Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

Why Keeping a Journal is so Important for Writers and all Creative Types

I’m sure you know what it is like to have a blank page or canvas in front of you, but you’re unable to capture the great idea you had because you can’t fully remember it.

You need something to stimulate your thoughts or help you remember.

I have a solution that’s been working for me and it may help you, too. Truth is, we tend to make it harder than it needs to be.

Creative Commons by Rafael Soares

Thoughts and memories are tricky things. We can have a grand idea one moment and then a minute later we might not have a clue as to what it was.

This absolutely frustrated me for years.

The solution I found is to keep a journal.

Journaling is a great way to record your thoughts, especially when they are fresh. I keep a small, leather journal with me at all times and when an idea comes to me I immediately stop what I am doing and write it down.  If I am unable to write I’ll dictate the idea into my phone’s voice recorder.

Thanks to on the spot journaling I lose fewer ideas.

Often, when I am in a rush, I’ll only write keywords about my thoughts and then later when I am ready to flesh out the idea I am able to remember it thanks to those keywords.

On the spot journaling is only part of the solution.

I keep another journal on my nightstand and before I go to sleep I write in it for at least ten minutes (not a minute less). It’s my personal ten minute journaling rule, but I tend to write for much longer periods of time.

Typically I use my nightly journal to write out the ideas I notated during the day, but there’s something special about journaling that my mind thoroughly enjoys; therefore, I often end up writing several pages that I may otherwise never have written (this is how my book, One Boy’s Struggle came to be).

I think the reason journaling is so effective is that I know I will not share anything I write in it. Well, okay, that’s not completely true.

What I mean is that I will most likely not share it the way it is written in my journal, but if the idea is tantalizing enough I might blog about it or use it as the impetus for something else.

Journaling also helps me avoid one of the difficulties I have when writing a first draft.

I can’t help not editing at all while writing a first draft. I don’t know of anyone who edits their journal writings, but I know plenty of people like me who cannot help but edit while writing a first draft. Go head, admit it. It will be our little secret.

A journal is a wonderful resource for those moments when you are staring at a blank page or canvas and find yourself blocked or unable to remember something.

Open your journal and read a few pages because there’s bound to be valuable entries which will stimulate your thoughts and memories.

And, if you’re a writer, you may find that you’ve already written your first draft without realizing it. Don’t you love when that happens?

I love keeping a journal and there are many great reasons I maintain it every day. One of the reasons is the fact it helps me keep a log of my thoughts and ideas. It’s saved me from writer’s block more times than I can remember.

Have you found keeping a journal helpful? If you do not already keep a journal, will you start one? Share in the comments.

Exciting NEWS: Soon I will publish a new book titled “How To Be Happy Every Day”.  I’m honored to let you know it includes a foreword by my friend, Jeff Goins of Goinswriter.com. It is currently being edited by Dana Sitar of DIY writing. The book is filled with workable strategies with optional suggestions for recording your thoughts in a journal. Subscribe below to be notified when it is available and if you would like to help me get the word out by mentioning it on your blog and/or reviewing it on Amazon, send me an email and let’s talk about it.

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

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  • I have several notebooks going at the same time.

    One is an idea notebook where I keep all those little keywords and phrases that will eventually come in handy.

    Another is my journal that I write in over breakfast or during the day when I need to scribble several pages. As I so rightly point out, when writing in your journal you are far less likely to edit and the glorious messiness is all part of the process.

    I’ve never considered journaling before bed. I think I would get too hyped by the writing I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but your post has tempted me to at least try it out!

    • lol Jessica, you’re so right. It happens to me all the time, so maybe I should have mentioned a ‘warning’ 🙂

  • I keep a journal. It used to be where I’d write everything down. Then I started blogging and my journal kind of turned into a place that I only wrote the stuff that I couldn’t blog about. But I like your idea of writing potential blog posts in my journal. I found blogging before bed I’d stay up for hours instead of minutes, but in a journal I’d be less distracted by plugins, email, Facebook, and everything else I get into fixing when I should be writing. Great idea!

    • Anastacia, I think it is great to have a journal for writing stuff you feel strongly about, but may never blog about. You never know where ideas may come from.

  • I don’t journal every day – perhaps I should. Several years ago, I began a “writing” journal. I record my fears, hopes, dreams, failures, successes, etc. It sure helps to look back and see how far I’ve come and encourages me to keep moving forward. Good idea about using the phone. Often I have ideas while driving to work and I can’t stop to write them down.

