The Best Journaling Methods For Aspiring Writers

by Charlotte Ahlin
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Sometimes it can feel like good writers are simply born that way: they spring fully formed from Zeus's skull, with a massive Twitter following and a book deal. But writing, like drawing or tennis or making those flowers out of frosting, is a skill. It needs to be honed. Raw talent helps, sure, but practice is essential. Keeping a journal is one of the easiest, most effective, and certainly most stylish methods of working on your craft. All it takes is a pen, paper, and an ounce of discipline. So here are a few journaling techniques to help aspiring writers.

There's no magic bullet that can replace the good old fashioned practice of writing everyday or at least a few times a week. There are, however, a few techniques to make journaling a little more bearable, and perhaps even enjoyable. Because it's all very easy to buy a classy, leather bound book full of empty pages. Sitting down and writing in it everyday is an entirely different matter. I'm sure that I can't be the only person in the world with a shelf full of beautiful, half empty journals.

If you're ready to finally fill all those sad, blank page, then these journaling ideas will help you start a journal, keep a journal, and kick-start your creative writing on the daily:

1. Free Writing

The simplest (and some might say the most effective) journaling technique. Simply set a timer for ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, and free write. Write the first thing that comes into your head. Write a stream of consciousness. Describe your surroundings. Write complete garbage. It doesn't matter what you write, so long as you keep your pen on the page until the time is up. This is a good exercise for daily commutes, or to jump-start your creativity before writing/editing. You might be surprised to find some salvageable ideas in your word-vomit when the time is up.

2. Morning Pages

Morning pages are a close relative of free writing. As soon as you wake up in the morning, grab your journal and start writing. Don't stop until you've filled three pages. The idea is still to just write freely, with no goal in mind. You can plan your day, or complain about your hangover. But starting first thing in the morning, without a time limit, is helpful if you know that you won't have time to journal during the day (or if you need a little help getting your brain working before coffee).

3. Lists on Lists

Free writing isn't for everyone. If the thought of writing with no guidelines or prompts gives you a stomachache, try making a list. You can make a list of things that make you happy, or things you want to eat. You can take a page from the journal of medieval Japanese poet Sei Shonagon, and make a list of things that quicken your heart, or things that annoy you. The subject of the list isn't important, as long as it inspires you to write things down.

4. Art Journaling

If you're anything like me, half the time you sit down to journal you end up doodling anyway. Might as well lean into it and start art journaling. There's no one way to have an art journal: you can create a collage of found items, draw comics about the other people on the bus, or sketch your own lunch everyday. Don't worry about the quality. If the words just aren't coming, sometimes it can help to switch creative disciplines and draw inspiration from the visual world around you.

5. Unsent Letter

If you need to work some feelings out, try composing a letter that you'll never send. It can be to anyone: your ex-best friend, your deceased loved one, the guy who made your burrito at Chipotle—whoever you wish you could talk to in the moment. Writing a letter helps you process tough feelings, plus it can be easier to to write coherently when you have a specific audience in mind.

6. Dialoguing

Every writer has to get inside another person's mind at one point or another. You have to be able to craft a dialogue, whether it be a literal dialogue for a story or script, or a well-argued opinion piece that acknowledges both sides. Write a dialogue in your journal in which you play both sides. It could be a dialogue between you and your past self, between two fictional characters, or between two of your body parts. Anything goes, as long as you're writing two distinct voices.

7. Dream Journaling

Sure, dream journaling has been around forever, and someone probably forced you to do it in the third grade. But there's nothing better if you want to find inspiration in your own subconscious. Simply keep a journal by your bed, and jot down the key points of your dream as soon as you wake up. Keep it up for long enough, and you'll find it easier and easier to recall your dreams clearly.

8. Perspectives

There are a couple different ways to use the perspectives journaling technique: you can pick one event or story, and write about it from three different perspectives. Or you can try writing from the perspective of a different time. What would past you think about this situation? What will future you think? Trying on a different perspective can often give you more clarity, especially if you need to make a decision about something.

9. Essence or Bullet Journaling

If you know that you thrive on a lot of structure, and have very limited time for daily journaling, you might want to try Bullet Journaling. It's the journaling trend of the moment, and it makes it easy to jot down quick ideas that you can flesh out into longer writing pieces at a later time. If you're not so much about structure, try essence journaling: every evening, write down a one word or one sentence "essence" to encapsulate your day. Neither of these techniques can replace actual writing, but they're great for making a habit of journaling, and remembering those little glimmers of inspiration that you might have otherwise forgotten.

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