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  • [Making the Leap] Five Reasons Every Writer Should Journal
[Making the Leap] Five Reasons Every Writer Should Journal
Written by
Julie Luek
August 2013
Written by
Julie Luek
August 2013

I’m going to be bold and use a word I rarely dare to use: should. Deep breath. Here goes.

I think every writer should keep a journal of some kind.

Now, I’m not going to be so audacious as to suggest what kind of journal you should keep or how often you should write in it, but I am going to stick to my premise.


I used to keep drama and angst-filled journals, but out of respect to family members who may outlive me and become potentially traumatized by my candid outpourings, I threw most of them away. However, I still keep journals, and while they are still my honest place to vent, I’m much more purposeful and intentional in how and what I write in them. They have become a place to feed and nurture my writing.


Here are five reasons why I think keeping a journal is essential to the writer's journey:


A journal is the perfect place to ditch your editor and let your creativity flow. When I write in my journal, I intentionally tell my inner editor to hush herself. She is not allowed to worry about commas, proper grammar or spelling. She is not allowed to suggest paragraph breaks or reword my thoughts. Writing in my journal is strictly about expression—allowing my creative and inner thoughts to flow sans any correction or criticism.

Writing daily, in a private place you know no one else will ever read or critique, gives you an ideal opportunity to learn to trust your voice.  Once you’ve stuffed a sock into the inner critic’s mouth and learned to let your creativity flow, you can begin to just write--without a censor. This free writing allows you to listen to, develop and trust your inner voice a little more. After all, you can play without fear. Do you feel like being flowery? Go ahead, wax poetic. Are you feeling in the mood for deep soul-searching or a need to deliver an opinion or editorial? Let it rip. Play. And learn to trust your voice.  

A journal helps you connect with the physical act of writing.  Take out the pen and notebook and write long hand. Make a physical connection with your writing. Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down The Bones says, “There is no separation between the mind and body; therefore, you can break through the mind barriers to writing through the physical act of writing…”  There really is something about skipping the keyboard, and using the pen. Try different colored pens; make it a sensory experience. You might be surprised how the physical act of writing truly connects your mind, heart, body and words.

Getting the angst out can help you find the muse again. If you find yourself in a writing rut, unable to find a flow, a journal can be the perfect and safe place to explore what might be going on. Maybe you are stressed, fearful, or just drawing blanks. By finding a quiet place to process your thoughts, heart and soul, you can refresh your spirit, and open up the channels again. Sometimes your muse just needs you to get out of the way. Give yourself permission to, what I like to crassly call, “emotionally vomit” on the page and release the blocks.

Journals are a great mine for your writing. Many of my blog posts, articles, She Writes posts, essays and other writing projects have come out of nuggets of ideas from my journal pages. Many times, as I'm allowing my thoughts to flow freely, I'll see a jewel in the rough that I can use for a writing project. Some people write down their dreams and have used those as a springboard for their fiction. Others have developed incredible memoirs based on their journals. No matter your style or purpose of writing, journals are a great resource for ideas.


Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way so strongly believes in the power of journaling—or morning pages as she refers to them—that she recommends writing at least three pages every morning, first thing. She writes:


Morning pages will teach you that your mood doesn’t really matter. Some of the best creative work gets done on the days when you feel that everything you’re doing is just plain junk. The morning pages will teach you to stop judging and just let yourself write. So what if you’re tired, crabby, distracted, stressed? Your artist is a child and it needs to be fed. Morning pages feed your artist child. So write your morning pages.


Do you keep a journal? What benefits have you discovered?

What have you learned from your journaling process? Does it feed your writing?



 Keep writing and jounaling (you should!),






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  • Julie Luek

    Ludinca- Yeahhhh, kinda wish I hadn't been so impulsive, but really, my offspring would have been horrified! I like the idea of using material from your own discoveries to help create fictional characters-- that's great!

  • Julie Luek

    Cardyn-- great perspective. I'm sure you're not alone in this way of thinking. If you read through the comments, there were a few who expressed similar sentiments. Most definitely sounds like you've found a writing pattern and creativity feed that works for you. Ultimately, bottom line, that's what matters. Happy writing!

  • I kept a journal for many years before I began writing fiction. I found it helpful when creating a character for the stage and now I find it helpful when creating characters in my novel. It's hard to understand why people do what they do, if you don't understand yourself. I'm with you Julie, if you don't want anyone to read them, you can destroy them. I still have most of my journals. One day I may burn them, but it's comforting to know that I can go back and see how far I've come since the first one.

  • Cardyn Brooks Promoting

    Your theory about journaling is provocative, J.C. And including blogs and other postings broadens the scope, but journaling has never been my most effective method of dealing with the 5 reasons you've given to support your theory.


    For me, non-writing activities are what free my creativity. Meditating, exercising, housework, yard work, reading, helping someone else, playing the piano or flute, etc. distract me from my whirling anxieties and force me to focus on the demands of the present moment, which creates space for calm and perspective.


