7 Reasons for Writers to Journal

What is a journal?  In French the word means newspaper.  You can read about sports or recipes, people with problems or advertisements for products you might need, or births and deaths, or breaking news, or stock market trends, or people’s opinions about just about anything.  But I’m not talking about the  newspaper.  And yet a journal is somewhat similar in that everywhere you look dozens of different topics pop up.

Your journal can be like a newspaper, only better.  Here are

7 Reasons for Writers to Journal

  1. You can awaken your muse every day with seemingly mindless putting of words to paper, but you will also be awakening the right side of your brain in preparation for the creative work of writing for real that day.
  2. In your journal you will sometimes find the germ of a new idea which might find its way into more serious works.  Sometimes mindless writing and not stopping to let the pen off the paper forces you to just let your mind go.  Once I got an idea for a short story based on a childhood misdeed of mine and my brother’s, and I only thought of it when I just wrote and wrote, letting my fingers do their thing.
  3. When on holiday, often writing takes a back seat.  If I force myself to journal, I find new and different ways to think about experiences on my trip.  In Newfoundland last year, I wrote many blog posts.  On one I talked about a play we saw there which was excellent.  Since I wrote about my experience I can reference the material again and again, feeling the smile spread across my face as I see again the actors performing Tempting Providence.
  4. Regular journal writing helps writers keep their skills fluid and flexible.  The business of writing often takes us away from actually putting words on a page.  Daily journal writing helps.
  5. Writing in a journal gets us away from the keyboard and  physically holding a pen while the ideas write themselves from the brain is a special kind of connection that typing just doesn’t have; in fact, many writers still do their writing with a pen and paper.  I interviewed Carole-Ann Vance, who actually sat with her family in front of the television while finishing her novel.
  6. For those of us who can’t do without our keyboards, journals can be created on the computer or iPad just as easily as in a notebook.  I often do this and then print off the pages and create my own books of my thoughts.  Sounds a little arrogant, I know, but it’s fun.
  7. And that gets us to the final reason for journal writing.  It’s just fun.  I love the way words seem to arrange themselves in lovely sequences, flowing from my special fine point pen in any colour I like.  I can tell if I’m stressed as my hand just rushes through and the words become a flowing, floating free fall from my brain, whereas if I’m calm and take my time, my handwriting is even, with smooth cursive strokes, showing how in control I am.

One thing to recognize, though, is there is a good chance you’ll write things you don’t want anyone else to see, those secret or maybe even sordid parts of your life that you usually bury deep under layers of beautiful stuff.  Some day you might even take those parts out and use them in your writing, and what could be wrong with that?

Do you journal?  Or do you read others’ journals?  Consider leaving a comment about the most interesting journal you’ve ever run across.


34 thoughts on “7 Reasons for Writers to Journal

  1. I have journaled many times in my life and for all the reasons you’ve noted. I started with morning pages with Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way and found it also helped me to organize my day and work through stresses that might otherwise preoccupy my mind.

    You’re reminding me to get back to it!


    • That’s exactly how I started! I loved both Julia Cameron’s books and was excited to read an article in The Writer about her last month. Pretty interesting lady. I can’t say I’m consistent but when I do journal, I love it. Probably why I keep posting twice a week here. I just enjoy the process. Thanks for visiting, Sharon!


    • and that’s how i started too — now more than 15 years ago, and i am faithfully with my morning pages every day — even if it makes me later for something more “official” — i’ve set my priorities. it helps me see who i am, why i am.


  2. I’ve attempted journaling many times, even had a diary with a key at one point, making me feel very mysterious. Blogging has, in its own way, become my journal–at least it is the form I’ve stuck with the longest, and enjoy the most. I’m no good without an audience!


    • And so, I must confess, am I happiest writing my blog, Sherry. I have journalled off and on over the years but never solidly for years and years. Like you, I have lots of other writing to do, although I still am very thankful for the years I wrote as a result of Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way.


