Your Writer’s Journal: 4 Practical Tips For This Powerful Tool

Do you have a writer’s journal? A couple of weeks ago, we discussed the benefits of journaling in our writing group.

The benefits have been known for years. However, writers’ journals are a little different. You may have one, or several. I have a bullet journal for every day, but for long projects like books, I choose a fresh notebook.

The non-journaling members of the group were intrigued. How might you use your writing diary—what should you write about?

By the way, you can call your book anything you decide: a diary, or journal. Perhaps a log/ idea/ commonplace book…

How to use your writer’s journal

You can use it in any way which makes sense for you. Use it to explore your thoughts and collect ideas. To complain, or describe, or to copy quotes from words written by others.

Above all, use it to have fun. As Ray Bradbury said in Zen in the Art of Writing:

… if you are writing without zest, without gusto, without love, without fun, you are only half a writer.

Let’s look at some tips that members of our group have developed for their writing notebooks. By the way, the most common types were book journals.

1. Ask yourself questions about anything you choose

You’re the best source of information and advice for anything concerning you.

If something worries you, ask yourself questions. Then answer each question. Avoid over-thinking: write whatever comes to you. Consider using timed-writing sessions for this so that you avoid censoring your thoughts.

Does the thought of writing private material disturb you? If it does, write on sheets and destroy or recycle them.

2. Consider a “for publication” jotter or diary

Many well-known writers left instructions that their diaries were to be burned after they died. Occasionally, their heirs took it on themselves to destroy material. Jane Austin’s sister Cassandra, for example, burned most of Jane’s letters; she’s been called a “literary arsonist.”

Writers like Somerset Maugham (A Writer’s Notebook) on the other hand, published their diaries before their death, or left publication instructions for their literary executors.

Consider writing essays, and collecting them into books, then publishing them.

3. Practice: create a workbook

Want to practice dialogue, or develop characters? You may not want this kind of material in your everyday notebook, so create a workbook. Over the years, you’ll find it immensely useful.

Think of it as a kind of “swipe file”, as used by copywriters.

One writer said he collects his Kindle highlights into Obsidian, then copies them out (manually), and practices the craft elements he’s exploring.

4. Write about your dreams (of course)

Dream diaries can be useful, especially if you’ve suffered trauma. They can also be a source of ideas. Apparently, Robert Louis Stevenson dreamed the seed of his novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Anything goes for your writer’s journal

No need to decide immediately what you’ll include, or how you’ll use this book.

One of our group paints and writes too. She uses a pad of watercolor paper, and jots notes beside her paintings. She’s embarking on a “drawing a day” process next year, stockpiling enough pads to ensure she has 365 paintings when 2025 rolls around.

Not only that, but she reports that since she started using this process, she’s become a more productive writer. You never know how your journal will help you until you get started.

Want to write short stories? Start here

Here’s an amazing new program I’ve found: The 3-Step Formula: Easy and Profitable Short Fiction in 60 Minutes.

I’m using the formula to create a “Christmas through the ages” series of stories.



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