Have you ever had a great idea for a story or poem, but when you got to the page, ‘poof!’ it was gone? Short-term memory is fragile and limited, and life is busy and distracting. That’s why most great writers are habitual journalers and notetakers. Journaling to become a better writer does not mean keeping a ‘dear diary’-type record of your days. What you want to aim for is to regularly capture your ideas and observations—whether it be in a notebook, a file on your laptop or phone or a shoebox of index cards.
Journaling keeps your writer’s eye engaged and constantly scanning for material. Then when you’re starting a new piece or get stuck, you have a ready source of inspiration.
- Find your rhythm. Most writers like to capture ideas in the moment—Louise Erdrich talks about driving with one hand and writing with the other (we don’t recommend this)—which means you need to keep a small notebook handy or figure out a good way to take notes on your phone (see point 4). Others find a morning or evening download is more sustainable. Mornings work particularly well for capturing dreams—a fantastic source of inspiration. The point is to make journaling a habit.
- Don’t worry about what anyone else might think. These are just notes, raw material. As long as you can still read them, who cares if they’re a disjointed, ungrammatical scrawl. Madeleine L’Engle advised, ‘If you want to write, you need to keep an honest, unpublishable journal that nobody reads, nobody but you.’
- Be alive to details—the colour of light filtering through the trees on an afternoon hike, the taste of a particularly stinky French cheese, an overheard conversation in the supermarket check-out line. Try to engage all your senses. You never know what’s going to be great fodder for your writing—if something catches your interest or imagination, write it down as clearly and concretely as you can.
- Consider going digital. For some folks, it has to be pen and paper. For others, journaling apps can be a great way to keep a searchable record of your ideas. For iPhone, check out Day One and Dario. For Android, try Narrate and Penzu. Want to take notes on the go without having to stop and type? Try Speechnotes.
- Don’t limit yourself. You can add photos, drawings, passages from stuff you’re reading—whatever inspires you. Have fun!
Want more tips on how to become a great writer? Check out these posts.