  3. I’ve started many journals but they never got past the first two or three entries. However I have been exchanging emails with a writer friend for several years about our lives and our writing. I’ve saved these which now amount to some 500K and are a gold mine of information and ideas.


    • Oh, I’d love to read those, Ruth! What secrets I’d find. Right now I’m trying to find time to read book two in your historical, though, and that’s a must. How nice that you’ve carried on this tradition with a friend. Thanks for sharing.


  4. I have tried journaling and, like Sherry and Ruhr have not stuck with it. I do write down the dreams I have, the ones that have spiritual meaning, that is. And sometimes when I am praying I get revelation about the situations I’m praying for. I usually write those things down too as they tend to have a significant impact on those situations. But even then I can forget to write them down. I sometimes scribble things down to use in my writing, either for a manuscript I’m working on or ideas for new blogs or books, and then I can’t find them when I need them. Unlike you, Elaine, I usually can’t read my writing when I go back to my notes and have to spend time deciphering what I have written. It’s a chore.


    • Sometimes I wonder if illegible writing happens because we might be happier NOT rereading what’s there. Usually, though, mine is just laziness. I’m such a computer lover I rarely succumb to pen and paper these days. I’m so much faster with the keyboard. Lucky for me, my class was the first year ‘academic’ stream students were allowed to take typing. Though I value all of my education, knowing how to type well has been a lifelong gift. Today kids learn to type so young I wonder if they actually learn the ‘home row’ any more. Thanks so much for commenting, Diane!


      • My writing used to be excellent, but now, due to arthritic and deformed finger joints, I sometimes have trouble even holding a pen or pencil properly. And to write for any length of time becomes painful. When I wrote with a fountain pen the results were far better, too, but it started to deteriorate with the invention of the ballpoint pen.


  5. Hi Elaine,
    Very good article. I have been journaling since I was a kid, and it is an amazing tool for soul cleansing. At first, I kept diaries, then I went to maintaining it on my computer with a floppy disc. My journal actually advances with technology. I went from the 3.5 disc to the large omega disc, then to the usb sticks, and now I am using evernote on my iPad.

    I write in my journal frequently during the day, as well as taking time in the morning just to sit before my MacBook and opening up my journal, I let my mind wander, and I write down what I hear without filtering. It is really a cleansing process that sets the child in me free to write, and I love it.

    So, congratulations on your post. It is nice simply great.


    • One of the things I taught in my later years was computers. I had never taken a formal course but our first computer was a great big Radio Shack TRS80 and then we graduated through Vic 20, Commodore 64 and on up to today. With each new machine, I eagerly learned and wrote. I remember typing/composing (on the C64) an essay for a university course I was taking. I was watching my handwritten notes, thinking, and typing without looking at the screen. Something made me look up and the words were not going on the screen. It had stopped still. I had written too much for the small amount of memory in that model. I still marvel at gigabytes and terabytes and who knows what bigger memory chips these days.
      I love your cleansing process when writing on your MacBook. Writing does that for me, too. And I feel such a sense of having said what I need to say when I’m finished a session.
      Thanks for your excellent comments, Pat!


  6. With the exception of a single week, I have written in a journal every day since I turned fifteen. I find that the process sharpens my skills by requiring me to write “on cue”, something with which many authors have difficulty. Only recently, I have begun making my entries in a more elegant fashion with ink and quill. This has added a new dimension to my writing, requiring me to think through my entire thought a few seconds before putting it on the page (but ONLY a few seconds before) and then hold the idea in my mind as I go through the added process of re-dipping my quill. I usually do my journalling at the end of each day and have found that, as an “unsupervised” professional, it also helps me to retain an healthy judgment concerning my workload. The events in my day may be scattered at times, but by sitting down at the end of an afternoon and sharing them with a “future reader”, I gain a unique sense of perspective concerning my accomplishments!


    • A.C., what an amazing thing you do! Writing your journal with a quill. I love it, but I don’t think I could ever summon up the patience to do it. More importantly, I like that you save time at the end of the day to collect your thoughts. That must be such a cleansing, comforting time for you. Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog!


