Creative Writing Journal Ideas - Part 1

On this page, you'll find ideas for keeping a creative writing journal to use for your poetry, fiction, and dramatic writing. This is just one of many pages on this website with journal ideas and creative writing advice. At the bottom, you'll find links to related pages on how to keep a journal.

Your creative writing journal

If you write fiction, drama, or poetry, a journal can build your writing muscles and generate ideas. It can be a laboratory, where you experiment with different approaches. It can be a source of details to add texture and crispness to your writing. And whenever you get stuck or feel uninspired, you will be able to go to your creative writing journal for fresh material.

Here are some journal ideas for creative writers:

1) People-watch. The people around you can become fictional characters or the subjects of poems. You can give them roles in your writing, or just borrow details: your neighbor's nervous laugh, the shiny makeup that makes your mother's friend look like she's made out of plastic... Make notes about people you know; take your creative writing journal to a coffeehouse or a hotel lobby and describe them: their appearance, their body language, their voices, the way they relate to each other. You can go beyond mere reporting and write what you imagine as well. What do you think that woman's name might be? Where do you think she lives? Is she having an affair with that man, or are they just business partners? What is she thinking right now? What is she hiding in that big purse? Any of this can be the beginning of a story or poem. (Caution: if you are writing about people you know, be careful where you leave your creative writing journal. You may want to change names and identifying details to protect yourself against prying eyes. But you already know that.)

2) Listen. Eavesdrop in restaurants, in stores. Listen to your own family and friends -- really listen. Not just to what they're saying, but to the words they use, the pauses, the unique rhythms of their speech. And write down pieces of speech when they are still fresh in your ears. If you wait too long, you'll find the sentences coming out in your own voice. Learning to capture different voices on paper will help you with dialogue for stories or scripts. It can also be a source for poetry.

3) Take a walk. Describe your neighborhood. Describe the weather, the colors and textures, the light and shadow. Go beyond what you see -- describe the sounds, the smells, the feeling of the air on your skin. Look for the surprising details, the ones that aren't quite as you'd imagine, the ones you could never have made up. These details will give authenticity to your creative writing, make it feel real to the reader. Click here for tips on descriptive writing.

4) Take a field trip. Are you writing a scene in a police station? A city dump? Visit one. Write down the details that will make the setting come alive on the page. On the other hand, if you're not in the middle of a writing project, taking a field trip can give you ideas for one. Go somewhere you would normally never go. By explaining you're a writer, you can get permission to visit places not normally open to the public. The basement of an aquarium? The backrooms of a funeral parlor? Take notes on your observations and see what story ideas emerge.

5) Use real-life stories. The news, gossip, the experiences of your friends, and even stories from history books can be sources for creative writing. Make notes on the story, and imagine the parts you don't know. Imagine it as if you were there. What, exactly, did people see? What were they thinking? What did it all feel like? What led up to the event; what happened next? Let your imagination fill in the gaps. Or imagine that some part of it had been different. How does that change the story?

The children's book writer Linda Leopold Strauss used this method to write the novel novel Really, Truly, Everything's Fine. She saw a newspaper story about a man accused of a white-collar crime, and her imagination began to work. She started to wonder if the man had a family, what conversation they would be having over their breakfast table that morning when the newspaper story came out, how the man's child might react to the news of her father's crime, how this would change the life of his child. And so a novel was born.

6) "Free-write." This technique is especially useful as a warm-up for creative writing or as a cure for writer's block. The way free-writing works is that you keep your pen moving on the page, normally during a set amount of time (try setting a timer for five minutes, for example). If you don't have anything to say, you can write, "I don't have anything to say," over and over until something else occurs to you. Don't judge or correct yourself as you are writing; don't worry about sounding smart or even making sense. It is a way of tricking your mind into relaxing. Then interesting things often start to happen on the page.

7) More creative writing journal ideas. Continue to Part 2 of this series.

Creative writing journal - Next steps

Choose one of the links below.

Learn how to come up with journal ideas and topics

Get inspired with journal prompts

Browse a complete list of CWN pages on How to Keep a Journal


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