What if you won the lottery? What if you woke up in someone else’s body? What if you could fly?
What if you could open your imagination to a whole new world of writing ideas?
Today’s journal prompts encourage you to wonder. Some of them are based on reality. Others ask you to step outside the realm of possibility (or likelihood) and leave the world as we know it behind.
Journal writing is excellent for birthing new ideas and fleshing them out. Journal prompts help by giving you a launching pad — a place to start your writing session. Read more
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: reflective journaling.
Creative Writing Gets Personal
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 journaling 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 journaling, we gain greater awareness through observation, contemplation, and writing. By chronicling and then examining various aspects of our lives, we become more self-aware.
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). Reflective journaling often 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 journaling 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 free-writes 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 journaling 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 journaling inspire or inform your other creative writing projects? Have you ever tried reflective journaling? Tell us about your experiences by leaving a comment, and keep writing!
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.
Journal Ideas for Writers
These seven 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 journal for all your creative writing.
1. The Dream Journal
The subconscious is a wondrous thing. Artists and geniuses alike have attributed some of their best work to the messages they received while dreaming. A dream journal is useful for anyone interested in exploring the subconscious mind, where creativity often lives and breathes. This type of journal writing 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 a myriad images and plots that the waking creative mind simply can’t drudge up. Keep your journal near your bed, and make sure you jot down your dreams as soon as you wake up, otherwise with each minute that passes, you’ll lose chunks of your nighttime imaginings.
2. Art Journal
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 clever 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.
3. Freewriting Journal
Sometimes called stream-of-consciousness writing, freewriting is a way to clear your mind of clutter. If you keep at it long enough, some pretty interesting stuff will emerge through your freewrites. Yes, it’s yet another way to tap into your creativity. 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.
4. Idea Journal
How many ideas have you lost? If you make it a point to note your ideas through daily journal writing, 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!
5. Inspirational Writing Journals
What inspires you? A sunset? A day with friends and family? A great movie or an inspiring song? 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 and clippings, using images to capture moments that were especially inspiring. Then when your creativity meter is running low, you can flip through your inspiration journal to capture ideas that ignite your passion (and your next writing project).
6. Life Events or Diary
A diary is pretty straightforward — you simply record the goings-on in your life. Some people start writing journals in diary format 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!
7. Reader’s Journal
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.
Which of These Journal Ideas Sparks Your Imagination?
Not all writers keep a journal. Especially with advancements in technology, writers are more and more likely to turn to their computers or handheld devices for all their writing needs. Don’t let technology stop you! You can always create writing journals using your computer or smart phone. Start a document or blog and maintain it electronically. But there is something to be said about putting pen to paper, something that the computer just can’t mimic.
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.
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.
The Art Journal
Artists keep journals just like writers do. But instead of filling their journals with words, artists fill them with images — doodles, sketches, and paintings.
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 of the image. 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 writing 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 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 and artistry.
Do you have any journal writing tips? Got any writing ideas to add or experiences to share? Leave a comment, and keep writing!
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.
Keri Smith created Wreck This Journal with the same understanding that when we allow ourselves freedom to make a mess, we also free ourselves to be as creative as possible, unchaining hidden ideas that refuse to come out for fear that they’ll be destroyed by our linear and conventional thinking:
By forcing ourselves to wreck it on purpose, the “journal as an object” loses its preciousness, and allows us the feeling of completion.
Wreck This Journal is a great way to get your creativity out of the box. As you work your way through the journal, you actually wreck it. You’ll cut, tear, and generally thrash this book (you’ll even be asked to tie it to a string and drag it around on the ground). You start letting go of constraints, allowing yourself to make mistakes, create poorly crafted prose, or senseless art (because you’re going to wreck it), and this gives your creativity the courage it needs to take risks.
25 Ways to Journal
I’m not going to ask you to wreck your journal, but if you think it might open your creative floodgates, I say go for it. When we want to be more creative, we have to be willing to try anything. What I am going to do is give you a list of ways that you can use your journal. You’ll find that if you open your journal to more possibilities for material, media, and subject matter, you’ll start to build interesting connections. And that is one sure path to better writing!
