Journals & A Writing Exercise
Written by
Lauren B. Davis
July 2012
Written by
Lauren B. Davis
July 2012

I have a lovely writing journal.  It's leather bound and has my name embossed in gold on the front.  I resisted such a journal for a long time, preferring to write in little throw-away notebooks.  However, the reason I love this one is that the pages themselves are refillable, so I can write as much nonsense as I like and not worry about it, since I can take the pages out and replace them, keeping the pretty cover.  If you're interested, you can pick one up on this site.

But, aesthetics aside, let's  look at what writers' journals are and what they are not:

A journal is a place where you must give yourself permission to fail.

A journal is not necessarily elegant.

A journal is a place in which to experiment.

A journal is not for anyone's eyes but yours.

A journal is a place where you can speak the unspeakable.

A journal is faithful, but does not like to be neglected.

A journal is for words, and drawing and quotes and lists and pasted-in photos and pressed flowers and insects and matchbooks and anything else you find interesting.

A journal can be a conversation between you and your deeper self/the God of your understanding/the parent or friend you wish you had.

Lots of journals from which to choose

Unless you are truly comfortable with the kind of leather journal I use (i.e. unless you can bring yourself to write crap on pretty paper), get rid of those beautiful leather-bound things that your well-meaning friends give you and which are far too lovely to mar with anything but pearls.  Buy yourself  a school exercise notebook.

As well as whatever journal you use for your actual journal-writing sessions, buy another little notebook that can fit in your pocket or your purse.

When you have an idea, jot it down – honor the art.  Don’t think you’ll remember ideas later – you won’t.  Especially that little flash of intuition you get just as you're falling asleep at night and you're SO sure you'll be able to recall it in the morning.  Snort.  No you won't.  Write it down.  The same thing for when you're walking the dog, or in the shower (keep paper and pen handy on a nearby dry shelf).  Just don't do it while driving -- for obvious reasons.  Car crashes are not good for a writer's day, or anyone else's.

Here are some things you can try in your journal whenever you feel like it:

  1. write one page a day – and then try writing that same page without using the verb “to be.”  This will make you choose more interesting words.  For example, rather than saying – Bob is mean.  You might say – Bob frightens me.  More interesting.
  2. switch pronouns – use she or he instead of I.
  3.  one day, make a record of only nouns:  toothbrush, toilet paper, soap, towel, coffee cup, dog food, bus ticket…
  4. Keep track of your dreams, even if they're only snippets or images, and make note of recurring symbols.  They might hold the key to your next novel or short story.

And, to get you started, try this exercise now:

In your journal, describe what your room looked like when you woke up this morning.  Make me feel how you felt merely through description.   Don’t say – I felt this or that –make me, as the reader, conclude what the atmosphere of the room is by the way you’ve described it, the images and the language you’ve chosen.  Example:   someone who wakes up filled with anxiety might describe their room thusly: “a pair of sharp-heeled shoes lay abandoned in the middle of the floor ready to trip me on the way to the bathroom.  A patch of paint peeled off the wall, which was surely only the beginning of a larger problem.  A pile of unpaid bills scattered across the desk.”

And whatever else you do today -- keep writing! 

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  • Lauren B. Davis

    Oh, dear, Katherine. It sounds to me as though you might be approaching something important.  You might try having a conversation with yourself in your journal. Ask yourself why it feels uncomfortable, and then listen for a moment . . . you might be surprised by what you hear.  There is quite a good book on journal writing and deep guidance, called "Writing Down Your Soul" by Janet Connor.  My Jungian analyst friend recommended it and I found it most useful.  Hang in there. 

  • Katherine Huether

    My journal absolutely stresses me out and I have yet to figure out why. I think it's because it is a painful experience seeing my feelings and emotions on the paper.

  • Lauren B. Davis

    Delaine -- wonderful.  There is nothing better than living one's life as a writer, if our heart leads us to the page.  Keep writing. 

  • Delaine Zody

    It was when my daughter went away to college and my life seemed void of something that I started to write in journals. That was 16 years ago, and I'm still writing in the journals though my life is now filled to overflowing. Rereading all those posts makes me realize the life I have lived was a good one and that I want to continue getting my life down on paper.

  • Edith O Nuallain

    I own a rather large collection of journals, some beautiful works of art in themselves, others so cheap that the ink on them is already dissolving! But lately I find that I seem to do my best writing on my lap top. So bit by bit I am transferring all my notebook themed journals to word documents on the computer. I still prefer writing by hand for poetry. For some reason the computer just doesn't work for that! I enjoyed your article. Thanks!