What is a Journal and Why Keep One?

On this page, you'll find answers to the question, "What is a journal?" along with some top reasons for journaling. This is just one of many pages on this website about journaling and creative writing. At the bottom of the page, you'll find links to related pages with journal ideas and prompts.

What is a journal?

A journal is a written record of your thoughts, experiences, and observations. You can write in your journal daily, or only when you feel the urge. You can write with a fountain pen in a leather-bound book if that inspires you, or you can write with your lucky pencil on the backs of dollar bills if you are both superstitious and rich. It's entirely up to you.

Our whole lives we are told to write a certain way, to use a number two pencil and stay within the lines, to fill up exactly three pages with our thoughts on a specific theme, being sure to include topic sentences and a conclusion. Journaling is different. With journaling, there are no rules, no rights or wrongs. You might decide to share parts of your journal, but, fundamentally, your journal is for you. So you're in charge. Your journal is a space where you're absolutely free to express yourself.

There's a lot of interest out there in journal prompts, so I've included some on this website. Please don't feel, though, that you need prompts or assignments for writing in your journal. Your daily life, the places you spend time, the people you spend time with, any thought passing through your mind -- all this is perfect journaling material. As the writer Linda Leopold Strauss says, "The world is your writing prompt." But in case you do want some ideas to get you started, click here.

What is a journal - Why keep a journal?

Here are just a few of the reasons for journaling:

  • Preserve memories. It's amazing how quickly we forget. For instance, try remembering in detail your day exactly one week ago. Can you remember what you wore? What you ate for lunch? What you felt and thought about?

    Try an experiment. Write down in detail everything that happened to you today. I bet you can keep going for a dozen pages or more. But if you try to write about yesterday, you might have trouble filling up more than a couple of pages. And if you go to the day before yesterday, you probably have even less. We are constantly losing pieces of our own lives, pieces of ourselves. A journal is a way of keeping them.

  • Improve your writing. Generally, the more you write, the better a writer you become. Writing regularly makes writing easier, and it helps you develop your own writing voice. Even if your journal is just for yourself and it doesn't matter how "good" it is, journaling builds muscles that you can use for other kinds of writing. And the fact that it is, generally, for your eyes only makes your journal an ideal laboratory for experimenting with new styles, techniques, and subject matter, increasing your range as a writer.

    Your journal is also a place to collect ideas and material for creative writing. All of the sights, sounds, tastes, and feelings you record, the overheard pieces of conversation, the people you were watching in the street -- all of these can be recycled in stories and poems. These observed details will give your creative writing the texture of reality.

  • Sharpen your senses. Writing about your experience can make you a better observer. When we know we're going to write about something, we pay a different kind of attention to it. Keeping a journal gets you in the habit of noticing the details of your daily life. The result is like a heightening of the senses, as you observe the world with greater richness and complexity.

Of course, another reason for journaling is simply for the love of doing it. You may take sensual pleasure in the velvety looping of ink across the creamy surface of a page, or in the private time with your thoughts at the end of a hectic day. You may find it comforting or therapeutic to pour out your emotions in writing. And the other side of journaling is reading. You can always go back to old journals and find windows into your past.

What is a journal - Next steps

Choose one of the links below to go to pages related to "What Is a Journal and Why Keep One?":

How to Write a Journal - What Supplies Do You Need?

How to Write a Journal - What Should You Write About?

How to Write a Journal - What is a Creative Writing Journal?

How to Write a Journal - Journal Prompts and Ideas

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


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