Why You Should Keep A Journal, Author Voice, And Other Stuff


I’ve recently come to believe that keeping a journal is one of the most important things a writer can do.  Over the years I’ve been on and off about writing in a journal – I kept a journal in high school, abandoned it, picked up it back up in college, started to think it was incredibly lame and dropped it again, and so on…

I wrote a bit about keeping a journal in a post from a while back, but thought it was important to expand upon.  I’ve been keeping one for a little over a year now and it’s something I plan to continue doing for as long as I still want to be a writer.  And for all of you who don’t necessarily want to be a writer, you should consider it anyway.

So, you might be asking, a journal?  Really?  I’m not one of the girls on a CW TV show, so why should I keep one?  Hell, I’m not even one of the dark-brooding-writer types who has to keep a journal for definition’s sake.  I mean, sure I can be dark and broody when I want to be, but I’m generally more of the smile your ass off, party hard, live large, and write-during-every-free-second-you-have types.  So what are the benefits of keeping a journal?

Without waxing too poetic about writing in a beautifully creased leather journal (just kidding, I actually have a Scrivener doc that serves as my journal – what is this, the Stone Age?  I’m a millennial; sue me.  Computers rule), there are three main benefits that I can think of.  One is about being a person, one is about writing, and one is about creativity.

Being You: There’s nothing that can help you be more like your true self than journaling. Writing something down every day can really teach you a lot about yourself.  Sure, sometimes you’ll just write down all the events of the day instead of spewing out a bunch of idealistic ramblings about how the world should be, but that in itself can teach you more about who you are.  What did you think was worth recording?  What did you like so much about your day that you just had to write it down so you can reminisce about it later?  What did you hate so goddamn much that you had to rant about it?  Who are the most important people in your life, people so great that you just had to put the fact that you saw them today into your journal?

The rambling parts are great, too.  Maybe even better than the events.  What do you write about when there’s nothing to write about at all?  What do you care about?  What are your hopes and dreams?

Writing all of this stuff down, even when it’s just one sentence on a particular day, helps you get more in tune with who you really are.  For me it’s had an incredibly positive effect on my life: I’m much, much happier, realizing that it takes just the tiniest thing to put me in a good mood and that wasting a single hour not loving whatever it is that you’re doing is just that, a waste (some exceptions here of course); it’s made me a nicer person. I’m a better friend.  I still fuck up sometimes but I always apologize afterward.  In general I think it’s something everyone around me has noticed; and it’s also made me more attuned to what I want in life, so that I can focus my efforts around what really matters to me.

Author Voice:  There are a lot of definitions out there for author voice, but my definition for it is pretty simple: Author voice is what your writing sounds like when you’re in the zone and the words come pouring out.  Sure, some sentences take longer to craft, and some things need to be revised or changed, but in general that’s how I think about it. Nothing helps you find your voice or get into your zone like journaling.  When there’s zero pressure and zero guidelines around your writing, you can slip much more easily into the flow of writing, and the act of practicing that every day helps you bring it to every other project you’re working on.

Idea Factory:  Journals have more creative potential than any other medium.  I come up with a new creative idea every other day when I’m writing in them because I’m totally unencumbered by anything other than my thoughts.  These ideas are also informed by real life experiences, which I think makes them even more powerful.  I tried to keep a list of all the ideas I was coming up with but gave up – there are too many, and the ones I really care about will just keep popping up anyway.

So don’t be lazy.  Keep a journal.  If you don’t you’re wasting a huge tool to help you with your life and your writing.

I put ‘And Other Stuff’ in the title mostly because it sounds cooler to end a title with ‘And Other Stuff’ than to have a title that’s just a two-subject list.  But on the topic of other things – if you haven’t seen Californication (all 7 seasons are on Netflix), do yourself a massive favor and start binge watching it.  It’s amazing.

What about you?  Do you keep a journal?  Have you found it helpful?  What do you like most about it?  Do you write by hand or on the computer?  If you don’t keep one, why not?

13 comments on “Why You Should Keep A Journal, Author Voice, And Other Stuff”

  1. My first journal was a little Tinkerbell notebook from 1st grade. Kept one ever since! And while I do enjoy actual, physical writing for my journal (and do dark and broody pretty well), keeping a journal has been the key to developing my voice, keeping the rust off and self-discovery. It’s liberating! And a great place to just jot down the “save for later” ideas and quotes that strike at random moments. Journals are just for goth kids and girls! Ask Samuel Pepys.

  2. Been journaling ever since my first. A gargoyle off Notre Dame Cathedral. And leather refillable journal and a felt tip pen. Computers have their place but not my journal.

  3. I have a journal, but I’m terrible at remembering to write in it. Those are great points, though. Now I want to start writing in it more regularly.

  4. I started keeping a kind of journal after reading “The Artists Way” via “Morning Pages” in which you are encouraged to write 3 pages of your thoughts first thing in the morning. I found it helped up to a point, but I stopped after a couple of months when I realised it was getting in the way of me finishing my novel. But after reading this blog I now want to start again, even if I only write a paragraph, or so.

  5. Couldn’t agree more! Was actually just going to mention what the blogger above me mentioned–that I’ve picked up journaling in addition to my writing after reading The Artist’s Way. Interesting to find that other writers also find this a helpful practice. Journaling isn’t useless dribble (as my inner critic sometimes accuses it of being). Rather it is an exercise in voice and a wellspring of ideas.

  6. I used to keep journals when I was younger and then in my 20’s I was going through a lot of drama and much of that drama was written in my journals. One day, I decided to burn them lol sounds a bit dark but it was so therapeutic! Currently, I do not write in a journal but I do consider my blog as something similar. Regardless, journal or not, I agree with you. If you don’t write…you should! Write on a napkin if you have too. It keeps the mind fresh and your emotions in check 🙂 Great post! I’m glad we have crossed paths. Cheers! 🙂

  7. Thanks for this inspiring post! Yes to The Artist’s Way and Morning Pages. My personal journals have saved my life. I’m sure of it. Where else can I dream, dump and listen to my very own unguarded voice? My handwriting even tells a story–as do my typos when I dump on the computer. I do wonder what will happen will all this verbiage when I’m gone?

  8. I have filled dozens of journals (or half-filled them, then burned them) in the past three decades, but I have never kept the habit up more than a few months at a time. Life gets in the way, someone finds it, or I’m afraid someone will find it, and I just stop. And that’s a shame, because I know it’s a helpful practice. If nothing, it keeps me writing.

    That’s why for the past month (exactly, today) I’ve been writing in a journal about 5 mornings a week. I promise myself I’ll write at least half a page, but I often write more. I like to get out my regrets for the previous day and my worries about the current or next day, as well as celebrate the good things going on in my life.

    So far, along with the rest of my new morning routine, I’ve found it helps me to be more productive, and happier than I was without it. I highly recommend the practice.

  9. I have written in dairies as a child, and I wrote in journals when I grew up. It has been a daily habit. I have about 10 on the shelf. Journals are necessary. Again, your post Is long, but it took only minutes to read. Please keep writing.

  10. Exercise books make great journals. I’ve amassed a fair few in my time; terrible handwriting, ink splotched, yellowing testaments to my literary efforts. A well meaning friend recently gave me this beautiful gold leaf, leather bound journal. I’m inhibited. I can’t write in it. I’ve gone back to the exercise books. I enjoyed your post.

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