I promise I’m only writing this one post about a thing you should do in the new year. But since it is going to be just this one, I wanted to make sure it was about one of my favorite things: journaling.
I love writing by hand and I find I take better notes with a pen than a keyboard. So I make a point of using a notebook for all my note-taking. I’ve written in the past about my note-taking habits if you’re interested.
To start off 2021 right, all of us should take up the practice of journaling. It’s a terrific way to improve your writing, both in a specific story, essay, or blog post you might be working on today and generally for all your writing going forward.
Start A Journal Today
If you’re here, I have to assume you’re a writer. For you, journaling for 15 minutes a day should be like an athlete who does a 15-minute jog. The kind of exercise that both warms up your thoughts and muscles, but also reinforces good habits.
We don’t even need to belabor the point. If you want to be a better writer, you need to write. Every successful author has one thing in common; they write. Journaling is just a terrific way to write regularly.
Improving Your Writing
Journaling is a great exercise to get your writing ‘muscles’ flexed. But it’s also a powerful means to flesh out or expand on anything you might be working on right now. I journal daily and about one in three of my sessions I spend working on some aspect of a story I’m currently writing.
And while that sounds like it only applies to fiction writers, it doesn’t. Journaling is an opportunity to pick at threads you haven’t explored and expand on ideas you’ve been considering but didn’t see how they might fit.
Develop The Plot
One of my favorite things to do when I’m journaling is to develop plots. For fiction, this usually means making a 5-10 point bullet list of plot points. I might limit myself to a single chapter or section, or open it up and frame the entire story.
Drafting plot points helps me see the holes in my story. For example, I was working on a long-form essay about language a few years ago. I’d become stumped; I had all the elements I wanted to cover and a number of sections largely written. But when I read them in order, it didn’t hold together.
So I mapped out my plot with some bullet points and discovered I had been working chronologically, but the content ‘flowed’ more like a story if I segmented without thinking about the chronology. Just like that, I had a page of notes and ideas to help me reorganize my essay!
Explore Ideas And Characters
I love to explore characters or plot ideas through little ‘mini-stories’ in my journal. Since your journal isn’t (necessarily) part of the story you’re writing, you have the freedom to go off on a tangent. Or create a backstory that helps illuminate one of your characters.
Another fun thing I love to do is pull characters from discrete short stories together for a ‘crossover episode’ in my journal. For fiction writers, these kinds of exercises and the freedom to create without restriction are vital to ideation.
Uncommon Reasons To Journal
Practicing and reinforcing your writing habit is a great reason to journal. But it doesn’t have to be the only reason or benefit!
For authors and writers, being able to write without the deadline or word count goal is as important as getting your manuscript finished. And the benefits of writing can extend beyond your story.
Write Without Pressure
I’ve mentioned this multiple times already; writing without any pressure or specific goal is a good thing. It removes some of the urgency and can help you think freely.
That might sound a little hokey but it’s absolutely true. When I’m working on a story, I’m focused on the details, the direction of the story, and hitting my word count so I can meet my goals. Pressure can layer on when you’re writing with a goal in mind.
But freewriting in a journal, even for just a few minutes here and there, is completely free of pressure.
Improve Your Memory
The science is there to back this up: writing helps improve your memory.
I’ve always had a poor memory. I might remember seeing an art exhibit from a couple of years ago, but details about particular works would fade. Note-taking became a regular habit just to rekindle memories.
Later, when I decided to take up journaling again, I would often include details about my day in a paragraph or two. The kinds of little things that might have seemed important at the time, but that I knew would fade. A sandwich that I really loved. An ad on NPR for a book I want to check out.
This is the beauty of journaling: the act of writing helps build your memory and the things you write can serve to spur memories.
Shop For Journals
To close out today, I’ve got three writer’s journals/guides to help ease you into a journaling habit. Each offers some structural help and guidance for building your next story (or revising your last one!) along with journaling, character building, and plot development exercises.
out there to your desk and flex that writing muscle!
Novel And Book Planners
Writer’s Atelier Novel Planner
A novel planner for writers! Plan your latest novel with the Writer’s Atelier Novel Planner and keep all your notes in one place!
The Essential Worldbuilding Blueprint and Workbook
All the information you need to develop epic fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance, sci-fi and space opera worlds.
Built-in project bible to track and organize your world all in one place. Never lose details or search for lost sticky notes and files ever again.
Prompts to make you think deeper about your ideas and explore new aspects of your world, story and characters.
Write that Novel in 2021 – a Planner for Authors
This 150 page Novel Planner features the following pages: Brainstorming, Writing Prompts, Obstacle Reflection/Plans, Self-Care Checklist, Setting a Writing Routine (with example writing routine), Practice Sprints Tracker, Novel Planning At-a-Glance Cheat Sheet, Loose Outline Brainstorming Sheet, 30-Day Outline/Writing Prompts, 30-Day Clear Outline (to add in your own prompts), Character List, Character Profile Worksheets, World Building Worksheets, Storyboard Spaces, Month-View Word Count Tracker, Daily Journal/Writing Prompt, Daily Writing Sprint Tracker, Publishing Cost Worksheet, Self-Editing Checklist, Deadline Worksheet, Query Letter Checklist, Marketing Plan Worksheet – Everything you need to go from idea to published book in just a few short months!
Growth in Gratitude Journal
After focusing on my own well-being for the last several years there was one task that continued to come up…gratitude. I’ve spent the last year focusing on gratitude, what it means, and how to intentionally implement acts of gratitude into my daily life. After figuring out what that looks like for me personally I wanted to create something everyone could use to start this same journey. The journey of being vigilant in improving your well-being and increasing your happiness. True gratitude can change not just the projection of your day but the projection of your life. Like with anything, it takes time, but the key is starting. THERE IS GROWTH IN GRATITUDE! Use this 45-day journal to start your foundation and continue every 45 days there after.
Penny For Your Thoughts
Be inspired by the quoted thoughts of others as you explore your own mindset with this 30-day journal. Use this journal to interpret the inner workings of your perspectives on self-love, health, and life as you enjoy the motivational quotes of celebrities, athletes, and other public figures.
Manifest the Best You
Manifest the Best You is a 90 day motivational journal with mindful exercises that will put you on the path to conquer your goals. The workbook will escort you towards accomplishing each goal and provide beneficial habits for a more fulfilled and positive outcome.
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.