    • Great point, Joan, about having a ‘record’ to read back and see how far you’ve come!

  • Joy Lenton

    I kept a journal for years and it became a repository for all that ailed me. These days I prefer to keep a ‘Gratitude Journal’ instead. I also write thoughts down (both poetry and prose that might morph into something creative) as soon as they occur to me and have found it really helpful. Though it often means getting out of bed if the notepad isn’t already there, because I might forget it in the morning otherwise!

    It doesn’t suffer the same ruthless editing I often bring to blog drafts either. My prayer journal also records ‘conversations’ with God and they are precious to me to look back on. Some have informed my writing and may become a Devotional one day.

    You have touched on an area I wholeheartedly agree with and find both therapeutic and useful. Thanks, Bryan. 🙂

    • Great word there, Joy: Therapeutic. Totally agree. Ruthless editing… there should be a law against it when writing first drafts 🙂

  • kath unsworth

    I keep notebooks with everything from new ideas, right down to the type of clothes, food and star sign my characters are, in fact I think I have too many notes hanging out of dictionaries and piles of mad scribbles or sketches of my characters it is chaotic, I might try and condense it thanks for the informative read.

    • lol I hear you, Kath! And then there is too much journaling to the point you can’t find all that you’ve noted 🙂 But it’s still excellent exercise for the creative mind!

  • Journaling used to be part of my daily activities, especially after I spent $13 on a pack of Moleskines. Looking through it the other day did inspire several new topics that I’m saving for a future post. The most fun part is reading about the ambitions I had.

    One of the first entries was just several days before I started Self Stairway. Reading how ambitious I was made me smile because I realized all the goals I told myself I’d accomplish “within a year,” or “doesn’t matter how many years it’ll take,” I actually did in under three months. It’s a great way to feel grateful as well as to remind yourself of your goals. Ideas for a new article is just a bonus. 🙂

    • Yep, Vincent, it is fun to go back and read about past ambitions and what our thoughts were. It’s like taking a photo and catching our thoughts from a certain time forever.

  • Amy Morgan

    I’ve just started a separate writing journal and love how you pointed out how we don’t edit our journals like we do our first drafts. A bonus I hadn’t thought about but certainly appreciate. I just got a voice recorder and love using that as well for those times that I can’t write an idea down (i.e. driving).

    • Hi Amy, I like pointing out the ‘little bonuses’ because it helps motivate others (and myself) to keep journaling. Voice recorders are super for those moments when you don’t have time to write,

  • Laura Robb

    I keep a journal as a place to gather thoughts, make notes about writing (ideas for stories, phrases I want to use), and write about things in life that I need to process or want to remember. It is freeing to put the words on paper, even if they are never shared. I constantly learn something from the act of journaling and sometimes see words I repeat too often. So that is helpful in many ways!

  • I don’t keep a journal because I dislike handwriting so much, and my handwriting is so terrible even I can’t read it. But I do keep a Wunderlist list of topics when I think of them, with a few notes so I won’t forget.

    • I totally get it Kathleen! Keep notes to remember things is a good idea. I’d forget too many things if I did not keep notes.

  • Julie Luek

    Saw your comment on Twitter– I’m a big believer in journaling via Julia Cameron style. I love my quiet morning time to think through thoughts and prepare my heart and mind for a day of writing. I should think about a night time journal too– I like that idea. Great post– thanks for sharing, Bryan.

    • Great, Julie! I personally do not journal in the mornings. I usually get my coffee, sit down and start working on whatever my current project is. It’s likely because I journal when going to bed and those thoughts and ideas have had time for my brain to sort through, which helps me write in the mornings.

  • I love keeping a double entry journal with my books (evidence from the text on left side, extended comments on the right). I’m one who loves the feel of a good #2 in hand gliding along the paper. I even like copying for that matter. However, I haven’t been faithful to keep one every day for all thoughts. After reading Bell’s “Art of War for Writers”, I decided journaling would be an integral part of my growth as a writer. It’s where I can commit to a daily quota.

    • It’s funny that you mentioned exteneded comments on the side. I was looking through some of my older journals recently and I was surprised how much content I added via commenting on the right side – there was some good stuff in those comments. I think journaling is great because it gets you thinking about ‘what’ you are writing more than the ‘writing’ itself.

