“I’m a Writer, Should I Start a Journal?”

Let’s talk about journaling as a writer. Some writers swear by keeping a journal, others have never felt the need for one and that’s fine too. But, for the sake of this post, imagine you are interested in starting one and have been asking yourself this question for a while. Should I start a journal? I’m going to talk about my own journaling practices and how that ties into my fiction writing.

First question: How do I begin?

There is no right or wrong answers when it comes to journaling. I’ve known writers who keep a journal and write in it, sure, but also fill it up with pictures and stickers and sketches. If you’re looking for direction, I like to start with an intention.

Set out with an intention that is writing-related. If I just started a new journal, I might start by describing some of the projects I’m working on. I’ll try to think through them and kind of try to understand what I’m aspiring to do with them.

Later, I might try to plan out a story or play with ideas for a scene. I talk through it on the page. It becomes a kind of sounding board for myself before I sit down to start writing. If I like how it’s sounding, I might start drafting the scene or story by hand.

Next question: How do I keep it up?

I think of my journal as a space for me to think through something privately. Journaling is an effective tool for thinking through emotions in your personal life, but it also can be used effectively in your writing life. For instance, if I read something I’m really excited about or had a strong reaction to, I might go back to my English-major mindset and start picking it apart. I’ll analyze the element of craft that’s being utilized and try to figure out why I was so drawn to it.

Those are notes better left for myself than in a blog post. The book I’ve been over-analyzing lately is Bunny by Mona Awad. It’s a book that is set in a stylized, but realistic world that somehow manages to bring in a lot of fairy tale elements. It left me mesmerized and a little obsessed. So, naturally, I’ve been spending way, way too much time picking apart scenes just to try to figure out how Awad pulled it off.

I’m still obsessed with this book and maybe what I’ve learned from her technique I will eventually try in my own writing. Why not?

What else do I write about?

There’s nothing you need to write about, but I like to jot down things that might inspire a story or a scene, for example:

  • A vivid dream. I often will even try to decrypt it in some way so that I can make sense of it or find a narrative within the dream which could lead to a story.
  • An awkward interaction or uncanny moment. Someone once waved for me to pull my car over while driving in rush hour traffic. He’d thought I’d rear-ended him. I hadn’t. I generally don’t drive close enough for it to even be a question, so I was really confused. He got out of his car and inspected by his bumper and then mine. Both were just fine. It’ll go in a story of mine one day, I’m sure of it.
  • An interesting fact or true story that inspires you. I am always jotting down random things I learn while listening to podcasts. It can serve as a great place to do research for writing projects, especially when you’re relatively new to the topic.