Every New Year, I like to make promises to myself: This year I will go to the gym more often, we say. Or, this year I will stop texting Kyle. Or, if you're a writer-type, there's a good chance that you've promised yourself that this year, at long last, I will actually sit down and write in my journal every day. And for the first week of January, you do indeed manage to squeeze out a few words on the daily... until you give up, and your journal goes back to being a decorative paperweight. But this year is different. This is the year that you crack that journal-keeping code. Here are 31 daily journal prompts to help make you a better writer.
We all know that journaling makes you wonderful. Keeping a journal is good for handling anxiety, processing feelings, and, above all, improving your writing. Even if you're just listing the foods you've eaten, writing something reflective every single day will hone your craft. It doesn't matter if you're writing in a leather-bound desk journal, a spiral notebook, a blog, or on post-it notes that you then seal inside a bottle and hurl into the ocean: daily writing leads to better writing.
And if you can make it through that first month of daily journaling, you just might be able to make the habit stick. So here are enough journal prompts for one full month of daily writing practice.
Psst! Check out the "You IRL" stream in the Bustle App for daily tips on how to have an empowering 2017 starting Jan. 1. Right now, tweet @bustle about how you plan to make 2017 the best year yet. Use the hashtag #2017IRL, and your tweet could be featured on our app.
Where to begin? Well... what's outside your window? Staring out the window is a time-honored writer tradition. Write a detailed description of what you can see from the window in your bedroom (or living room, or favorite coffee shop). Describe any people or animals you see, and where you think they're headed. Has the view changed at all since the last time you looked?
List 99 things that make you happy—and they can't all be material and/or edible. If you want a challenge, pick a more specific heading for your list. It could be 99 things that make your heart beat faster, or 99 things that make you love a rainy day. And if you want to go all the way to 100, I won't tell anyone.
What were you doing this time last year? Was it snowing? Unseasonably hot? Were you in the middle of a bad break up? A new romance? Write a page about where you were last year, and a page about where you are now. Feel free to go snooping through old texts and emails if you have no clue whatsoever about what you were up to a year ago today.
Write a review of the last book you read, or the last movie you saw. You could even write a scathing review of your little cousin's elementary school play. Just pick a piece of art, and write about where you think it went wrong, and where you think it really worked. If you liked it, what can you learn from it? If you didn't like it, how would you make it better?
Interview a friend or family member, if you're feeling social. Interview a fictional character if you're not. For the fictional character, think about their backstory as you craft questions and answers—what's in the text? What are you making up? Does it fit? For the friend or family member, ask questions about who they are, even if you think you know the answers. You might find yourself surprised.
Write a letter to yourself. It could be a letter of stern warning to your past self, or a friendly letter to perk up your high school persona. It could be a letter full of questions for your future self, even if it's only a few days in the future. It could even be a letter to your present self, if you feel like you have something to say.
Set a timer for ten minutes, and just write without taking your pen off the page (or fingers off the keys). You don't have to write coherent sentences, just put one word after another. Transcribe your stream of consciousness. If you need a more concrete starting point, pick a random word like "crimson" or "umbrella," and start with some free word association.
Start your entry with a clichéd first line, like "It was a dark and stormy night" or "Once upon a time," and see where it goes naturally. Or, if you don't want to be quite so hackneyed, pick the first line of your favorite book and use it as a jumping off point to write a completely different story.
I love food. You love food. Food is the only thing that matters. Write down everything you eat for an entire day or week, including cough drops and handfuls of dry cereal. Describe the food, its texture, its taste, and how it made you feel. The only rule is that you can't count calories.
In George Orwell's 1984, Room 101 in the Ministry of Love is a torture chamber where treasonous citizens must face their greatest fear. Write about what you would find in your own personal Room 101. How would you vanquish it? (You can think of it as a boggart instead, if you're more of a Harry Potter fan).
This one requires a volunteer. First, start an adventure story. It could be as simple as, "You find yourself trapped in a dungeon. What do you do?" Then ask a friend to write the next paragraph. Trade back and forth until you have a five page long story, then read it out loud together. Add more friends for less logical (but probably more fun) adventures.
A "lipogram" is a writing exercise where you pick a letter of the alphabet... and don't use it. Try to write a whole journal entry about your day using only twenty-five letters. If you're really looking for a challenge, write without the letter "e".
Pick a friend, an enemy, a historical figure, or a fictional character, and write from their point of view. You could write about your own life from the point of view of your best friend, or you could write about Snapchat from the point of view of a very confused William Shakespeare. Just try on a different perspective for size.