  • Great post Brian! If you had read the intro of my book I sent you a while ago, you would have known that my book was originally my journal. Like Julie Luek, I too began journaling after reading Julia Cameron’s books. Throught my journaling words I learned to commit to writing, to understand my feelings, thoughts, and behavior. I learned to listen to my body and soul and to make connections with guides of this and other worlds!
    Blessings and success, always!

    • Ah, Katina, I wish you would have reminded me. I think you sent it to me just as we started moving and everything went on hold. And you mentioned several of the other great reasons I love to journal and that is to understand feelings, thoughts and one’s behavior. Indeed, you are right, there are so many benefits.

  • Jamie

    Hi Bryan

    Good post

    I have kept journals in the past – reading this I think I’ll go back to it again

    A couple of points for your readers when keeping a journal – mistakes I made in the past and solutions to them.

    1. To rant or not to rant (negativity)

    Sometimes it is good to let of steam and a journal can be the place to do it. But try not to let this become a habit or your journal can end up looking like your life is more miserable than it really is.

    Solution – I banned myself from writing anything negative in it. It was in fact a “positivity journal” and I found my workflow improved. When I read back I get a sense of hope from it. There were bad days – but every entry I made viewed events in a positive light and the act of writing made me feel better about things.

    If you have to rant now and then… Do so. Then rip it up an bin it.

    2. Try and avoid long winded tangent

    Sometimes I’d write for a couple of hours at a time. Reflections – and ideas. This led to me spending too much time journaling instead of focused writing. I also failed to take action on many of the ideas I had in it.

    Solution – as you say in your post – limit the amount of time you spend journaling. 10-20 minutes is good.

    3. Paranoia

    Sometimes we can write things we don’t want others to read. Not necessarily bad things, but perhaps thoughts that we just want to be kept private – hence the taboo of reading another’s diary. I found a free software tool which allows you to set and encrypted password. It is pretty basic but very secure, and it’s on your hard drive unlike the excellent web based Evernote. Here’s the link…


    keep up the good work


  • Invisible

    It’s been a great surprise to find your blog Bryan. Congrats!!

    I usually keep a journal when what I am going through is too hard to cope with it. I realized that when I am happy (being single or not, working or not) I journal much less.
    On the other hand, it helps me to capture feelings that otherwise will vanish and I’d not be able to describe as well as when I lived them.

    • You know, you bring up an excellent point. Most things that we do which tend to help we also tend to do less of when we things are ‘okay’ – however, the reality is that if we continue to do them even (especially) when things are going well then the ‘good times’ tend to last longer with few slopes that are not quite as deep as they used to me.

      • Invisible

        Thank you very much for your answer Bryan.
        Best regards, and keep building this blog up!!

  • Journaling is my salvation. I write every single morning, no matter what. Thank you for sharing this!

  • Often Lee

    Keeping a journal has been something that is hard for me. Normally, I am not someone who likes carrying a backpack or a luggage around with me when I am on my day to day business. I have tried Moleskine and my phone to record my thoughts, but they often become too cumbersome to use on a day to day basis.

    • I totally understand, Often Lee, and that’s important, too. If you want to journal it is important to find a way that works for you. I used to hate writing in notebooks and would never keep them up to date, but when I found a type of blank journal book that I like a great deal I started writing in it more frequently than the regular notebook. So I think it is important to find the right type of journaling book that works for you, whether it is electronic or paper.

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  • Barbara McDowell Whitt

    Bryan, I have just now gotten to your post in my inbox – have been busy using Twitter and trying to determine how to use Google+. My blog is composed of the nightly diary entries I kept in high school and college and during vacations in the early 1960s. I post a new entry 50 years to the night after I originally wrote it. I get comments from readers who say they wish they had kept a journal.

    • WoW that’s amazing, Barbara!! I love that your sharing your experiences with the world, so raw and so real. I really believe journals are the one sure way to save our thoughts as we thought them at the time we did 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story.

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  • Eric Pulsifer

    I keep several — one’s my day-to-day evening journal, and one is that so-called “Morning Pages” outlined in The Artist’s Way. Both have their use; the evening one helps keep me accountable to myself on a lot of things, and the Morning Pages helps jump-start my creative processes. Both have everything — rants, affirmations and everything in between.

    I can’t get into keeping my journal on disk, though. Typing loses something off of it. Has to be in a bound book with a fountain pen.

    • Surprised Mac & Cheese

      I do agree typing is a difficult way to do it. But I’m used to it – I’ve been doing it for years XD

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