Seven Reasons to Start a Journal

I wasn’t allowed much privacy growing up. I’m not sure if that’s because my father was insecure (he was a well-known businessman in a small town) or because he wanted to protect me. Either way, I learned to keep my private thoughts inside my head.

When I received a cancer diagnosis in 1996, one of the therapies suggested to me was to start a journal. As you can imagine, I was not thrilled with trying it, but I did.

I don’t use the journal to record my private thoughts, but I do use it to help my writing. I use colored ink (black and white pages hinder creativity), don’t allow anyone but me to see my journal (encourages me to be honest and open in what I write), and date (including recording if it’s a Monday or Thursday or whatever) my entries.

Here are seven reasons to start a journal.

1. Explore your creativity. You’ll be amazed at the ideas that flow when you allow yourself the freedom to write what pops into your head.

2. Get to know different parts of yourself. We all have sub-personalities (dark side, child side, etc.). Writing about them in a journal brings them to the forefront so we can draw on them in writing characters, exploring ideas, or creating plots and scenes.

3. Work out conversations before they actually occur. Whether you’re having a real-life issue with someone or your characters are in conflict, you can explore various solutions by working through the problem, letting out the feelings/perceptions (of both parties), and focusing on the issues in your journal first.

4. Access information stored in your subconscious mind. You’ve probably had thoughts come to you seemingly out of nowhere. Well, they don’t come out of nowhere. They come from within you. Allow those thoughts to come out when you free-write in your private journal.

5. Explore your dreams. When I taught the class “When the Muse Lets You Down,” one of the tools I encouraged students to use is a dream journal. I told them to keep a journal by the bed, grab the dream from their minds as quickly as possible (for dreams are quickly forgotten), then write down the day’s events (the day before the dream). Connecting the events with the dream is often a good starting point for understanding the dream and working out whatever is on your mind.

6. Use your journal as a task management tool. Perhaps you’re struggling with how to get from point A to point B in your novel. Perhaps you need to write an example to illustrate your point in your nonfiction book. Perhaps you’re speaking to a group and need to cleverly work in a sales pitch for your book. Whatever the task, manage it in your journal first.

7. Get in touch with your feelings. A journal is a great place to give yourself credit (brag all you want), to cuss out the reviewer who didn’t like your book, and to concentrate on your gratitude for those who support you (once you’ve figured out who they are, you can let them know for real that you appreciate them).

Writers are busy people. It’s easy to let things slip. Consider using a journal as a safe place to work on whatever needs your attention.

Happy writing!

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