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5 Steps to Keeping a Reading Journal

Keep notes on the books you've read and liked, so as a writer, you may begin to build your idea of a perfect book based on other more successful writers.

Keep notes on the books you've read and liked, so as a writer, you may begin to build your idea of a perfect book based on other more successful writers.

Why Keep a Reading Journal?

When I first started keeping notes on the books I have read, it was because I have always had the desire to write my own book. Not knowing where to start, naturally, I turned to Writing Fiction for Dummies, thinking what better source could there be for an inexperienced writer like myself.

One of my favorite suggestions they make is to keep notes on the books you've read and liked, so as a writer, you may begin to build your idea of a perfect book based on other more successful writers. So immediately, I hopped on Amazon and ordered myself a thriller I'd been wanting to read and a journal I felt would work for taking my notes.

Next, my shipment came in, and I found my favorite pen, sat down, and read the book I'd been waiting to treat myself to, and all of a sudden, I hit a roadblock.

What do I take notes on about this book?

Nothing matters more in a journal than the thoughts of the one who is writing in it.

Nothing matters more in a journal than the thoughts of the one who is writing in it.

What Your Notes Should Be About

After some research and self-reflection, I realized that the first and most important thing this journal should have is my opinion. Nothing matters more in a journal than the thoughts of the one who is writing in it, regardless of the topic. So here's what I did.

1st: An Index

When I say index, I don't mean your traditional index with page numbers and excessive detail. No, my index is actually a brief record of the books I've read in order, so when I look back to find my notes on a particular book, I can think, "okay, it is located before The Handmaidens Tale but after To Kill a Kingdom." This way, I find what I'm looking for much faster, plus the added bonus of having a master list of books I've read in one spot.

2nd: Page Headers

This is easily the easiest and most pivotal part of keeping an organized reading journal. When you go back to look at your notes, they will be much easier to find with a proper title. This title can be whatever you like, but I tend to stick with, the book title, author's name, and just below the top line, I write the date I started the book leaving room for the date finished beside it. This system is visually pleasing and helps jog memories of when you were reading the story, which I personally find helps me remember more detail.

My preferred method is to make a bullet point that says either 'pro' or 'con' and then a note with the details of why that is I felt that way as a reader.

My preferred method is to make a bullet point that says either 'pro' or 'con' and then a note with the details of why that is I felt that way as a reader.

3rd: Pros and Cons

This part I tend to do after a reading session while my thoughts are clear and still focused directly on the story itself. As the writer, you can format this however you but my preferred method is to make a bullet point that says either 'pro' or 'con' and then a note with the details of why that is I felt that way as a reader.

For example, a book I just finished, The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, has a bullet point in my journal that looks like this.

( Pro - I like how Miller uses Patroclus's character to narrate the story, for it provides an outside perspective of the famous Greek hero Achilles.)

This note is short and sweet but contains enough information that when I reference it later, I'll know exactly what I was thinking about.

4th: Keep Quotes

Keeping quotes alongside your pros and cons notes is so important! These quotes emphasize a point or emotion you felt as the reader and the "why" to what you felt. I love writing quotes to recapture the author's words because, in some way, they captured you with theirs. My point is don't be shy to write down word-for-word quotes in your journal, and don't forget to write the page number it was on in case you want to reference it later.

 Be creative with this step.

Be creative with this step.

5th: Rate the Story

After pouring yourself into any story, good or bad, it's important that you rate it immediately after finishing it. This is because once you've turned the last page and read the last sentence, all your feelings about this story are fresh in your mind and truer than if you come back hours later and think about it. Be creative with this. Draw stars, write a final thoughts section, and just be your honest and true self because that's what journals are meant for.

Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.

— Christina Baldwin

Final Tip

If you’ve read this article and still don’t know where to start, I personally recommend this reading journal that lays out much of what I’ve discussed and more in a more organized fashion. I tried this journal and personally found it helped me a great deal to find my own style with regard to what I enjoyed taking notes on versus what I did not in a reading journal. If your looking for a very organized journal, this will be perfect for you.