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Journaling for Creativity.

So why journal?

This post forms part of a serialisation eventually building into a complete reference on Journaling for Creativity and the writer's notebook. One that will demonstrate how to journal in order to improve creativity and effectiveness of artists, writers or anyone needing to be creative.

Introduction Contents What is Journaling for Creativity So Why Journal

This post is only part of the answer to the question “Why journal?” I can’t give you a complete answer to this question in one post, because in my notes on this single subject alone, there are over 7500 words, far too long for a blog post on how to journal. So this post is just a list of reasons and summary sentences on the main benefits. In later posts I will expand upon them.
Journaling for Creativity: So why Journal? So with that said, why journal? what is a journal.

What advantage?

What reward?

What benefits are there for all those hours spent scribbling down words that only you will ever see?


For Fun

Perhaps the first benefit, the first reason above all else as to why you should journal, as to why the private spaces within those pages are so very important to you, is simply 'fun'. As you probably already know there is little likelihood of large financial rewards from writing, except for the tiny minority of very successful writers. So that really only leaves personal enjoyment, otherwise known as fun.

Fun, because journal pages are private and free from any pressure, expectations, comment, censure, editorial views, etc. Fun, because within them you can be free to be you, write purely for you, write anyway or anything you want.


For capturing

To capture content

Of course a journal can simply be used to bank content. Where the writer squirrels away a horde of observations, sounds, images and curios. The eventual plundering of the content providing useful material.

To observe people

When asked about journaling, observing people is most often stated as important. The ability to record notes about how people act and on what they do. People do funny things and people react in funny ways to people doing funny things. A journal can be a wonderful repository of observed character traits.

"All writers are observers, fascinated with human goings-on, but journal writers are a special breed, I think, suspicious of their own memories, like tourists taking snapshots of everything they see.
They're different from diarists, of course – diarists seem, as a whole, fascinated with their own lives – journal keepers are snoops, fascinated with everyone else's life."

Robin Hemley from "The Writers Journal", Sheila Bender

To capture habits and faults

By actively observing, by watching how actions produce ripples in the world, you can become acutely aware of when someone is doing something out of habit, when they exhibit faults, when they fail to act, and as every writer knows a few faults in your character can bring that character to life.

To keep a chronological record

A creative journal is not the same as a chronological journal but if the entries are prolific then it will take on the appearance of one, automatically forming a chronological record of the ripples surrounding the journaler's life. Handy when needing to locate a particular record or date.

To capture thoughts

Creative thoughts can feed into our minds at the most inappropriate moments and be as insubstantial as ripples on the surface of a pond. A journal becomes your camera to capture these creative thoughts, your ability to take a snapshot for later inspection.

To capture transient emotions

What is a transient emotion? It is that gossamer emotion that passes fleetingly before us but is not there when later recalled or discussed. Have you ever felt jealous of the welcome your partner gives the dog when they return home? Did the emotion last long?

These primitive emotions flare up and are gone in moments.

To help with remembering

The time taken to write the journal entry, the shape of the entry, the act of writing it, its position on the page, its position in the journal, all helps to lodge the memory in our mind.

To rediscover experience

All the thoughts, feelings, observations, emotions, ideas, concepts, sounds, sights, vistas, etc, can be rediscovered by reviewing your creative journal. Not just what was entered into the journal on such and such date, but also a rediscovery of what you experienced. Then there will also be those entries that have been sadly forgotten.

To never (completely) forget

A record in your journal is there for keeps, no matter what time passes, it is there waiting to be found.

To keep physical items for later description

A journal is a wonderful place to put thin objects in, but then go on to fill your pockets with bigger items. Bringing things home allows you to take advantage of the powerful tactile and olfactory senses and builds stronger memories.


For training

To train your senses

As covered in the post “The effect of journaling on the senses”; using your senses and practicing active observation techniques enhances your ability to be aware of what is around you and more importantly, what is not.

To play out small scenes, beats, dialogue as they occur to you

Journaling allows you to play with the elements of a story as they occur to you. These may not be part of your current project. They may be parts of novels that probably will never be completed but something about them inspires you and what joy when later you find a jewel amongst them.

To train the writer within

Regular unconstrained writing in a journal trains the mind in that fast creative flow which has caused so many people to proclaim epiphanies about journaling. By repeatedly writing in this manner, speed and creativity can be unchained.

