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Why Keeping a Journal Will Make You a Better Writer

Sadie Holloway is a writer and artist who uses the power of journaling to bring more peace, serenity, and joy into her life.

Why Keeping a Journal Will Make You a Better Writer

Why Keeping a Journal Will Make You a Better Writer

Experienced writers will tell you that if you don’t capture your creative ideas when and where they happen, you’ll soon forget them. They'll fade away before they've had a chance to come to life. To become a successful writer, you must develop good writing habits. That means finding time to write wherever, and whenever, you can. Writing in a journal will make you a better writer.

Influential writers and storytellers are shrewd observers who often identify themselves as “people watchers.” They love to sit in a café or on a bench in the park and just watch the world go by. If you want to be an influential writer, changing the world with your powerful stories, you need to get in the habit of writing in a journal or notebook every day.

Start by Finding a Journal That Feels Right for You

While it’s tempting to pick the journal with the prettiest cover or the finest embossing on it, select a journal that you’re going to actually use and that will be easy to handle in different settings. For example, can you lay the journal out flat or do you have to hold the pages apart with one hand? Can you write in it while you’re standing in line (the best observations often happen in check-out line-ups)? Or must you always have a surface to rest your journal on while you write?

Here are a variety of different journaling formats that you might want to try:

  • an artist’s sketchbook with blank pages
  • spiral-bound notebooks with lined pages
  • hardcover books with unlined pages
  • 3-ring notebooks with folders for loose-leaf pages
  • an ordinary day-timer with one page per day
  • hand-crafted journals made from with recycled papers
  • large file cards that can be kept in a sturdy box

Whatever your preference, try not to choose something that is so lovely and expensive that you’ll be afraid to use it. Your journal is meant to be rough-handled, dripped on, dog-eared and worn out.

Tip 1: Take your journal with you wherever you go.

If you forget your journal, write notes and diagrams on whatever recycled paper surface you can find: napkins, old envelopes, bank and sales receipts. If you are stuck with no way to write, grab your phone and dictate your thoughts into the voice recorder. If your smartphone has a transcription app that’s even better. When you’re able to, transcribe your notes into your journal so that you don’t lose the essence of what it was that first inspired you.

Tip 2: Keep your journal organic and always write by hand.

I don’t recommend using a computer, laptop or other techy gadget to capture your creative ideas (unless you are in a pinch as described in the last section). Writing by hand keeps things more spontaneous and organic. The flow of words is not hindered by a curser. When you write freehand you don’t get screaming red lines warning you that you’re spelling something incorrectly.

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Tip 3: Lighten up!

Don’t worry about punctuation, grammar, spelling or any other writing rules you learned as a kid. You’re simply transcribing your ideas and expressing yourself in a spontaneous and playful manner. Your journal is not a finished product. The ideas that you decide to extract and work into longer stories or articles will definitely need careful attention to spelling and grammar, but for now, silence your inner English teacher and just write.

“It’s none of their business that you have to learn to write. Let them think you were born that way.”

— Ernest Hemingway

Do blank pages in your journal inspire you or scare you?

Do blank pages in your journal inspire you or scare you?

What's the best type of notebook to use as a writing journal?

Any notebook that you actually write in is the best one! There's no single journal or notebook that is perfect for writing. The only thing that makes a book perfect for writing is that you actually want to write in it. So be sure to spend time carefully choosing your notebook. Here are some things to consider:

  • Does the notebook binding work for you? Spiral notebooks are good if you want to lay you book flat while you write. But for some people, the bump in the middle of the book can block hand movements.
  • Does it suit your handwriting? If the notebook is filled with lined pages, do the margins and line spacing suit the size of your handwriting or would you feel too confined?
  • Is the paper blend suitable? Do you use an ink pen when you write? If so, you'll want thicker paper that can absorb ink without bleeding through to the other side.
  • Where will you use it? Do you plan to use the journal on the go, or just at home at your desk? If you choose a journal that's too big to put in your purse or satchel, you might miss the jot down random ideas inspired by the world around you. On the other hand, a book that is too small may be frustrating to use if you have to keep flipping pages as you write.

Ultimately, the best writing notebook is the one that you are going to enjoy using. The more pleasurable it is to use, then more you'll write and then better your writing will be. It's as simple as that!


5 Random Things to Write About in Your Journal

  1. The weather: Be as descriptive as possible. Why do you think people talk about the weather when they can’t think of anything to say? Because weather is universal. It impacts every single one of us. It affects our mood, our energy levels, our social lives. Everyone’s life is touched by the weather.
  2. What you ate for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner: Use as much sensory detail as possible when you write about your food. Try writing about your food as if you were describing your meal to someone who is unfamiliar with the typical eating habits of your area or cultural background.
  3. A joke you heard: You can never have too many jokes up your sleeve, so write down any good ones that you hear. And the next time you have to make small talk or fill an awkward silence with an acquaintance, you’ll have something amusing to say! Nothing breaks the ice or lightens the mood quite like a good clean joke.
  4. An article you read: Write a personal reflection piece on how a newspaper article you read that day made you feel. Writing about the news is a powerful way to gain perspective on what’s going on in the world. Writing about current events can help put things into perspective, especially when the news is frightening or unexpected. Writing can help ease feelings of powerlessness by helping to focus our minds on creative solutions.
  5. A place in time: On this day one week ago, one month ago, or one year ago . . . where were you? What were you doing? Can you remember any details about what you might have been doing on that day? Try to write about what you remember in as much detail as possible. If you don’t like what you remember, re-write that day into a fictional short story. Re-imagine the day’s events through a variety of different writing genres: mystery, science fiction, romance, comedy. The wonderful thing bout writing in your journal is that no one has to read it if you don't want them to. You are free to be as creative and as inventive as you want to be!

© 2015 Sadie Holloway


Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on March 25, 2016:

My habit is to carry in a back pocket, folded in quarters, a handful of printouts ready for recycling with the backs blank. I pull that out whenever I have a notion to write something, choosing whether to use a quarter sheet, half sheet, or full sheet. Often I write in spiral, one continuous line. Sometimes I do a mind map. Later I dictate my notes using voice recognition software, and they become raw material for emails, stories, articles, etc., and in between much of it is stored in WorkFlowy.

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