How to Journal: 6 Tips to Boost Creativity and Polish Your Writing (Part 2)

how to journal

How to journal

(In part 1 of this series on how to journal, I discussed the difference between a diary and a journal and shared 5 tips for capturing your best ideas. Click here to read it)

Now we’re ready to move onto the really good stuff.

Your journal is a safe place to try new techniques and to succeed – or fail miserably. That’s how you grow.

So just relax and let yourself play. You have nothing to lose because no one has to see what you’re doing unless you choose to share it. Each failure provides valuable lessons. In addition, by consolidating your experiments in one place, you’ll be able to see your progress over time.

6 Exercises to Stimulate Creativity and Hone Writing Skills

1.       Write morning pages as described in Julia Cameron best-selling treatise on the path to higher creativity, The Artist’s Way

Julia suggests you handwrite three notebook-sized pages in a stream-of- consciousness fashion each morning. This “data dump” clears your mind and creates the open space you need to think creatively. Do this regularly and you’ll train your mind to get ready for the work ahead.

Of course, there are no hard and fast rules here, so if you want to do morning pages during the day or at night, that’s fine. The key is doing it regularly.  Eventually your inner critic will give up and those creative thoughts will start to flow.

2.      Try timed brainstorming exercises

Set a timer for 5 minutes and list all of the ideas you can think of for blog posts, articles or story lines. Be as outlandish as possible. Don’t try to fully develop them at this point, just capture the ideas quickly and with enough information that you’ll be able to resurrect them later. There are no bad ideas at this stage and even some ideas that seem absurd at first can often be repurposed into workable ideas.

When you find yourself creatively challenged, refer back to these lists and chances are you’ll find something that you can use to get your creative juices flowing again.

3.      Capture snippets of overheard conversations to use as prompts for working on writing

Go to a bookstore, a coffee shop or a mall and eavesdrop on the conversations (“…the food was adequate but the service was horrendous…”) around you. Record parts of these conversations in your journal and then use them to build a scene of your choice. Practicing like this improves your ability to write dialogue that flows easily from one character to another.

4.      Record character descriptions, back stories and choose names based on what you observe

This exercise goes hand-in-hand with the one above. Look around your environment and capture descriptions of individuals. How is he or she dressed–urban or bohemian chic? Does he lean forward when he walks or does he shuffle his feet? How would you describe her hair? Is it coarse or silky, dyed or natural?

What can you tell about an individual from the way she talks? Is she from New York or New Zealand? Does he or she live in a cottage, a ranch house or a 5th floor walk-up?  Is she more of a Morgan or a Molly?

These exercises ramp up your observational skills and provide you with a host of well-rounded characters for future projects. If you write magazine articles, this exercise will help you learn to accurately describe your interview subjects.

5.      Expand your vocabulary by seeking our new words and then incorporating them into an article or story.

Word choice is exceptionally important for all kinds of writing. Yet many of us don’t actively work on expanding our vocabulary once we get out of school. Don’t get stuck using the same trite expressions over and over again. Click here, here, and here for websites that will email you words-of-the-day. Record the words that resonate with you. Make up a sentence of your own or use the example provided as a writing prompt.

6.      Rewrite a scene from your favorite novel, blog post, or article

First drafts are important, of course, but it’s skillful rewriting the really makes an article, short story or novel sing. Ernest Hemingway rewrote the end of Farewell to Arms 39 times. Benjamin Franklin spent years studying the best authors and journalists of his time and then rewriting their works in his own words so he could improve his skills. You can do the same.

These are just a few of many opportunities that journaling provides for skill development. So dive in and make up some exercises of your own.

Once you begin to journal consistently (it doesn’t have to be everyday), you may begin to feel like writer Sharon O’Brien, who said:

“Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning:  I wanted to know what I was going to say.”

Do you have any journaling experiences or techniques you’d like to share?

About the author:
Cheryl Craigie is the Contributing Editor at Write to Done. Cheryl also blogs at The Manageable Life.

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16 Responses to “How to Journal: 6 Tips to Boost Creativity and Polish Your Writing (Part 2)”

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  1. Nice follow up Cheryl. The brainstorming section reminds me of a seminar I listened to with legendary copywriter John Carlton, where he talked about how he and his writing partner would brainstorm ideas that were totally outrageous and inapproporiate.

    Then they would sleep on it and scale back the best one just enough until it wasn’t too offensive. He swears that was the basis of some of their most successful ad campaigns!
    Damien Elsing recently posted..3 Simple Tools For Getting the Most Out of TwitterMy Profile

  2. Cheryl says:

    Hi Damien–

    I agree–the more outrageous the best, in many cases. In fact, on my blog The Manageable Life, I wrote a post titled, “Can exploring absurd ideas pave the way to a more satisfying life.?”

    Here’s the link if you want to check it out: http://themanageablelife.com/2011/05/19/journaling-for-self-discovery/can-exploring-absurd-ideas-pave-the-way-to-a-more-satisfying-life/

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.
    Cheryl recently posted..Do you know how much is enough?My Profile

  3. Thanks Cheryl! I will definitely be employing these ideas ASAP. It’s good for us to see journals as a place to really practice our craft and nourish our careers. I especially like 1, 3, 4, & 5. I plan on going to the bookstore and coffee shops today!
    Sarah L. Webb recently posted..What Real Progress Looks LikeMy Profile

  4. I recently signed up for http://ohlife.com/. Its a free online journaling service that sends you an email every day prompting you to write an entry. You don’t even have to leave your inbox to do it, you just reply to the email. Very cool.
    Christina @FaerieWriter recently posted..Book Review: My Soul to Take (Soul Screamers #1) (Rachel Vincent)My Profile

  5. Marla says:

    I find that journaling and expressing how I feel is the only way to feel that my voice has meaning. Thank you for sharing this post. I do think that when we are excited about what craziness that comes out of us we start to truly appreciate the untouched parts of our souls. The things we don’t want to write are usually the ideas we need to explore more.

    Excellent post!
    Marla recently posted..Inspirational InsanityMy Profile

  6. I love the idea of taking five minutes to spew out your creative ideas each day. I love to blog but sometimes find it difficult to come up with ideas. This is a great start for me that I will use each day.
    Leticia Parra recently posted..A Best Friend is Like a Comfy PillowMy Profile

  7. Cheryl, what a gem of a post! I’m so fired with enthusiasm, that I can’t wait to ‘get to work’ myself! :-)

    Thanks for the inspiration! :-)

  8. Cheryl says:

    Hi Vinita–

    Glad you liked it. Journaling is one of my favorite things and helps to keep my creative juices flowing. Hope it does the same for you…

    All the best,

    Cheryl
    Cheryl recently posted..Do you know how much is enough?My Profile

  9. Thank you, you gave me new ideas for my blog. I hope this doesn’t bother if I take up this subject in my next article.Sincerely, Roger
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