The Writer’s Journal

Do you dream? Do entire novels play themselves out in your imagination each night as you are peacefully, or not so peacefully, slumbering? Perhaps you daydream. Do you lose track of where you are and what is going on because you have been sucked into a world your mind has created? Does it distress you that when you sit down to write that you can never remember these dreams?

dream, pexels

Capture Those Thoughts
A great way to keep track of all the story ideas that go running through your head is to keep a writer’s journal. Unlike a diary, you don’t keep track of the daily events of your life, but you can track those as well if you wish. Instead, you write down story ideas, character descriptions, snatches of dialogue, and anything else that you might want to use in a story.

Three separate journals would be great—one in a notebook that you carry around in your purse or car, another on your computer, and one by your bedside. The notebook in your purse or car comes in handy when you are away from home and your computer. You can jot down interesting things that you see, scraps of overheard conversation, descriptions of people, etc.

A journal on your computer is a great place to organize these ideas. It might also be a good idea to print out this computer journal and keep a copy of it somewhere. In case of an extended electrical outage, it would be nice to still have access to your notes when your computer is pretty much useless. Even if you have a laptop, the battery will only run for so long without power.

journal, flickr

The notebook in your purse also comes in handy if, for instance, you run out of gas and have to wait for someone to bring you more. That happened to me once, and I used the time to sit and write about the experience in a journal I carried with me. I don’t recommend running out of gas though. The experience taught me a lot, but it really wasn’t much fun.

What about those dreams? If you can wake up enough to write about them, a notebook next to where you sleep would take care of that. If you can only jot down key words about what happened in your dream, that could be enough to bring all of it back to your memory.

Ideas tend to go running full speed through your head when you can’t stop to write them down or take time out to type them on your laptop. When that happens, just rest assured that these ideas will come back to you if they are worth remembering.

Your writer’s journal is a good place to write down the experiences that you go through and how you react emotionally and physically.  It can also be used to record how others react to the same situations. Are you scared of storms? How does one make you feel? Have you gone through traumatizing times raising you teenage children? Have you ever been the victim of a crime? Have you ever had a parent die? Have you ever been attracted to someone who wasn’t attracted to you? Has your marriage ever been on the rocks? Even though it hurts to write about them, all of these experiences are fodder for a future story

boat in side yard, picture by Lisa Binion

If you have a camera, pictures speak volumes.  That is one reason I write picture writing prompts articles.  And each picture writing prompts article begins with a quote from a good friend of mine, Richard Petracca: They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but it is up to the author to write those thousand words.

Pictures of interesting things or places add to your journal and spark your memories and imagination. Pictures of a trip to the Golden Gate Bridge could start your muse thinking about a romance or murder centered around the bridge.

Grab your camera, go outside your house, and look around. In the fall, take pictures of the trees as their leaves change to brilliant yellow, gold, and orange. There is a boat in my side yard. Yes, I said a boat. It is an unused boat, rather old and dilapidated, but right above this old boat is a tree whose leaves turn the most beautiful shades of gold, orange, and yellow. Behind this gorgeous tree are other trees, already stripped of their leaves by the cooler autumn temperatures. One way to get your mind back on track when writer’s block sets in is to pull out the pictures and stare at them. You will be amazed at the stories that begin to run through your mind.

dictionaries, wikipedia

New Words
New words that you have learned can be kept track of in your journal. Subscribe online to receive a new word to learn each day at It is free and you will learn new words that can be used in your writing. Today’s new word was eleemosynary. It is an adjective that means relating to charity. ”Every Thanksgiving our church has an eleemosynary dinner.”

people walking, pexels

Write down scraps of overheard dialogue. I’m not encouraging you to eavesdrop or anything, but when you go shopping or walk down the street in a busy town, you can’t help but pick up scraps of conversation, especially around the holidays.

“I can’t believe it. My mother-in-law is coming down to spend Christmas with us! I would never forgive myself if she tripped and fell on the ice.” 

No, that wasn’t something I overheard, but if you happen to listen in on a scrap of conversation like that, questions arise. What does the lady have against her mother-in-law? Is she planning on “accidentally” making her trip and fall on the ice? What will her husband do if he finds out? For that matter, what kind of person is the mother-in-law? Does she try to run her son’s marriage and try to tell his wife what to do? Does the son call his mother and ask her advice about everything instead of asking for his wife’s advice? Could there possibly be some resentment there?

mind map, wikimedia commons

Mind Maps
Create mind maps in your journal.  What is a mind map?  It is a graphical way to organize your thoughts and ideas.  Write down the word storm.  Now draw a line out from storm and write down the first word that comes to mind when you think about a storm.  It could be rain, thunder, or lightning.

Those would be common words that most associate with storms, but maybe for you, storms bring something totally different to mind.

Maybe during a storm, you found a dog huddled outside in the downpour attempting to stay dry.  You took this dog home with you, and he became a close companion of yours.  So, when you see the word storm, it could bring to mind dog, loyalty, and friendship.

thunderstorm, pixabay

Or maybe you were caught out in the last thunderstorm, and now you associate storms with sickness.  When you were caught out in it, you had gone to see your grandbaby who had just been born, so you could even associate storms with babies.

And the list goes on and on.  The associations will be different for each individual.  It all depends on your life experiences and whether you mostly think of horror, romance, adventure, etc.

You can make your mind maps a bit deeper. Next to each word you associate with storms, make a note of why this particular word came to mind.  Do the same for every word under each heading.

When your muse refuses to cooperate with you, reading over these words could be just the thing you need.  Seeing why you associate certain words with other ones could even be the start of a new story, or it could add more spice to what you are already writing.

girl writing,

Ideas are everywhere around us. As writers, we need to keep track of them.  Pictures, scraps of dialogue, new words, story ideas, character ideas, and mind maps can be used to prompt your muse back to life. All of this information can be kept in a simple writer’s journal.

Comment and let me know if there are any other tidbits you like to keep in your writer’s journal.

Recommended Articles:
Coffee, Cigarettes, and Writer’s Block – Guest Post by Richard Petracca
Gift Ideas for the Writer in Your Life

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