Great writers keep journals. Or so they say. I, personally, choose to disbelieve that, despite the overwhelming evidence, because I can’t help the overwhelming self-consciousness that comes from traditional journaling. I feel like my worst self, and that self is no good with words. But as I grow, so does my appreciation for this lost art form. It doesn’t have to be about the writer at all. It doesn’t have to be a log of the day. It doesn’t even have to be in full sentences. Best of all, it really can be a terrific writing-aid. So, for everyone like me who hates journaling, here are five suggestions to get you started.
Write One Sentence About One Person
This is just as easy as it sounds. Pick one person – family member, roommate, coworker, acquaintance – and write one little sentence about them. For example:
My niece is wickedly sharp, like a freshly-sharpened pencil ready to scratch out new faces.
It isn’t the best sentence, but it doesn’t have to be. This is just journaling.
Try exploring different takes on the same person, or just make a list if you want to write more than one line. Write a simile, a metaphor, or report a telling fact. See if you can add multiple elements to a single sentence. Tell it slant. Tell it directly.
Play with words and imagery, but do it in bite-sized pieces that leave you feeling satisfied.
Draw a Map with Creative Labels
Maps come in handy when you write, whether your story takes place in a mid-grade apartment in Boston or along the shore of a purple sea on an alien planet. They help you keep your narrative clear, but they can also boost your own understanding of your plot. Try labeling places not just by name, but by emotion, purpose, or fate.
If you don’t like drawing maps for your stories, sketch a quick layout of your home or room. Try the same tricks. What new ideas, insights, or realizations do you find in familiar corners?
Imagine a Different Version of Your Day
How different is up to you. If you’re tired and snarky by the time you sit down to journal, spit out something facetious about riding a unicorn to work and laughing as its hooves left dents in the roofs of SUVs.
Things don’t have to be quite so fantastic, but they can be.
To try something a little more challenging, try walking through your day in the shoes of a character. The protagonist from your WIP might have very different ideas about handling students, warring with a printer, or packing strangers’ underwear in a warehouse.
Rewrite a Scene from Your Favorite Book
This is a great way to explore your unique “voice.” It’s all in how you tell the story. Lots of authors have rehashed Cinderella’s story, but each take feels different. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like a happy ending, even if the basic plot remains the same. But you don’t have to intentionally change the tone of a scene to make it your own.
Don’t reread the scene before you write. That brings the original author’s words too close to the forefront of your mind. Instead, rekindle the images, the most important dialogue, and the context. Then write what you picture. This will never see the light of day, so just relax and go with it. Pretend you’re the first person to tell this story, and tell it in your own words. If you ever go back to review this exercise, you may be surprised by what you find.
Experiment With Aesthetic Lists
As a Pinterest-junkie, I can happily confess to my obsession with aesthetic boards. I love them, and I like to think that they love me. You don’t necessarily need a visual board to develop an aesthetic for every story, though. Even if you do use Pinterest, turning those images into words matters.
In this journaling exercise, all you have to do is make a list. You can make whole sentences if you like, or you can bullet list individual words. “A pink sunrise over the bay,” works in a different way than a list of words like: “magenta, nets, masts, harbor, reflections.” Neither is wrong. Whatever gives your muse the best fodder is the ideal format.
Do you keep a journal? How long have you kept it, and why did you start? Don’t forget to share your own experiences and suggestions in the comments below!