Neat Newsletter

Latest news and information straight to your inbox.
No need to visit the site and search through recent posts.
Easy opt-out at any time.


Free Service

Free help for anyone
interested in improving their
Journaling for Creativity.

Why Journal? Journaling to generate ideas

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 Journaling to Generate Ideas


This post follows on from So why journal?, in which I listed a few reasons why journaling is a sound investment of your time. Here, we further investigate the ‘Journaling to generate ideas’ section of that post, expanding the ideas and exploring their benefits in our quest of how to journal.

To free idle time

Journaling for creativity: Journaling to generate ideas What is idle time and what has freeing it to do with generating ideas?

Idle times are those parts of everyone’s day where we are physically occupied but still have the ability to dream, to think, to imagine. Journaling can free hours of this otherwise lost time. In any situation where your brain is active, but not fully occupied; whether it is ironing, commuting, driving, waiting for something or something similar is idle time. Having a journal to hand can take advantage of those moments that otherwise would be wasted.

The amount of ideas generated at these times is simply astounding but they are all too easily forgotten and lost. Your creative journal frees the time from being dedicated to just one task as well as capturing any ideas generated.

Some moments are potential writing time, where it is possible to scribble in your journal. Times such as when sitting in a waiting room, riding on the bus, having lunch or watching your children play.

Other opportunities are potential thinking time followed by writing quick notes, times when the task is keeping your hands busy but not taxing your brain. Times such as when you are ironing clothes, commuting, gardening, decorating etc.

"Writing regularly in your notebook keeps the creative juices churning"

John Dufresne in “Writers and their notebooks” by Diana Raab

The times during each day that are blocked against writing but where it is actually possible to do creative journaling could be similar to;

15 mins – breakfast
30 mins – commute
15 mins – coffee break
45 mins – lunch
15 mins – coffee break
30 mins – commute
15 mins – after dinner rest
30 mins – household chores

A total of 195 minutes, i.e. over three hours in one day that a creative journal could be utilised for the completion of your project.

A whole section of the blog will be dedicated to this one issue alone, that of discovering time and making time.

To be creative

The creative journal is the perfect place to use mind maps, cluster maps, Proust questionnaires and other creativity tools. Your creative journal is always accessible and so these entries can be worked on and then further improved and refined during the odd spare moment. Many of these creativity tools are very visual in nature and since the creative mind is intrinsically involved with processing visual images, they lead to the production of more creative solutions.

"In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative."

Twyla Tharp, “The Creative Habit: Learn it and use it for life

Additionally, by being freed from the mindset of "having to complete a task in one sitting", your creative thinking remains running, working away in the background, so more ideas surface whilst you go about your other tasks.

Mind maps

Mind maps are graphical representations of options in your project and the relationships between them. The mind map technique is not just limited to forming plans; they are also very useful for taking notes quickly and improve the subsequent recall of those notes. In both cases, the mind map grows into an organic shape forming visually interesting patterns, and patterns are exactly the type of mental stimulus the creative mind prefers.

"The mind mapping as thus described can be seen to eliminate all of the disadvantages of standard note-taking."

Tony Buzan, “Use Both Sides of Your Brain

Mind maps may be scruffy, ideal for a five minute ponder in the journal, or may be quite involved works of art. As the pages of a journal are normally small, they lend themselves to small mind maps that are focused on small aspects of the project. Sometimes these grow with time, but static or dynamic they always generate ideas and relationships between ideas.

Cluster diagrams

Cluster maps are visually similar to mind maps and for that reason they also form a synergy with the creative mind. These are graphical representations of word associations generated from a seed word or seed phrase, and were developed by Gabriele Rico from her experiences of teaching students how to write. These associations grow organically from the seed and explore on the page relationships and ideas, until the creative mind finds a focus. Again for all the reasons mind maps work so well in a journal, (that is being small, visually rich, organic, scruffy, and quick) these also draw out the creative mind and so can provide extraordinary associations for your prose.

Proust questionnaires

The Proust questionnaire is a series of questions that Marcel Proust asked himself during his life to monitor his own thoughts and values. Applying these questions to your characters will allow you to know who they are and how they think, which will have the benefit of complete and interesting characters being used in your project. Proust questionnaires are ideal for pondering in your journal when time is short; just answer as many questions as you have time for. More information on these can be found at Writing characters using the Proust questionnaire.

“For some reason the very way he/she thinks pops into your head and then it becomes the character filling in the form.”

Freewriting and stream of consciousness writing

Your creative journal is also perfect for freewriting, also known as ‘stream of consciousness writing’, as popularised by Peter Elbow in his book Writing Without Teachers. These are simple exercises that require you to write continuously for a short, predetermined amount of time, and have been recognised as a powerful technique in bringing subconscious and creative-self thoughts up past the normal mental clutter filling our minds.

Importantly, since the time required to do freewriting exercises is short, they are ideal for the idle times throughout the day.

Dual mind games

You may also use your creative journal to engage in games, exercises and practices to strengthen the bridge between the logical-self and the creative-self, and in so doing, reap the benefits from more creative thoughts that travel across the strengthened bridge. There are many creativity enhancing activities existing which draw on both your logical and creative abilities, many of which are well suited to the occasional ponder in a creative journal.

We look in detail at a number of these in the blog post series Journaling brain games for creative development .


Photo credit: Color, by Earl Wilkerson.
"Why Journal?: Journaling to generate ideas" by Andy Shackcloth is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Share Button

Comments are closed.