Write a persuasive argument on a controversial topic. It could be a political subject, or an impassioned essay on why mayonnaise is the worst, as long as you have a strong opinion. Then switch sides, and try to write with just as much passion for the side that you vehemently disagree with.
Can you write out every moment of your daily routine? Do you have a daily routine? Do your best to write down everything you do in a typical day, from opening your eyes in the morning to surfing the internet long after you should have gone to bed at night. Include exact times if possible.
What does your ideal government look like? How about your perfect city? Who's in charge? Is urban farming a thing, or do we all live in space? Design an ideal utopia... and then start thinking about all of the possible flaws in your plan. How could your perfect future city turn into the next teen dystopia novel?
Is there a childhood memory that sticks in your mind? Write it out as a scene with as much detail as you can remember. If no particular memory stands out to you, try writing a vivid description of a favorite childhood toy, pet, or home.
Retell a fairy tale or myth in your own words. You can update it for modern times, change the ending, or cast your friends in all the roles if you like. You can even retell it using drawings or collage, or maybe your fairy tale takes the form of a playlist instead of a traditional story.
Confess a secret to your journal. It doesn't have to be a huge, life-changing secret, it just has to be something that no one (or very few) people know about you. Do you hate ketchup? Do you not really get jazz? Do you still feel guilty about teasing your little brother when you were five? Write it down, and then write a paragraph about why you haven't told anyone.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party? You can pick any guest: living, dead, or fictional. Describe your guests, the conversation you would have, and what sort of food you would serve. Consider: do your guests like the food? Are they from this century? This reality? What questions would they have for you?
This is one prompt that you can easily do every night. Right before you go to sleep, look back on your day and pick a "rose," or a great thing that happened, as well as a "thorn," or a not so great thing that happened. Your rose and thorn can be as simple as a great meal or an untied shoelace. Write both down, and then let go of the day and head off to bed.
Flip through an old photo album (or scroll through Facebook), and find a photo that catches your eye. Imagine you're seeing this photo for the very first time, with no other context, and jot down what you see. Then write a short story or descriptive paragraph on the lives of the people or objects in the photo.
What was your first kiss like? Your first pair of glasses? Your first time seeing Back to the Future? Make a list of at least ten "firsts," and write a sentence about each of them. Try not to cringe too much while remembering all those first times.
A genie has appeared to you, and offered to grant you three wishes. Awesome! So... what are you going to wish for? (And none of this "more wishes" nonsense). Write down your top three wishes, and what your day-to-day dream life would look like.
Write your own "alphabet book." Pick a subject and come up with something for every letter, i.e. "A is for alphabet, B is for books," and so forth. For example, you could write an alphabet of mythical creatures, or an alphabet of feminism, or an alphabet of your very own life.
Think of something bad. Something that makes you sad and angry, like eating pizza with a fork, or people who hate dogs, or the current political climate in America. Then list as many silver linings as you can. What good things, however indirectly, could possibly come out of this thing that you hate?
The formula for most Pixar movies goes a little something like this: "What if ______ had feelings?" Such as, "What if toys had feelings?" or "What if cars had feelings?" or "What if feelings had feelings?" Fill in the blank, and pitch your own Pixar movie. What animal, plant, or inanimate object would you want to see cry?
Stop whatever you're doing, and engage all five of your senses (or six, if you're feeling it). Write down what you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste, right in this moment. Try to do this at least three times in one day, and see how much your sensations change.
Make up a word, and then write a dictionary entry for it. The word can be as silly as you like, but the definition should make some kind of sense. What's a word for feeling worried that you spend too much time sitting down? For the voice you put on when you talk to your cat? For the moment when a smell suddenly reminds you of a very specific day from your childhood?
What is your secret superpower? Not "which superpower would you want?" but rather, "what is your best hidden talent?" Are you great at getting lids off jars? Do you know a frightening amount about Russian history? Write down one (or more!) secret superpower that you have, and then think up a scenario in which this talent could save the day.
It's many years in the future. You've lived a long, eventful life, and your autobiography is a bestseller. Write out the back cover synopsis of your future autobiography, outlining your incredible life story. You can use this as an opportunity to glam up some of the things that have already happened in your life, or to imagine what might happen in the future. What do you want to accomplish? What torrid affairs will you have? What kind of person do you hope to be by the time you're writing this book?
Check out the "You IRL" stream in the Bustle App starting on January 1 for daily tips on how to have an empowering 2017.
Images: Hannah Burton/Bustle