To become skillful at taking comprehensive notes

Taking good notes is a skill and when combined with the need to take those notes quickly it becomes a difficult skill. Learning this skill requires repetition, both in the taking of notes and of using those notes, your skill developing with each entry made in your journal.

To practice different writing styles

A journal is a criticism and expectation free zone for trying different writing styles. Suppose you want to get closer to a character? Then rewrite a section in first person. It is not going to be published or even shown to your critique group, which makes for a liberating experience.


For organisation

To focus on a direction

A creative journal will provide feedback to you, from the simple act of reviewing your journal, of reviewing previous thoughts; it can provide a focus to your thoughts and guidance for your actions.

To set goals

Once a goal has been written down, we can see it, and we involuntarily take it more seriously. Without the commitment of writing them down, goals tend to slip, slide and become vague whilst the separate halves of your mind follow their own and often conflicting agendas.

To build your map or overview

All the random thoughts about promotion, story arc, font selection, character developments, research required, endorsements etc can be collected eclectically in a journal as and when they occur, which will be, as is true of all good ideas, always at the most inopportune time.

To help clear your thoughts

Sometimes it is hard to get started simply because there is too much to consider, to decide on, to finish, and so we become leaden butterflies of indecision. Journaling about what you are attempting to achieve allows you to gain an overview of what is important right now.

To gain awareness of own thinking

One great advantage of reviewing previous journal entries comes when you observe some of your own predispositions or shifts in thinking. The journal becomes a mirror with your heart reflected in the short scribblings.

To organise content

Creative thoughts seldom occur in an orderly fashion. Your creative journal allows you to collect all these disparate parts of your story, to evaluate them and reorganise them before you write yourself into a dead end.

To list

Journals, because of their availability, naturally lend themselves to containing lists. All sorts of lists; to-do lists, shopping lists, contacts lists, reading lists, names, ways to die, descriptions, views from a train, exotic places, opening sentences, etc. A few of the more important lists are;

A list to calm the noise

Disturbing, nagging and persistent thoughts can be tucked into a list which can then free the mind of these distractions and allow concentration and focused thought to be maintained.

A name collection

Names of people or things can be collected in a list or lists in the journal. Simply collect all the names you find interesting.

"Learn the names of everything: birds, cheese, tractors, cars, buildings. A writer is all at once everything — an architect, French cook, farmer — and at the same time, a writer is none of these things."

Natalie Goldberg, “Writing down the bones: Freeing the writer within

A Reading list

Consider the literature around you, as you come across a renowned or popular book add it to your reading list along with a note about why you want to read it.

To talk to your self

Journaling naturally makes thoughts occur that can’t be answered. Turning them into journal entries and reviewing them allows those entries to become your messages to your creative self.


To generate ideas

To free idle time

Journaling can free hours of what might otherwise be lost time. In any situation where your brain is active but not fully occupied, whether it is waiting in a queue, ironing, commuting or other activities, having a journal to hand can take advantage of those moments that would otherwise be wasted.

To be creative

The creative journal is the perfect place to do mind maps, cluster maps, Proust questionnaires and other creativity tools. The constant access provided by a journal, coupled with that these are ideal tools for a quick ponder allows them to be constantly refined. Additionally the creative mind is far more involved with visual devices and this leads to more creative solutions.


To write

To keep the story "higher" in your mind

One result of capturing your thoughts and reviewing them is that they circulate in your subconscious, the net result being that in turn they drive more thoughts and ideas to the surface, causing more questions to be asked and more possibilities to be considered.

To build characters

Within the confines of a journal, you are free to create, meet, modify and maim characters. They could be your current characters or others of interest to you and either inside or outside the story arc, limited only by your imagination.

To combat “writers block”

There might be a time when you get stuck before the keys. At these times, reviewing the entries in your journal can provide the food needed by a tired and empty mind.


And more…

It is not possible for this list to be complete, there are sure to be more reasons and benefits out there than I have discovered. If you know of anymore please share them with us in the comments section and I will add them to the list.


Photo credit: Mixed messages, by Jayel Aheram,“So why journal?” by Andy Shackcloth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Creative Commons Licence

Photo credit: Mixed messages, by Jayel Aheram.
"So why journal?" by Andy Shackcloth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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