How to Journal: 5 Tips for Capturing Your Best Ideas (Part 1)

    how to journal

    Did you ever keep a diary–the kind that had a lock and key?

    If so, you probably poured your heart and soul onto those pages—at least you did until your sister stole it, pried it open, and embarrassed you by reading it in front of all her friends.

    But maybe that was just me…

    In any case, I hope you saved those diaries so you can look back on who you were and what you were thinking at a particular point in your life.

    That kind of diary probably met your needs when you were young. But now that you’re all grown up you may be looking for a better way to capture your daily thoughts and spur your creativity.

    Maybe you’re ready to journal.

    What’s the difference between a diary and a journal?

    The dictionary does not make a big distinction, but here’s the key difference from my perspective:   In a diary, you simply record your reactions to the daily happenings in your life.  A journal includes that and much more—it’s a repository for all of the things that interest and inspire you. It also provides a safe environment to experiment and grow creatively.

    Part 1 of this series deals with the basics of how to journal.

    5 Tips for Capturing Your Best Ideas

    1.  Take your journal everywhere you go.

    But if you don’t have it with you, write notes on whatever you can find (a napkin, a sales receipt, etc.) or use your smart phone’s voice recorder and then simply transcribe and paste the notes in your journal whenever you get around. Try to do it at least every week so you don’t forget.

    2.  Select a journal that feels right to you

    Over the years I’ve used spiral-bound notebooks with lined pages, hardcover books with unlined pages, 3-ring notebooks with folders for loose papers, and beautifully crafted handmade journals.

    But for the last several years I’ve been addicted to Moleskine notebooks which are available in a variety of sizes, colors and styles. They aren’t bulky and don’t come apart easily. In addition, they fit comfortably in a purse, pocket or computer case.

    Whatever you choose is fine; just don’t buy something so precious that you’re afraid to use it. This is a workbook that is meant to be messy.

    3.  Handwrite your journal entries 

    Of course, you can do it on a computer and there are some well-reviewed journaling software programs out there, but my experience is that it’s too easy to edit your thoughts on a computer and that gives your inner critic the opportunity to rear her ugly head.

    Handwriting keeps things more spontaneous and also gives you clues about your emotional state.  If you’re anything like me, you can tell what you’re feeling just by analyzing the state of your writing.

    4.  Leave room—usually just a few pages—in the beginning of each journal for an informal table of contents 

    Number each page and try to list the topics covered as you go along.  This makes finding the “good stuff” a lot easier down the road.  Don’t worry about doing this each time you journal. But do complete your table of contents before starting your next journal. Trust me on this….

    5.  Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or any other rules 

    Unless you have an “evil sister” you probably don’t have to worry about anyone seeing your journal unless you choose to share it. This is a workbook, not a finished product, so let the rules go—at least for now. You’ll have plenty of time to fully develop and then edit these ideas later.

    Now that you have some basic information about how to organize your journal, I’ll bet you’re wondering what the heck to put in it. We’ll cover more about this in part 2 of this series, but below are some ideas.


    What to include in your journal:

    • Reactions to personal situations and world events
    • Goals you’re working toward
    • Inspiring quotes
    • Poetry that moves you
    • Pictures from magazines or photos  you love
    • Books to read
    • Music  you’ve heard that you may want to purchase (or reference in a story)
    • Websites to explore
    • Grocery lists
    • To do lists

    In other words, whatever is important or interesting to you.

    Just don’t wait too long to write this stuff down because, as Rolf Smith says:

    “Ideas can come from anywhere and at any time. The problem with making mental notes is that the ink fades very rapidly.”

    I’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t capture that inspiration or idea immediately, it’s probably lost forever.

    Don’t let this happen to you.

    If you do keep a journal, please share some of your organizing tips and techniques.

    (In Part 2 of this series you’ll learn a few journal exercises that will boost your creativity and polish your writing skills. If you don’t already have a journal please get one. You won’t want to miss out on all the fun.)

    About the author

      Cheryl Craigie

      Cheryl Craigie blogs at The Manageable Life. Please check it out if you're interested in making changes in your life.

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