Since Writing Forward’s inception, many readers have left comments sharing brilliant ways that they use their journals. Here are some of the ideas they’ve shared mixed in with some of my own:
- Forget about lines. Turn your journal sideways or upside down. Write in the margins or on the spine. Write in a spiral. Draw a shape and fill it with words. This was one of the first creativity techniques I ever used and it really got the ball rolling.
- Ever come across mind-blowing imagery in a magazine or online? Print it out, cut it out, and paste in in your journal for inspiration.
- Write with colored pens, crayons, or Sharpies.
- Paulo Campos commented about how he uses his journal: “A habit I learned while reading about Virginia Woolf: she regularly copied passages she liked from books she was reading into notebooks.” Brad Vertrees also keeps a reading journal where he write his thoughts about the current book he’s reading. And Deb keeps a log of books she’s read in her journal.
- Write down words. Not sentences — just words — words you like, words that evoke intense emotions or strong imagery or words that simply resonate. Randomly fill the blank spaces in your journal with these words. Write them big, write them small, and write them in all different colors!
- Make lists of names and places (make up some place names!). List foods, song titles, and sensations. List nouns or list adjectives. Or simply list random, short thoughts that pop into your head.
- Doodle, doodle, doodle, and draw. Or try writing and sketching in your journal with chalk or charcoal. See what happens when you smudge and smear your words. Maybe you’ll make some pictures or abstract art!
- Use stream of consciousness, also known as freewriting. Rebecca Reid shared her experience: “I kept a journal for about 10 years: it was combination train of thought and ‘diary’ of my day. I think a train of thought journal would be nice now too.”
- Dreams are a popular source of inspiration, and ideal for journal writing. You can get story ideas, imagery, and bizarre notions from your night visions. Write down your most interesting dreams in your journals. When I mentioned dream journals in another post, Trisha from Marketing Journeys responded, “Journaling my dreams has been on my list for quite a while – you’ve given me a jumpstart and the inspiration to get going!”
- Use journal writing to engage in dialogue with people who are inaccessible. Write letters or short notes to people you’ve lost touch with, people you’ve broken up with, and people who have passed away. Chat with your characters. Converse with your heroes (dead or alive).
- Deep Friar told us that his mom (who is very wise) suggested a “Happy Compartment” journal: “When something nice happens, you put it in your ‘Happy Compartment.’ Then, whenever you feel bad, you just open up your Happy Compartment, and relive the happy time and make yourself feel better.”
- Monika Mundell mentioned in a comment that she keeps gratitude and travel journals. She added, “Come to think about it though, I do have a lovely creative journal from years ago. I used to draw, stick pictures in there and sketch. Loved that thing.”
All-Purpose Journal Writers
As I searched through the comments across this site to find out what readers had shared about their journal writing habits, I discovered that lots of writers already use all-purpose journal writing creatively and freely:
- Karen Swim has journals “for life, writing, dreams, ideas, notes, and prayers.” She mentioned all these journals more than once while visiting Writing Forward!
- T. Sterling Watson kept a journal that “contained funny quotes I overheard, random ideas for future poems or scripts, doodles, and general thoughts.”
- Michele Tune, who writes the cyber highway, commented, “I draw, write poetry, document the day’s events, or whatever I feel like putting on paper. I’ve written in pretty journals, on scratches of paper that I’ve tucked into journals…”
- Milena uses her journal to “paste images, cartoons, photos, write stuff, even jot down grocery lists (these can be interesting to come back to sometimes), impressions of any sort or anything that comes to mind and which I fear forgetting.”
That’s what I’m talking about!
Of journal writing, Amy Derby once commented, “Those paper journals of mine are priceless.”
Treasure your journals! Let them them get wrecked up and messed up.
And keep writing.
Do you have any fun, unusual, messy, or liberating journal writing tips to share? Interested in trying any of the ones listed here? Share your thoughts and ideas by leaving a comment.
Journal Writing Resources:
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.
Keeping a Journal
One thing sets successful writers apart from unsuccessful writers: dedication. When you’re dedicated 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.
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).
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’re 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.
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.