  7. I love journaling… it really does all that!!

    I’m a random personality… so I have my journal, but I only write in it about once a month. I have journals for each of my kids where I write them letters about fun things they do. 🙂 Then I write my sister an email which covers concerns and thoughts – that’s almost daily and I count it ’cause I get all kinds of ideas writing her. And then I have my Big Book of Everything where I can make To Do Lists or project ideas or random whatever notes flying through my head. Yea, it’s messy, but I make sure I always have something to jot ideas down on ’cause you never know when they’ll come by!!

    I love the idea of having an on-going journal set up online. Currently I’m stacking up pdf files – messy again!! But “cleansing” is a great way to put it. I get the stuff out that is blocking the more creative, funner-to-read stuff underneath. It is cleansing!!!

    Great subject!!!


    • Well, Laura, I checked out your beautiful, upbeat site. Lovely. And thanks for commenting here on mine. I love that you do so much writing and ‘count’ it all, as well you should. Your children will thank you for those memory books one day in the future.
      Thanks so much for commenting on my post!


  8. I do journal, but seem to be more sporadic than on a daily basis. My favorite journal I have ever read is “A Midwife’s Tale : The Life of Martha Ballard”. It is wonderful and was based on the diary of a woman from the 18th century. It was unusual for a woman to be able to write in that time period and she kept up with so many details of day to day living.


    • Interesting. I’ll have to look for that one. And I suggest you might enjoy Mrs. Simcoe’s Diary, about which I wrote in this blog post elainecougler.wordpress.com/2012/02/24/a-tip-about-a-revealing-book-mrs-simcoes-diary/.

      Thanks for visiting and commenting, Sabrina!


  9. I can tell I’m late to the party today, look at all these comments! WOOT!

    I’ve never been a big journaler, but I can see the value to a writer. And when you think of all the value you find reading historical journals, they become invaluable tools. I think it’s almost become a lost art over the last century as our lives have speeded up. As we move to journals kept on e-devices, it makes me wonder if more people will journal with the ease of carting their ipad around. Lots to think about!


    • What a good point, Jessica. People can journal much more easily so maybe future generations will have lots to read about us crazy folks and our doings at the opening of the 21st century.


  10. Pingback: 7 Reasons for Writers to Journal « Things I grab, motley collection

  11. Such an awesome/helpful post Elaine! I honestly believe that the most important thing for any writer is to write as much and as frequently as possible. I made time to write a lot, over the last year, and my writing has really improved! So I couldn’t agree more with this post 🙂


    • Thanks so much, Nate! And especially thanks for taking the time to visit. Note to self: remember to write every day even if I’m up to my eyeballs in research or a million other things. We all know it but need reminding. Thanks for the, Nate.


  12. I’m responding to this a bit late, but wanted to ask if you’ve ever read The Artist’s Way by Cameron? I put myself through the program last year and one of the things she advocates is something called “morning pages” – three pages of stream of consciousness journalling every morning. I did it for quite some time and found that it really helped me reconnect with my creativity. I’ve unfortunately fallen away from that habit recently, but it really is something I found helpful and should get back into.


  13. Elaine,
    This post is loaded with great tips and benefits of journaling for writers! I like the analogy of writing your own personal newspaper; that truly gives our lives the dimension of being newsworthy! I agree that journal writing keeps the writing more fluid; it’s a great place for germ of ideas; and it is fun! I love my journaling practice and encourage others to keep one too for that same reason. So many benefits!

    I have chosen your post, 7 Reasons for Writers to Journal, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 3/6/12 for all things journaling on Twitter.
    I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in Refresh Journal, my weekly e-journal: http://www.refreshwithdawnherring.blogspot.com/.

    You’re welcome to join us for #JournalChat Live on Thursdays at 5 EST/2 PST for all things journaling on Twitter; our topic this week is Your Journaling: A Dream Defined.

    Thanks again for such a fabulous post filled with so many reasons for writers to journal; love it!

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter


  14. Pingback: Carnival of Creativity for September 23, 2012 - The Writing Reader

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