    Writing is my personal solace and indulgence even on writer's block days because they're a normal part of the writing cycle; breakthroughs follow blocks. For me, journaling drains my writing momentum by contributing to writing fatigue. At the same time, It seems logical to me that journaling has the opposite effect for other writers.


    Not judging :-).

  • Julie Luek

    Debby-- And thank you for giving me something to look forward to reading! I'll await your new excerpt.

  • D,G. Kaye

    Thanks for responding Julie.  I had been so busy with my book that I honestly and almost ashamed to admit I haven't been on this site for quite some time.  It only came to my attention how neglected my page had become.  I  just added a bit of an insight to my book after reading your response.  I will be updating again soon with an excerpt.  Thanks for the wake up call!

  • Julie Luek

    Carol-- sounds like we are on a very similar path. Blogging, for me, is a writing exercise and is audience oriented to some extent. In journaling, I work hard to get rid of the Editor (as Goldberg calls it) and just the creative, expressive (and sometimes wonky) side of me write. I am trying to get to that place of "let it be there problem" and am getting better at that. I think you're right about that being the only way to let our journals exist. 

    Beth--sometimes I wish I hadn't thrown away all those journals. As a writer, I now realize there might have been some poignant things worth keeping and remembering. But I did, and can't go back. So like you, I'm enjoying my second chance as I stare down 50 with steely eyes and heart-determination. Thank YOU for the affirmation. 

  • Beth Goehring

    How I wish I'd kept a record of my hopeful teens, tearful 20s, anxious 30s, and hard-charging 40s. Not too late to start now in my second-chance-to-make-something-of-myself 50s--thanks for the encouragement.

  • Carol Bodensteiner

    I have almost a trunk full of journals written over the past 30 years. None from my childhood. Like Jenna Suaber, I stopped journaling when I took up blogging. But these two platforms aren't the same thing at all. Now I'm back to journaling where I can work out the emotional problems in my life without a censor. A workshop leader once said, "We all need secret writing. A place to write that no one will ever see. A place where we can say anything." I've wondered about family who outlast me reading these things. I guess that will be their problem!

  • Julie Luek

    Kathleen--I love the visual you created for yourself and how much heart-meaning it has for you. Also cheering you on with your most recent book release. Sounds like a title I may want to explore!

    Anne--For me the word "journal" is so comforting, but I have weird connotations with the word "diary", so a well-made point about letting the name trip us up. Yes, "emotional vomit" (crass and so laden with context) is probably a bit much, but seems so fitting for what I do. Maybe I should adopt the "mind dump" but I'd have to add "heart and soul" for me too. Thanks for chiming in!

  • Julie Luek

    Debby-- I'm hoping that my journals will produce the same for me. And now, off to look at what your memoir is! 

    Mary-- you sound like me with multiple journals. I wrote a post on my blog recently lamenting my penchant for notebooks and journals. Back-to-school sales about do me in! 

    Dinah-- I get that. I have gone through moods with journals, and maybe some of it depends on the amount of angst I'm carrying around inside too. Finding a venue-- memoir, online, whatever is maybe what is key. Best to you with your WIP!

  • Hi Julie,

    I had to chuckle when I read about you throwing out your journals. When I was a kid I actually tried starting a diary several times and each time tore out the pages and ripped them into tiny pieces because I didn't want anyone to read them! However, as a writer (and an adult now) I keep notebooks everywhere and I encourage anyone I mentor or teach to do the same. They don't have to be called journals if that makes you squeamish but always having a notebook handy to write thoughts, feelings, impressions or ideas down can only help with the creative process! Some might call it 'emotional vomit'... I usually call it a 'mind dump'. Either way, my opinion is a hearty 'YES' you should journal :) Happy writing, Anne

  • Love this post and can see in my eye the stack of dream journals I created for a photo.  The stack started with the 1976 skinny journal and as the years went on the journals became thicker.  Picture the stack next to a doorway and it almost reaches the top of the door frame. I hung the words 'Action Speaks Louder Then Words' next to this stack.  So this artistic display has been in my home for over 2 years now.  I don't want to dismantle it.  It nourishes me every time I walk by it.  My third book, Cut the Guilt will be released on Oct. 15th on Amazon-----can't wait.

  • Dinah Dietrich Writing

    I have twelve boxes of journals in a storage area that I rent because I cannot throw them away!!

    I kept journals off and on for years....Now, I am writing a book length memoir, but I am no longer keeping a journal ....I write a lot now, more than ever, and if I have strong feelings/thoughts I usually head to the computer to type them up on the page. Current events/thoughts/feelings often find their way into the memoir.  I am thinkijg I could keep an "online notebook" for awhile and see if it is useful or feels good. I know that heart connection is there more with longhand but for some reason right now I don't like to use pen & paper.

