Creativity Today

A Different Way to Live Life

Is Journal Writing Really Effective?

on December 5, 2012

I have a love-hate relationship with journals and journal writing.

My personal Moleskine journal.

My personal Moleskine journal.

On the one hand, journals are a great way to keep your thoughts and observations in an organized place where you know you will be able to easily access them later. Accessibility is something I have always loved about journals – after all, in our hectic daily lives, it is important to have some aspect of organization!

I’ve read that creative people with imaginative ideas always jot down their thoughts so they won’t forget them. British novelist and journalist Will Self is an example of this – he has said, “[a]lways carry a notebook. And I mean always. The short-term memory only retains information for three minutes; unless it is committed to paper you can lose an idea for ever.” I agree with this philosophy, as thoughts are easily lost and I wish to remember as much as I can of my own personal musings and inspirations.

But, on the other hand, journals can be counterproductive, in my opinion, for two reasons:

  1. Sometimes my thoughts are simply too complicated to be organized into a journal. I find journals especially appropriate when I am traveling and documenting my vacation because my writings are full of concrete thoughts, so everything is much less chaotic.
  2. It’s often much more convenient to scribble away on a piece of paper or type into a word document or onto a phone (and with all the new technologies today, there are even apps to use as journals!) than to take out a journal, open it up to a blank page, and start writing. I often find that by the time that is complete, whatever thought I had in my head is gone!

Whether or not journals are the best way to document thoughts, it is still important to document them for future reference, as well as to make sure you retain all of your creativity and imagination.

Creative challenge:

And so I present my creative challenge of the day: Write down, or type (in a place where you know you will be able to find it later), any interesting thoughts, sentences, or phrases that come to your mind that you don’t want to forget. If someone tells you something funny, write it down. If you overhear a thought-provoking conversation (or any fascinating conversation, for that matter), write it down.

Use this collection of writing to inspire you in the future so you won’t easily be debilitated by writer’s block. Try to form some of your writings into a story, poem, or any other genre of writing, or perhaps try to create a piece of art based on them. I frequently use this method, and, I can promise you, it is both enjoyable and effective.


Do you like journals and enjoy keeping them? Why or why not? Comment below to discuss.

And please feel free to share some of the phrases you have written down either in journals or other places. I always love seeing what kinds of ideas interest other people.


12 responses to “Is Journal Writing Really Effective?

  1. I recently started a journal. While I agree it is sometimes inconvenient to take out and flip to a new page etc. I have found that I have a lot more thoughts than I remember, and because of that it is such a great thing being able to turn back and find them! It is especially effective when I come up with little ramblings or blog post ideas! Great work!

    • Zoe says:

      Do you think you would be able to write down more of your thoughts (before you forget them) if you used a different medium? Or do you think that, for you, it makes no difference?

      • I am not sure… I think there is something to be said for pen and paper. It is easier to do that than take out my phone in the middle of class for instance. Thoughts hit me at random times as I am sure we can all attest to. Writing really helps those random ideas to keep flowing.

  2. Zoe says:

    I agree. Although, I have become a faster typist (on a computer and a phone) than writer, so I find that I can get more of my thoughts down on paper when I am typing them.

  3. Enjoying your blog 🙂

  4. David Allen says:

    I wish I was organized enough to write things down in a journal. Instead, I end up on a frantic search for a pen, followed by a frantic search for paper, and in the end I have a random thought written on the back of a Safeway receipt. Great post, and it seems like a very useful habit to get into.

    • Zoe says:

      I have had very similar experiences! That’s why I started writing my thoughts on my phone – I always know where it is, so it’s easy to access it.

  5. Do I journal? Oh yeah! Either in my notebook, or phone, or camera, or on scraps, or just stuffing things in a pocket for later (years later in some cases).
    I even carry a Dictaphone for when driving, because the record button is tactile and I don’t have to struggle with a menu system whilst driving.

    A point about those vaporous thoughts, it is because they are from your sub-dominant creative-brain and occur when your dominant logical-brain is “resting”, e.g. driving, sewing, ironing.
    As soon as you start the logical process of finding your notebook, finding a page and then booting up your language centre in order to record your thoughts, all that logical mental processing pushes those creative thoughts aside (completely aside in many cases).

    Try initially not writing them down perfectly, just capture the creative “feel” with a cluster diagram or machine-gun points. Do this very quickly and as briefly as possible, you are after a “feel” no more.

    Then inspect what you just wrote and use it to pull back those creative thoughts that you might otherwise have believed were completely lost. Once you have a pointer to them, you can take as long as you like in recording them in your journal.

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