Five Tips To Make Your Writing Journal More Organized and Effective

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.

Bonus Tip!

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.

Happy writing!

–Amy

Recent Reads: You’re Staying In, So You Might As Well Read.

Since we’re all staying home more because of COVID-19, it’s a good time to catch up on your TBR list. There are a lot of great new books coming out, but don’t forget those backlist picks. It’s also a great time to buy e-books or download them from the library (try Overdrive or Libby). Audiobooks are great choices for listening to while you’re working from home (support independent bookstores through Libro.fm).

Here are some of my recent reads (just a few this time):

This is a dark, but interesting story. The lead FBI agent Elsa Myers is on the case of the disappearance of Ruby. The case blows up into the hunt for a serial kidnapper and killer. The team Myers is working with sorts through the clues and information to try to find the man who has kidnapped and killed girls in sets of three. During this race against time, Elsa is triggered by her own past as she tries to care for and reconcile with her father, who is dying. As the case ramps up, the third kidnapping makes it personal.

This can be a hard book to read at times, because of the dark subject matter. Elsa is a well-developed, complex character who is hardly predictable. The supporting cast on the team as well as her sister and niece play pivotal roles that lead Elsa down a twisted road to solve the case and resolve her feelings about her past.

I can’t say this book was enjoyable, because of the focus on child kidnapping and abuse. But it was interesting and a good read. I would recommend the author’s future books. Just follow it up with something light.

**Thank you to NetGalley for the e-book review copy in exchange for an honest review.**


This is the third book in the St. Caroline series. I haven’t read the others, but this can be read as a stand alone. Cassidy Trevor is off limits to Matt Wolfe, but when the two are thrown together the chair a holiday event. Their experience becomes a secret friendship that blossoms into love. 

In this somewhat spicy book, the author creates clearly drawn characters that are interesting and fun. The reason they’re “off limits” to each other seems a bit contrived, but the storyline is generally believable. You find yourself rooting for Matt and Cassidy as the story comes to a satisfying end. 

I’m guessing I would have understood all the relationships in the book a lot more easily in I’d read the first two books. 

This is a good, fun, enjoyable escape with some spice for those who like that.

Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC of the e-book in exchange for an honest review.

I love a great cozy mystery, and this one didn’t disappoint. Sammy runs a community crafting store and must involve her cousin Heidi and sister Ellie (who together make up the S.H.E.s) when a woman dies while posing as a live mannequin in Sammy’s window display during the Fire and Ice festival in Hartford, WI.

This book kept me guessing. I’m usually pretty good at guessing the killer by about halfway through, but this one took a little longer. There are some good suspenseful scenes that turn the plot on its head and were great ways to speed along the story through the middle. (No saggy middle here!)

The ending left me with a few questions, but overall it was satisfying. This is the third book in the series, and while it wasn’t hard to read as a standalone, I think some of the characterization would have been easier to understand if you have read the first two books.

A delightful author. I’d love to read more by her.

Thank you to NetGalley for the review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

You’re Staying In, You Might As Well Write: Fighting Distractions When Your Routine Is Upended By Coronavirus (or whatever)

COVID-19 has a lot of people scared. We’re being advised by the CDC, the President, and other elected officials to work from home, practice social distancing, and avoid any unnecessary trips out of the house (as if there were anywhere to go!).

These changes can upend your routine, big time. Even if you already work at home, you may now have young kids there with you during the day that need you, or college kids that are studying from home for awhile (that’s us!). In many places, libraries and coffee shops are closed, taking away writing sanctuaries for those on the go.

Still, before you turn to Netflix to fill your non-working hours, consider the opportunity to squeeze in some extra writing time. After all, you can’t really go out on Friday night, or you may not have to commute to your job for awhile, so little pockets of time are opening up that could be used to help you get further along on that novel or freelance project.

A few tips:

  • Rethink Your Routine — You may have to create an entirely new routine based on your new “normal.” See if new time slots have opened up that you could squeeze in some writing. Our college kids are home right now, and seem to want food regularly (and can’t go out to eat right now in our small mountain town), so that takes extra grocery shopping and meal planning.
  • Try Sprints Instead of Marathons — Your style may be to sit for extended periods of time working on a writing project, but your circumstances might make it possible to only work in short bursts. Fit in what you can when time is available. This is where reworking your routine comes in handy. I normally work from home, but am using my planner to schedule writing sessions during my off hours when I may have been out doing something else in other circumstances.
  • Preplan Your Sessions — Try to plan the night before for what you want to accomplish during your sprints or marathons. Outline an article while the kids are working on homework. Write a scene during what used to be your morning commute. As those opportunities arise, you’ll be able to maximize your efforts. This is where my planner is coming in again. I try to set word deadlines for my novel for each block of time I’ve set aside for the next day, along with some time for freelance projects.
  • Don’t Overload — Not every pocket of time has to be filled with writing projects. Leave time to let your mind wander. Dump some ideas into your writing journal (more on organizing that to come). Color, hang out with your kids, plan a romantic indoor picnic with your significant other (may do that this week!), or (yes) binge-watch some Netflix. Your brain is most effective when it has some downtime to recharge, making your writing sessions more effective too. And you’ll be happier for it.
  • Chat With Other Writers Online — Social isolation can lead to depression, which inhibits every area of your life, including your writing and productivity. Now may be a good time to join that freelancing Facebook group, or to put together a Zoom meeting with some of your writer friends. Instead of getting lost in a sea of social media, use technology to your advantage and reach out to others who are also home and looking for someone to talk to. A group of mystery writers that I’m a part of has chat groups that give me a line to the outside world as I try to make progress on my novel.

We’re living in a unique time. Since you’re stuck at home anyway, you might as well try to find some time to tackle those writing projects you’ve been putting off for “when you have some extra time.”

Stay safe, be well.

Weekend Reading 3.13.20

It’s been a busy week here. My kids have been home with one of their friends on Spring Break, and my daughter cheered at the MVC men’s basketball tournament (last of the season; all others were cancelled!) while my husband, son, and his friend attended the games (So close to being champions, Valpo!).

I’ve been getting some freelance queries out and have done some planning for my next big push on my cozy mystery. Also got some good reading done (Recent reads post coming Monday).

Hope you’re all safe and taking precautions in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We’re safe so far here in our little mountain town. While you’re practicing social distancing and staying in more, here are some things to keep your mind occupied. Have a great weekend!

CDC information about symptoms of COVID-19 here. CDC travel recommendations here.

What’s the future of book blogging? This article gives some good insight.

Book Riot’s 15 best online book clubs.

Weird ways to beat writer’s block.

Looking for ways to boost your creativity? Try this article.

I hate being a slow reader and loved this article about how to read faster.

Try these five best budget pens.

Wish you could move the pages around in your writing/reading journal? This magnetic notebook may be for you.

Check out these clever bookish tees and these fun writer tees. This is my fave book tee and my fave writer tee.

I love my morning coffee and especially enjoyed this article about whether your morning cup is good for you.