Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

On Blank Journals and Self-Doubt

Forget what they say about diamonds and dogs: when it comes to writers, journals are man’s best friend.

Okay, okay, maybe dogs, too.

Like most writers, I love journals. (I’m talking inspiration journals, although, writers should consider the diary kind, too.) Whenever I get a new one, I admire the artistic cover, run my fingertip down the unbroken spine, flip through those beautiful, blank pages and let their virgin paper aroma fill my nostrils. If the journal has a ribbon as a placemarker, I fling it out of my way. Then, I move to the first page, pick up my pen, and…freeze.

blank journalHere it is before me: a gorgeous, unsoiled journal with over 100 blank pages waiting to receive my brilliance. Only, I can’t help but wonder, do I have any brilliance to give them? Who am I to dirty these clean manila pages with combinations of words that I deem “creative”? Are the words I write worth the death of a tree, worth a lifetime on paper?

Once the ink marks the page, it is there forever. Even if I use pencil, the ghost of the lead will stain the pages with half letters and smudges for life of the paper. There is no going back.

Okay, I’ll scale back the drama, but hopefully you get my point. And even more hopefully, you’ll tell me that I’m not alone in this. For whatever reason, writing in a blank journal is a million times more difficult for me than writing in a word processor. The few real-life writer friends I have echo these sentiments. They, too, recognize the confidence-shattering object that is the blank journal. But, surely, we cannot be the only few who feel this way.

So what is it about the blank journal that is so intimidating? Here are my theories:

1. Symbolism

As humans, we apply a great deal of symbolic meaning to objects. When faced with a new journal, a writer does not see it as merely a journal — it is a vessel of creativity, a primitive draft of a novel, a piece of posterity for grandchildren to discover and leaf through in 30 years. That’s a lot of pressure.

2. Self-Doubt

While I don’t necessarily agree with traditional writer “stereotypes,” I will concede that many (though not all) artists are inflicted with disproportionate amounts of self-doubt and self-criticism. Therefore, when faced with an empty journal, all the ugly heads of “writer’s block” rear. Seeing these blank pages give you a glimpse into your soul: you are not worthy of soiling them with your unexceptional thoughts.

3. Perfectionism

Once your writing utensil hits that virgin page, the mark can never be undone. Why ruin the journal — it’s so pretty! What if your handwriting is messy? What if you make a mistake and have to cross something out or create eraser smudge? Should this journal be all for its own project, or can you divide it into sections? What if you run out of genius and can never fill the entire journal?

new journal
The beautiful journal I got for Christmas, which inspired this post, and which I vow to use fearlessly!

This is not an exhaustive list. And the next one isn’t either. However, if these, or any other thoughts, haunt your new journal, try reminding yourself of these things:

1. It’s just paper.

Seriously, it’s just a bound set of paper pages. It’s not some sacred vessel. In fact, even with your words scrawled in it, it’s still just a journal. Calm down.

2. You can get another one.

If you “ruin” your pretty new journal with “uncreative” thoughts, you can always get a new one. There is no ration on paper at this time in human history.

3. No one else will read it.

Your journal may not be filled with brilliance, but that is okay! It is a place for inspiration, random thoughts, and plot bunnies. No one has to see it, and even if they do, no one will judge it as harshly as you will.

4. Stop de-valuing yourself.

Your words, your creative thoughts, are worth writing down. Trust me, even if you think they are rubbish, they’re not. Besides, as number one says, a journal is just paper. Without your human touch, it will be wasted paper. So put it to use.

5. Just have fun.

A journal is a writer’s playground. In our technological age, you will not publish anything that comes directly from the pages of your journal. At the very least, you must type them into a word processor, which will give you a chance to edit. With that in mind, just brainstorm and experiment and play. Save your genius for Scrivener.

Perhaps my writer friends and I are alone in this phenomenon. However, whenever I receive a new journal, I feel a deadly combination of excitement, nervousness, and insecurity. I know I need to take it less seriously, and perhaps an unofficial new year’s resolution of mine should become to allow journals to be a playground rather than a breeding ground for my self-doubt.

In fact, I am going to combat that this week by using a new journal to hold the story beats for my next manuscript. What about you?

