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What’s In My Journal?

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July 2011
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By Dave Hood

If you desire, have a dream to become a writer, you need to write on a regular basis, preferably each day. The act of writing gets you in the habit of writing. The act of writing each day allows you to practice your writing. One of the best ways to learn to write well is by keeping a personal journal. In this article, I discuss what you can write about in a personal journal and some of the benefits of journal writing.

What should you include in your writing journal? You can include anything you want in a personal journal. The decision is yours to make.

Here’s a favorite poem about things people include in a personal journal:

“What’s In My Journal”
by William Stafford, from Crossing Unmarked Snow

“Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean
Thing, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.
But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.
Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous
discards. Space for knickknacks, and for
Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.
Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected
anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind
that takes genius. Chasms in character.
Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above
a new grave. Pages you know exist
but you can’t find them. Someone’s terribly
inevitable life story, maybe mine

Clearly, from the contents of the poem, you can write about anything in your journal. You can write about your thoughts, feelings, impressions. You can write about a bad dream, something that created anxiety, joy. You can write about what goes in during daily life. For instance, perhaps you want to write about the “odd ball” you met on the way to the subway. You can write about a summer vacation, winter getaway, day trip.

You can write about what you see and hear. For instance, perhaps you want to write about an overheard conversation, a car accident, your frustrating experience in the checkout lineup. What you include in your personal journal is personal—and for your eyes only.

I use my laptop as a tool to make journal entries, then save the entry to my journal writing file, more than 100 pages, on my hardrive. Journal writing has allowed me to get into the habit of writing and to record my travels from day to day, record my thoughts, impressions, experiences in a permanent place.

In my journal writing, I include new words that I stumble across while reading. For instance, the other day, I learned the word “cornucopia.” I also include interesting or inspirational quotations.

If I read a good book review, I write down the title of the book, author’s name, synopsis of the book. If I discover a good poem, I include add it to my personal journal.

Here are a few things you can include in your journal:

  • Thoughts, feelings, impressions
  • Memories
  • Dreams
  • Opinions on topics or issues important to you
  • What goes on in your daily life. Example: Attending a film, walking along the beach, your book review
  • What’s making news or in the public consciousness
  • Short poems
  • Anecdotes
  • Inspiring photographs
  • Interesting quotations
  • New words come across while reading, language that you intend to use in writing or daily conversation
  • Something you’ve learned

How should you write an entry in a personal journal? There are no rules. The decision is yours to make. I always include the date of the entry. Sometimes I write in a notebook. Other times, I make an entry in a journal I keep on my laptop. Sometimes I write in phrases. Other times, I write complete sentences.

Some instructors of creative writing suggest that you engage in freewriting. This involves sitting down, pen in hand, or hands on keyboard, then just writing about whatever “pops into your mind.” This is a good way to begin writing if you don’t know what to write about. Freewriting enables you to get into the habit of writing. It also allows you to record what’s on your mind. It is a good method to use for people who are just starting to write.

However, if you’re an experienced writer or have lots of things you want to write about, the best way to write is to type the date, and the begin writing about what’s on your mind.

The journal becomes a record of your life, a personal scrapbook of thoughts, experiences, impressions, memories, meaningful things you’ve collected in your travels, like inspirational photos, ten dollar words, illuminating poems, and so forth.

Keep in mind that a journal is not a diary. The journal is much more: You can include anything—from photos, to poetry, to inspirational quotes. Journal writing is also a way for you to plant the seeds for future writing—such as a poem, short story, personal essay.

What are the benefits of journal writing? There are many. I’ve discovered that keeping a journal has allowed me to experiment with my writing. For instance, I’ve written poetry in my journal by experimenting with poetic devices such as simile, metaphor, personification.  Keeping a journal has also enabled me to capture ideas to write about in the future. For instance, I often write poems based on what I’ve recorded in my personal journal. And journal writing has also allowed me to get in the habit of writing. Finally, journal writing can be a catharsis. For two years, when I was going through a difficult time several years ago, I kept a personal journal of my experiences, thoughts, feelings. By writing, I was able to clear my mind of thoughts that were distressing experiences.


To learn more about journal writing, read Julia Cameron’s “The Right to Write” and Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones”. Susan Tiberghien has a good chapter on journal writing in her bestselling book on creative writing called “One Year to the Writing Life.”



  1. Sandra says:

    I’ve been writing a a journal so far. I write almost about everything: personal thoughts, interesting things I saw or experienced, about my dream, struggling experiences, future plans. Sometimes, I draw a picture. So can I say what I’m doing is a journal writing?

    Then, what is a diary exactly? Does it include only personal and private things?

    By the way, from now on, I should do my journal writing everyday as you told to do so. Thank you.

  2. eccentricaesthetics says:

    This blog is practically a haven for all things about writing and literature! I’m so glad I’ve stumbled upon it. The little list of things to include into a journal is really convenient because I just bought a new journal (sale at Borders which is sadly closing) to follow up my current journal which is barely past the halfway point. Previously, I just wrote down things that happened during the day/week, thoughts, dreams, ideas, and other pretty diary-esque things. Because of my OCD, I’ll just continue with that and be much more involved with my new journal which is larger too. I can’t really fit much in the tiny (compared the new journal) pages of this journal. I’m going to just look around your blog, there’s so much here to learn!

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