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Journaling for Creativity.

A Working Writer's Journal

09-07-03, a working writers journalYou don’t have to read about the craft of writing for very long before the sage advice to keep a writer’s journal appears. It’s good advice, often handed down from the writing gods. So do you? Do you have the wisdom to use one? Or do you, like me, find them troublesome?

In this modern world a journal can now be many different physical things. No longer is journaling done only in a hard backed book but it can also be done on your personal digital assistant (Blackberry etc), your mobile phone, your PC, your dictaphone, your camera or your video camera. One author apparently kept a journal written on napkins and bills, all very loosely organised in a carrier bag.

So what’s my problem? For a start I am old fashioned, I like notebooks, I like flicking through pages and glancing at the notes. For me a notebook works. The problem arrives when I try carrying it and its associated pen around with me.

Small pocket notebooks die incredibly rapidly in my back pocket. Pens snap and then dye everything else. They are fiddly to write on, have no hard back and get covered in pocket filth.

Medium notebooks, A5 (1/2 Letter) are great, especially the ones with a hard back. You can write easily in them, each page carries enough words before having to be turned. The thick ones hold loads of words and diagrams, yet are still not too heavy to carry. You can cram them full of tickets, leaflets, flowers and whatever else fits in between their handy pages. Unfortunately, they do not fit into your pockets so you have to carry them. Usually resulting in hopeful trips back to where they were put down and forgotten. They don’t hold a pen and so the slight trouble of inadvertent clothes dying remains.

Large notebooks are stay at home affairs. Too big to carry, impossible to open up and work in, unless placed upon a desk. They are even too awkward for use when moving around your own house and of course the pen problem remains.

So I have been on a quest for a solution, sampling every variant I find hiding on the stationer’s shelves.

Was it worth the trouble? Yes, absolutely, irrefutably, yes!

Adding notes, thoughts, immediate emotions, playing with scenes and beats, when and wherever you are, all allow you to work continuously on your current or next project(s). There are many other gains from journaling but they need a dedicated post of their own.

Happily, I have found a solution and like all the best solutions it is a simple one, doesn’t require batteries and can even accommodate the problematic pen. The answer to my prayers is a variant of the carrier bag, only it is made of canvas, has pockets, holds an A5 note book, mobile phone, camera and a selection of pens.

Yes, it’s a shoulder bag. Now apart from having people give me those funny looks that they so often do when questioning someone’s sexuality, all is good. I can pick it up instantly; keep it with me at all times, collect bills, napkins and any other small memorabilia, as well as capturing photos, sounds or short video. It holds a thick A5 notebook and I can have it out and be scribbling, in seconds. The bag itself has become my writer’s journal and the contents are the tools that make it work. I can now work when waiting for the Doctor or walking in the park. Details of interest can be recorded at the time along with my immediate feelings.

So my writer’s journal is now a canvas bag and at long last it is finally working well.


What is your journal and what do you record there?

What problems have you encountered and what useful tips have you found?

And if you don’t use a journal, please let us know why they don’t work for you.


Photo; My Journals, cc A Shackcloth

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10 comments to A Working Writer’s Journal

  • I generally use the notes app on my iPhone to jot down ideas to come back to later. If I happen to be in a meeting and have one and bringing out my phone would be frowned upon, I also keep one of the small Moleskine notebooks on me, one that’s a little smaller than half-letter size.

    And on top of everything else is Twitter, which I’ve found to be incredibly cathartic to be able just to log things and vet certain ideas through people’s feedback before I actually getting around to writing about it.

    • Le_Shack

      Hi Prof, I would like to use my mobile in that way but the keys are too small and the T9 text interface is very slow. I have used it to record voice messages and odd photos but that’s all. Are the Iphone’s keys bigger than the ‘normal’ ones?

  • I could not live without my notebook/journal. It’s a proven fact that the further away a writer is from her work (physically), the best ideas will hit her. I have a tiny thing I jot everything down in, and when I get home, I transfer the ideas to the right “big” notebook. I have one for my fiction work in progress, my nonfiction/article ideas and just a general journal.

    I also have been known to text messages to myself on my phone for future reference.

    I’m a long hand writer–my first drafts are handwritten then typed, so if I didn’t have that paper-pen link, I’d be lost.

    Good post!

    • Le_Shack

      Hi Beth, thanks for your words. I do like the text myself idea, makes me wonder if I could text a twitter account called @shacks-journal and so pick up the text by copy and paste. Then again would it be worth it?
      I don’t get on with the little notebooks, maybe my hands are too big.
      Thanks again

  • Axisor

    When I have to get a new purse, I look for one where an A5 will fit as well as a mini sketchbook, pens, and my wallet. That’s for when I travel to events where Toting my messenger back with a binder, a larger spiral notebook (for background, ideas, my poor attempts at outlines….), clipboard, and another top spiral notebook for writing out longhand is inappropriate for the venue. I have found that taking the time to at least put headers on each page as to what it contains helps a lot, as i can quickly go back and fine the pages of blue text all about “rules of powers” scattered amidst backstories, discpritions, maps, ect.

    I also carry the most recent backup to my different novels on a jumpdrive on my keychain. If i leave the house, I never completely leave my stories.

    • Le_Shack

      Hi Axisor, Agree with headers, very useful habit. Also dates, I can sometimes work back to something I scribbled, because of a significant date.
      On your USB/jump-drive, do you also have a stand alone text editor or do you just store your data?

      • Axisor

        Oh, I store on both my tower and my laptop (though I’m hoping to get an external drive i can hook into my router to save some space) and I also ship off a copy as soon as i finish a chapter to my Beta Reader in CO as well as a friend in IL. I’ve had a chapter eaten once and I’m super paranoid about it happening again. The rewrite didn’t come out as good as I remembered the original. I wrote exclusively longhand for the next 3 chapters til I started trusting tech again.

  • I love my journal.

    I have a 9″x6″ spiral notebook that I take everywhere. The pen fits nicely into the coil so I never have to worry about losing it, and it fits into medium to large purses. I’m actually on my second notebook.

    I found that I just tend to write everything in it. From outlines to actually short stories to dreams/ideas. When I finished the 1st notebook I went back and flagged all the stories I hadn’t rewritten into the computer, and all the ideas I hadn’t used yet.

    Also, like Axisor, I carry around a USB jumpdrive with all my relevant writing on it. That way I can work on stuff at lunch (I work in an office) as well as on my laptop when I travel.

    Thanks for writing the post.

  • Tina, lovely to hear from you again.
    A 9″x6″ spiral bound notebook you say. :) If you count down five notebooks from the top one in the photo, you will see my current one, spiral bound 8″x6″, with a pen tucked in the spiral. My Journal bag was bought to fit that very notebook.

    One of the things I like about the spiral binding is that you can open the book right around until it touches the back. Much easier to balance on my knee or in the air.

    That one has a problem in that the cover, although made from a durable stiff plastic, is still not rigid enough.

    Down three under the home made A5 jotters is my next notebook, a spiral bound Red & Black. That one does have a stiff enough cover but only has a third of the pages of my current one.

    Can you guess, I’m still looking for my perfect notebook.

  • Do I ever have a writing journal. You can tell when my writing is going well, because my writing journal gets daily entries. When the entries taper off? That’s when I’m struggling. It seems to be a connection; when I can write, I write anything and everything.

    It’s very helpful to read back and see how I was feeling at the time, and watch my morale go up and down as the story progresses :)