  • Mary L. Holden

    Journaling...every single day since April 4, 1972. It's not so much journaling as what Freud would have called "anal retentiveness" with words. Now I have a morning journal too, and a purse journal.  And I'm still searching for a favorite pen!

  • D,G. Kaye

    I do the same things with my journal.  I found some beautiful things in mine which I kept over the years which gave me many of my ideas for my memoir. Great post!

  • Julie Luek

    Robert, I'm so glad you shared this. I feel so less... unstable. I often write and cry and gush as my pen goes across the page. Sometimes I'm amazed at what I'm able to dig through and get out. Yes, just as you said, such fertile ground for "Aha!" moments. 

  • Robert W. Finertie

    Thanks for sharing, Julie.  I like your post.  I have been doing 'Morning Pages' for over 35 years.  The process helps me get in touch with my feelings.  I remember how powerful it was on one occasion.  While I was attending an Ira Progoff Journaling Weekend, the Instructor asked us to write how we felt about something.  Then he asked if anyone wanted to share by reading aloud what we had written to the group.  I started to read and found myself so deeply touched by what I had written I struggled to get through it.  This was an "Aha' moment for me in the power of journaling.  Bob

  • Julie Luek

    Jenna, I love blogging-- have two, plus here, and anywhere else that will let me guest-post for them. But I could never (or would never dare traumatize readers) by writing down my really personal stuff. It's toxic sometimes! ;) I wonder how many people keep an online journal in Word? Great idea-- I didn't think about that when I wrote this. For me, the physical connection to writing is good too. 

  • Jenna Sauber

    I kept diaries and journals for years...and then I started blogging. For about six years, I wasn't journaling, but wish I had, to write down all the things I was thinking and feeling that didn't go in my blog. Now that I'm in between careers and on a little break, taking time to do more writing, I keep a running word document that acts as a journal, in addition to my blogging. It's great to have a place for my stream of conscience, and to get me in a mode to write what will be seen by the public. 

  • Julie Luek

    Mark, I have a friend, an older gentleman, who actually writes down things like weather and gas prices in  little spiral notebooks, the kind you stick in a purse or something. He's been doing it for years, and now, looking back, it's kind of fascinating to see what he has recorded. 

    In addition to my writing and personal journal, I have a 10 Year Journal (the one in the picture) that has just enough room to record a little bit about the day and is arranged so you can go back and see what you did one, two, three, etc years ago on that date as well. I love seeing the flow of my life-- a little like your calendar. Sometimes it depresses me though to see how quickly time has flown and my children have grown up! 

    I agree, for me it's the perfect way to ease into my writing day.

  • Mark Hughes

    To the best of my memory, my journal started my first semester in college. Someone gave me a Lord of the Rings calendar (oops, just revealed my geek background). Anyway, it had large squares for each day (emphasis on the square) and it occurred to me to write something each day. My roommate said: "What will you write down? About all that changes is the weather." Hmm, not a writer, he.

    Anyway, that was...cripes...almost 40 years ago, and I've pretty much kept a daily journal since then. Not only in my personal life, but I maintained one at work too. Can't tell you how many times THAT came in handy - end of the year reviews (what did I do last year?), when did such and such happen, and so forth. Everyone came to me asking when something had taken place - and were a bit put off if I hadn't recorded that particular trauma in their life.

    In terms of writing, now that I'm retired, I like to start each day off with a few paragraphs in the journal, recounting yesterday's escapades. It's a way of tapering into the fiction writing (by writing white lies about my life first, perhaps?) as it's hard to just pull the ripcord on the current story and go, otherwise.

    I rarely look back at my personal journal, though I always think that someday I will. Sometime when Sominex isn't up to the challenge.

  • Julie Luek

    Kelly, I couldn't have said it better. I so very much agree and look at what you're able to pull from it, honest and raw, and offer back for healing to others. Like you, I take mine everywhere, and often don't open it, but just in case... I like to have it handy. I actually keep a couple different kinds-- writing ideas, personal stuff, and one that's just a daily accounting of what I've done. A five-minute memoir kind of thing. 

  • Kelly Orchard

    I just wanted to chime in here - I believe keeping a journal is such an awesome therapeutic and creative method. I've kept one since I was 15 - and have dozens of books now. In fact, my kids don't know me without one - and it has become a sort of necessary accessory whenever I leave on a trip. Even if I don't write - I have it with me. I refer to my journals as a bank account of memories, where I can make a deposit or withdrawal whenever I need.  In fact, I'm currently writing a "Prescriptive Memoir" using my own journal entries as a healing tool during a chronic health crisis.  Without the journals - my raw emotions would have dissipated. I love journaling, and as a therapist - recommend it to my clients as a therapy tool. 

  • Julie Luek

    Julia, It is hard to make the time. I love getting up early. Before the sun even rises, I like to sit in my chair, throw over my legs, and do a little meditating and writing. It's my favorite time of the day. And yes, that physical connection is sometimes so much more productive for me. Thanks for stopping by. :)