, traveling, or moving to a new place. Diary writing is a great place to start if you’re interested in writing a memoir or autobiography. It’s also a perfect place to record the real experiences that you’ve had even if you plan on fictionalizing them later. Some of the best dialogue, descriptions, and scenes come from real life!
If you want to be a writer, read. Read a lot, then read some more. You just can’t read enough. When you write about what you’ve read, you can capture what worked and what didn’t work from a writer’s perspective. You’ll pick up neat writing tricks, jot down techniques that you’ve observed other writers using effectively, and of course, as you read and get ideas for your own projects, you can include those as well. Best of all, you’ll have a place where you’ve listed everything you’ve read, and by keeping notes, you’ll retain all of it much better. As a bonus, you’ll also have a place to take notes when you’re reading books on the craft of writing!
Although reading is of utmost importance for any writer, we can gather creative ideas and techniques from art in its many forms. Use a media journal to capture your responses to films, music, television shows, plays, and art. Make notes about your favorite character arcs. Jot down bits of dialogue that moved you. Make miniature doodles of paintings you love. Media journals are excellent for keeping track of the art and entertainment that you’re consuming and what you have observed and learned from it, as well as how it makes you feel.
Bonus Journal Idea: Morning Pages
Probably the most famous application of journal writing comes from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way (aff link). 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 to morning pages is to simply let the words flow.
Morning pages have other applications. Some folks use them as a brain dump — a way to purge all the messy thoughts from their minds so they can start their day fresh and clear-headed.
Be sure to check out my GUIDE TO JOURNALING FOR WRITERS,
which has more ideas for journals that are beneficial to writers
Which of These Journal Ideas Sparks Your Imagination?
photo credit: Auzigog
Think about it — if you write one page a day in your journal, you’ll have 365 pages at the end of a year. That’s a lot of creative material to pull ideas from.
Journals are traditionally kept in paper notebooks, but you can journal using digital tools as well (most of us find that writing by hand boosts creativity).
Experiment with different journaling supplies and try a wide range of journal ideas. Eventually you’ll find what works for you.
What types of journals have you kept? Do you think journal writing is beneficial? Did any of these journal ideas appeal to you? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.