How do you feel about writing in inspiration journals? Do blank journals intimidate you or bring out your creative best? Share your experiences and tips below!


Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Should Writers Keep a Daily Journal?

As we approach the new year, I begin to think over my resolutions. For the past four years, I have resolved to keep a daily journal of my life. To the non-writing world, this seems like a natural extension of my status as a writer. After all, why wouldn’t someone who writes keep a written record of her daily life? However, as the writers who are reading this will probably know, the idea of keeping a journal creates a notable amount of debate among writers.

journal resolutionsThose in favor of writing in a journal say that it helps a writer’s abilities. After all, what better way to practice the craft of storytelling than recording the story of your own life? Likewise, writing of any sort can boost creativity and improve general craft skills like sentence formation and word choice. From an inspiration standpoint, the record of one’s life may prove to be a wealth of inspiration and character development when reflected upon in future years.

Those opposed to writing in a journal say that it hinders writers by taking away valuable writing time. Put another way, writers could use the time they spend scribbling in their journal to actually write their novels, poetry, etc. From a technical standpoint, some writers believe the skills gained by journal writing do not actually translate to fiction or other prose forms as well as some writers like to think and may actually hinder professional writing, because the writer becomes too introverted in style.

(On a tangential note, both of these arguments can be applied to the division among writers about blogging.)

Both sides of the argument make valid points. So how do you, as writer, decide whether or not keeping a journal is a good option for you? Well, as I say about most things in the writing world, you simply have to know yourself, your artistic style, and your professional goals. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of this debate, I guarantee there is a style of journal writing for you.


Don’t feel the need to chronicle your daily activities? Don’t want to take time away from your novel to relive your day? Then simply don’t journal. However, I would still suggest taking time for reflection every now and then to keep yourself centered on who you are and where you are headed.

journalDaily Journal Writing

If you are like me from 2011-14, then you like the idea of being able to reflect back and recall every day of your year. After all, when you take time to actually think about how many moments slip through our memories’ grasps, it really is alarming. If you feel like you want to hold onto these moments, then keeping a daily journal of your activities is probably for you. Just make sure that writing in your journal does not replace your professional writing and/or does not become an excuse for procrastination.

Spontaneous Journal Writing

Many writers who I talk to about journal writing say that they simply do not find their own lives interesting enough to warrant daily journal writing — hence why they write fiction. If the romanticism of journal writing appeals to you, but you find your life mundane, try breaking out a journal for the big moments. After all, these are the ones you want to remember, in more depth than a Facebook status. However, I still think it is worth it to chronicle a handful of the mundane days. There are plenty of “ordinary” moments that we take for granted every day, but ten years from now, you might find the regular routine more meaningful than you ever expected.


Remember in school when teachers would have you sit down and do “freewriting?” In case you don’t, it is an exercise in which you simply write whatever spills forth from your brain. By doing this, you will allow yourself to be creative, while still capturing the moods and themes of your daily life. For a more “journal-esque” focus, you could try to gear your freewriting toward whatever issues or events seem most prominent in your life. This way, you still keep track of what is going on, but you retain more creative freedom in the process and frequency.

happiness project journalMicro-journaling

With micro-journaling, you record single words or short phrases about your day — enough to jog your memory, but not take up too much time. This is the style of journal writing that I will be doing in 2015. Since 2009, I have been writing at least three positive things that happen in my life each day, whether I write a complete journal entry or not. As I become busier with work, blogging, and professional writing, I find that I do not have the time or creative energy to keep up with a daily journal. However, I still want to keep a record of my daily life. Therefore, each day of 2015, I am going to continue with my tradition of writing three daily gratitudes. I may expand this to keeping a “one-sentence” journal, but we’ll see how I go.

Writing in a journal takes discipline, a strong memory, and self-awareness. It can boost your creativity and writing craft skills, but it can also take away from valuable writing time and skew your writing style. If journal writing is something that interests you, give one of the styles above a try and see how you like it. Even though journal writing can seem like a restrictive task, there really are no rules. Write as much or as little as you like, in any style you like, and change at a whim. After all, it’s your life. Literally.

Have you ever kept a journal before and what style did you use? Are you resolving to keep a journal in the new year? Let me know your plans and tips!