Call it a journal, a writer’s notebook, or an idea file. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Keep it on a computer, loose sheets of paper, or in a bound notebook. That doesn’t matter either. What does matter is that journaling is a practice. It’s not simply writing some things down from time to time.
I use the term “journal” because it implies “every day.” That makes it a part of your disciplined pursuit of better writing. Here are three ways keeping a journal can help you write better.
Harnessing Your Ideas
Good ideas fuel your writing. They might be ideas about topics you may want to write about. They might be ideas about how to meet a writing challenge. They might be clever phrases or quotes you want to remember in case you need them later.
If you want to use good ideas in your writing, you need to harness them. First, you must capture them in the wild. Use a notebook, index cards, or a digital voice recorder to capture your ideas as soon as they come to you. But if that’s as far as you go, you’ll never get maximum value from your ideas.
That’s where your journal comes in. Pluck your ideas from the net that first captured them. Write them down in your journal. You can modify them slightly when you do that. That’s part of the process of making them better.
Once you’ve got the ideas in your journal, you’ve got them in a place where you can use them.
Reflect On Your Ideas
Use your journal to reflect. Work where there aren’t a lot of distractions. That’s just a suggestion, not a rule. Write down what you think and what you feel. Let your mind roam. Play with your ideas. Write down your reflections. Writing is the physical part of thinking.
Think about ideas you’ve already captured. What other ideas do they spark? How do you feel about them?
Work Out Ideas
Your journal is great for working out your ideas or attacking specific writing challenges. My journal is filled with lists of possibilities, idea maps of concepts, and whole paragraphs where I’ve tried to capture an idea in words. There are also a few doodles, which mean nothing to anyone but me.
Use your journal to work out ideas when you don’t have deadline pressure. Make idea sharpening the natural result of idea capture and reflection.
Try journaling to see if it improves your writing. Give yourself a two-week challenge to write in your journal every day and use it to help you grow as a writer. If you keep a journal, make a special effort for the next two weeks to find new ways to capture ideas, reflect on them, and turn them into finished words.
Now I have a question. If you keep a journal, how have you used it to improve your writing?