Should Writers Keep a Daily Journal?

As we approach the new year, I begin to think over my resolutions. For the past four years, I have resolved to keep a daily journal of my life. To the non-writing world, this seems like a natural extension of my status as a writer. After all, why wouldn’t someone who writes keep a written record of her daily life? However, as the writers who are reading this will probably know, the idea of keeping a journal creates a notable amount of debate among writers.

journal resolutionsThose in favor of writing in a journal say that it helps a writer’s abilities. After all, what better way to practice the craft of storytelling than recording the story of your own life? Likewise, writing of any sort can boost creativity and improve general craft skills like sentence formation and word choice. From an inspiration standpoint, the record of one’s life may prove to be a wealth of inspiration and character development when reflected upon in future years.

Those opposed to writing in a journal say that it hinders writers by taking away valuable writing time. Put another way, writers could use the time they spend scribbling in their journal to actually write their novels, poetry, etc. From a technical standpoint, some writers believe the skills gained by journal writing do not actually translate to fiction or other prose forms as well as some writers like to think and may actually hinder professional writing, because the writer becomes too introverted in style.

(On a tangential note, both of these arguments can be applied to the division among writers about blogging.)

Both sides of the argument make valid points. So how do you, as writer, decide whether or not keeping a journal is a good option for you? Well, as I say about most things in the writing world, you simply have to know yourself, your artistic style, and your professional goals. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of this debate, I guarantee there is a style of journal writing for you.

Abstention 

Don’t feel the need to chronicle your daily activities? Don’t want to take time away from your novel to relive your day? Then simply don’t journal. However, I would still suggest taking time for reflection every now and then to keep yourself centered on who you are and where you are headed.

journalDaily Journal Writing

If you are like me from 2011-14, then you like the idea of being able to reflect back and recall every day of your year. After all, when you take time to actually think about how many moments slip through our memories’ grasps, it really is alarming. If you feel like you want to hold onto these moments, then keeping a daily journal of your activities is probably for you. Just make sure that writing in your journal does not replace your professional writing and/or does not become an excuse for procrastination.

Spontaneous Journal Writing

Many writers who I talk to about journal writing say that they simply do not find their own lives interesting enough to warrant daily journal writing — hence why they write fiction. If the romanticism of journal writing appeals to you, but you find your life mundane, try breaking out a journal for the big moments. After all, these are the ones you want to remember, in more depth than a Facebook status. However, I still think it is worth it to chronicle a handful of the mundane days. There are plenty of “ordinary” moments that we take for granted every day, but ten years from now, you might find the regular routine more meaningful than you ever expected.

Freewriting

Remember in school when teachers would have you sit down and do “freewriting?” In case you don’t, it is an exercise in which you simply write whatever spills forth from your brain. By doing this, you will allow yourself to be creative, while still capturing the moods and themes of your daily life. For a more “journal-esque” focus, you could try to gear your freewriting toward whatever issues or events seem most prominent in your life. This way, you still keep track of what is going on, but you retain more creative freedom in the process and frequency.

happiness project journalMicro-journaling

With micro-journaling, you record single words or short phrases about your day — enough to jog your memory, but not take up too much time. This is the style of journal writing that I will be doing in 2015. Since 2009, I have been writing at least three positive things that happen in my life each day, whether I write a complete journal entry or not. As I become busier with work, blogging, and professional writing, I find that I do not have the time or creative energy to keep up with a daily journal. However, I still want to keep a record of my daily life. Therefore, each day of 2015, I am going to continue with my tradition of writing three daily gratitudes. I may expand this to keeping a “one-sentence” journal, but we’ll see how I go.

Writing in a journal takes discipline, a strong memory, and self-awareness. It can boost your creativity and writing craft skills, but it can also take away from valuable writing time and skew your writing style. If journal writing is something that interests you, give one of the styles above a try and see how you like it. Even though journal writing can seem like a restrictive task, there really are no rules. Write as much or as little as you like, in any style you like, and change at a whim. After all, it’s your life. Literally.


Have you ever kept a journal before and what style did you use? Are you resolving to keep a journal in the new year? Let me know your plans and tips!

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17 thoughts on “Should Writers Keep a Daily Journal?

  1. Jonas Lee says:

    I don’t keep a personal journal, but I do keep manuscript journals. They’re kind of like my notes, references, ideas and influences that I want to use to go back to when it’s time to construct the next novel. Sometimes it becomes a collect all for one-liners, quotes and things I run across as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Stephanie says:

    From about age 13 until I went to college, I did the daily journal thing. Then it got harder and harder to make it an every day thing. Sometimes, working on my fiction every day is enough of a challenge by itself and it takes priority. That being said, there is value in a journal and I still keep one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kate M. Colby says:

      I’ve noticed the same thing with my journaling. The older I get (and thus the more responsibilities I get), the more difficult it becomes to keep up a journal. I’m impressed that you’ve kept your journal up so long! I’m hoping my micro-journal strategy will help me keep mine going in some capacity. Thanks for sharing!

      Like

  3. rochelledeans says:

    I wrote in a journal on a fairly regular basis from 14 to 22. I filled more than 25 journals. After getting married, my writing dropped significantly–life with a husband was both too boring and too interesting to write on a regular basis. I filled out a pregnancy journal last year that I managed to use most of, and I keep a writing journal for when I’m stuck and need to work through things.

    I find it really helpful to write by hand and decompress, and although I’ve hardly used my personal journal at all since I got pregnant, I’ll write in it at the end of the year. Now I find blogging fills that need for me. But I love journaling!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kate M. Colby says:

      Like you, I’m finding that blogging is a good way to keep track of what interests me at this stage in my life (as well as reach out to other writers and individuals). I’ve never heard of pregnancy journals, but they sound like a great tool for chronicling an important life phase. Thanks for sharing!

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  4. coffeennotes says:

    I use to have a lot of daily journals, but not any more. Now I have a dream journal, as I find that dreams helps me a lot with my writing (and life) 😀 I have my writing journal, where I write all my notes along with tons of paper notes in it and I use it as a freewriting as well.
    In my planner I use micro-journaling at the corner of each page. – I have to say that I don’t do it as often as I want.
    Love the post ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kate M. Colby says:

      Thank you so much! I love the romantic idea of capturing those little memories we tend to lose as the days slip by. However, as I’ve said here, I simply don’t know that I can do it in long form any more, hence the micro journaling! What form of journaling are you going to try?

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  5. velociraptor256 says:

    I’ve kept a journal since New Year’s Day 2001, so I’m at the point where it’s just a habit to write in it every evening and I’d feel strange not doing it. Since my entries don’t tend to be that long, it certainly doesn’t eat into my time. Its main function is really just self-reflection – I’ve never really consciously connected it to my writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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