How Journals Can Help Your Writing – Five Big Ideas

May 28, 2021 | Advice

I should start this by admitting, straight off the bat, that I don’t write in a journal every day. I could blame it on my child, but the fact is it’s something I’ve never done every single day. But that’s not to say it has to be something you stick to religiously in order for it to be beneficial or useful.

A lot is made of ‘writing every day,’ and I always wonder how possible that is for most of us, or even how desirable. Sometimes it’s better to get out into the world and live, breathe, let the ideas sit and marinate before splurging them onto a page.

However, I have found that journal writing, in various forms, has led to more ideas, more productivity overall, and a better mindset. Here’s a summary of what I’ve found to be useful.

1. Mental Health/Venting

This one has been particularly helpful in the last year. I do morning pages at least on all of my ‘work’ days (four times a week) and try to squeeze them in at the weekend or on non-school days if I can. Sometimes I can use them for ideas, but it’s far more likely that it ends up being an opportunity to release whatever’s been bothering me.

We all need to get things out of our heads to give us some space

From processing the difficult emotions that lockdown brought, or just figuring out my feelings, this type of journal writing has meant I’m more self aware and more calm. From a writing point of view, it’s a great way of getting all the mental clutter out of the way first thing before I get on with whatever project I’m working on. Wins all round.

2. Ideas

My ‘Ideas’ book is now starting to take shape. Once a week I use a few prompts to get the ideas flowing. It might be something I read recently, or memories, or the view outside my window. Whatever it is, I make sure that there is absolutely no filter at all. This takes time. All too often the grumpy editor-genie perched on my shoulder starts shouting down my ideas before I can even get them on the page. Having thirty whole minutes to let things flow freely means I’m getting better at flicking it away until I’m done.

You are full of unique and wonderful ideas. You just need to get your brain to shut up first.

This type of journal writing means I have pages and pages of ideas. It also lets me write the ridiculous, silly, obscure ideas that occasionally pop into my head. Of course, most of them aren’t great. But that’s ok. Because they’re there, and I’m keeping track of them. Every month I flick back through and see what’s there, and if there’s anything I can make use of. Sometimes I wonder what on earth was going on in my head that day, but I’m also guaranteed to have a supply of ideas to work from at any given time. Very handy.

3. Style Trial

This is fun. I am a whopping 70,000 words into the second draft of my book, and I’m limping. I’m also bored of writing it, bored of the story, bored of my life (it’s a memoir). I went to Laura Besley‘s book launch for 100hundred yesterday evening, and listened to some of Laura’s amazing hundred-word stories (there are 100 of them in the book!). They were gorgeous. Little nuggets of story, with each word working hard. So many styles, topics, characters and ideas. She talked about how writing in short form meant she could try out new ideas all the time, could play with voices without having to work on the same giant project for a year or more.

You have to try things out to see if they suit your writing style

So, for now, I do my playing in my journal. Along with the ideas book and the morning pages book (yes, I have a lot of notebooks), there’s the ‘everything else’ book. That has snippets of story, character, ideas, and test pieces. And that’s where I get to play. It’s possible I can come back to some of it later, but as much as anything it’s an opportunity to try out styles and voices and see what I like. This type of journal writing means you can keep experimenting, even if you’re working on a big project.

4. Organisation

I started keeping a bullet journal while I was still a teacher. Its haphazard nature appeals to my not-very-organised brain. Because you write down the page numbers as you go, then note down what’s written on it in an index, you can jot down whatever comes into your head at any time and it still makes sense later.

And it’s definitely working. I’m no stranger to the world of managing sixteen things at once, but the freelance life definitely demands some system to keep on top of things. I would definitely recommend bullet journalling for that.

5. Other Writing

Although my main staples are fiction and creative non-fiction, there are times that other ideas pop into my head. I have my pick of notebooks, so ideas for articles or blogs can get shuffled in amongst those.

I’m not the only one who has an enormous pile of notebooks, right?!

I was delighted to find that as of my blog on Wednesday, I have totted up a massive 50,000 words in blogs since last September. Back then, my blog about quitting a job in the middle of the pandemic was my first step into doing this seriously, fully-time. I’ve written two blogs every week since then, and the notes and journals have been invaluable in making sure I have enough ideas to keep me going.

How many of you out there use journals to help with your writing? I’m sure there are some wonderful souls who manage to get something written in them every day. I envy you! I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Happy journal writing!

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