A writing journal can be a key element to helping new, or even established, writers improve their craft. I am just setting up a new journal that I’m hoping will continue to help me organize my thoughts and ideas in a way that’s accessible. With these tips, you can create a journal that will make it easy for you to find those brilliant notes you’ve jotted down and put them to good use.
1. Know Your Purpose
There are lots of kinds of journals that writers keep. Some are meant to hold scraps of ideas and dialogue before they’re forgotten. Others use journals to outline portions of stories or novels. Still others used a journal as a book bible, compiling all the details of a series to be referred to when writing future books. For my journal, I organized it as a general catchall with a twist.
2. Choose the Right Size For Your Needs
Deciding on what size of a journal to keep really depends on where you’ll be writing in it. If you are constantly on the go, you may want a small journal to keep in a purse, backpack, or briefcase. A medium sized book affords more room for more information. For mine, I chose to use a full-sized notebook since I work from home and can keep it on my bedside table or wherever I’m working in the house. Here’s what it looks like (thanks Erin Condren!):
I am totally obsessed with Wonder Woman, so this is the perfect, inspirational choice for me. Also, I plan to put all kinds of information into this, so I wanted big pages. I also chose a lined notebook because that fit my needs more, but an unlined book may be more suited to your style if you like to draw or need room for different sizes of text.
3. Try Using Sections
I’ve had frustrations with journals I’ve had in the past because everything was just randomly jotted down. I had to flip through page after page to find an idea I was looking for. And if I did write down an idea that could be expanded on, usually I hadn’t left enough space to add more to the idea. It sounds romantic to have a jumbled notebook full of ideas, dialogue, and story planning, but as a practical measure, I added post-it tabs to my notebook. Spacing them fairly evenly apart in the notebook, I made sections for Ideas, Characters, World Building, Dialogue, and Plot Notes. Here’s what those look like:
I left a big space at the end of my notebook so that I could add other sections if I needed them. Now in the jumble, at least I have an idea of where to look for a jotted note.
4. Attach a Pen, Pencil, Marker…
Whatever inspires you. I have a pen pouch (also Wonder Woman) attached by a strap to the cover of my notebook, so I’m never without something to write with. Right now it has a funky pen, a pencil, and some colored markers in it. That gives me some flexibility when I’m trying to get the essence of an idea or piece of dialogue down. Or, if I want to color code elements of my plot, I can do so.
5. Attach It To Your Hip
Experts will tell you that you should take your writing notebook with you wherever you go. And they’re right. Choose a size that will go with you while you ride the bus and overhear some great dialogue. Or if you’re in the lobby of a doctor’s office and the idea for a great character comes to you. Now, I’m a fan of big purses, so I’m able to carry my larger notebook with me most places I go. But going back to choosing a size, you’ll want something portable. Now, I also cheat and have smaller notebooks to jot things down quickly, with the idea that they’ll be transferred into the “official notebook” as soon as I get to a stopping point. The main gist of this is to choose something you will use. Because even if it’s pretty and organized, if you don’t use it you lose great ideas and dialogue snippets and character descriptions that come to you at odd times.
Don’t be afraid to get messy. Having your sections organized doesn’t mean that everything has to be written down in neat rows and paragraphs. Thoughts don’t always come to you fully formed (especially in the middle of the night), so give yourself some leeway to write messy blurbs and unfinished sentences if that’s how your thoughts come to you. The notebook isn’t meant to be a showpiece (you may keep its contents secret, who knows?), but a place where you can get creative and express yourself. It doesn’t always have to make sense. An organized approach can still be creative and spontaneous. Make it inspiring, make it fun, and most of all, make it your own.