3 Ways a Creative Writing Journal Can Improve Your Story and Defeat Self-DoubtJan 03, 2022
Post written by guest writer Jessica Leibe.
Notebooks and writers go hand-in-hand. Who doesn’t love the feel and promise of fresh pages and the possibilities they hold within? There are a variety of uses for writerly notebooks. And one use — if it’s not already — should be for journaling. Having a dedicated creative writing journal offers so many benefits, such as beating imposter syndrome and recognizing poor writing patterns or behaviors. But I believe the top three ways to use a creative writing journal are:
- Freewriting for writer’s block
- Plotting and world-building
- Expelling negativity and self-doubt
#1 — Freewriting for writer’s block
There’s nothing worse than being on a roll with your writing only to hit a brick wall mid-way. You’re not sure what happened. You had everything planned out. So what went wrong? Honestly, sometimes nothing. At least nothing you can put your finger on.
If you find yourself stuck behind that wall with no way up or over, it’s time to break out your creative writing journal. Set a timer for 15 minutes and freewrite. Don’t try to figure out why you’re stuck. Simply begin writing down all the current thoughts in your head. They might make sense, they might not.
Once you’ve cleared your head start asking “What if..?” What are the big questions surrounding your story? Do you have a general sense of what their purpose is? Do you have a concise answer for them? If not, work on answering those questions. Come up with as many as you can even if they seem a little unconventional. No idea is bad. In fact, the more you have to work with, the better your chance is of finding the answer that’ll lead you out of your rut.
I once resolved a major midpoint issue with this method. The direction I thought the story was going in was no longer working so I took out my journal and started asking, “What if..?” I brainstormed a list of 20 possible answers. In the end, I combined two of them and was able to move confidently forward with my story.
Know that you may end up with more questions than answers. That’s great! Stories are all about answering questions. Now, see if you’re able to move forward in your story. If not, try another freewriting session. Do as many as you need to get unstuck.
#2 — Plotting and World-Building
If you’re a plotter, I’m sure you have tons of notes scattered all over your house. On the corner of napkins, on sticky notes, and in the margins of books or your planner. When you’re planning a new story the ideas come fast and furious. Almost too fast to keep up with. A creative writing journal is a perfect spot to capture it all. No more lost papers or wondering where you put that sticky note with some snappy dialogue you wrote when motivation struck. It all goes in your journal.
Take some time and collect any notes you have and slip them inside your journal. It doesn’t matter if they’re on scrap pieces of paper or index cards. Get them all in the same place. If you can, rewrite them in your journal. This way when it’s time to expand on that plot or world-build — if you’re writing a fictional world — you have everything together in one place.
I’ve plotted many story ideas in my journal. Some entries are literally blurbs I came up with on the spot. Writing it down doesn’t mean something will come out of it, but it’s at least out of my head and captured on the page. This way when I’m looking to start a new story, I can skim through my old entries for inspiration. They don’t have to be completely fleshed out. They just need to get the creative juices flowing.
#3 — Expelling negativity and self-doubt
One of my favorite ways to use a creative writing journal is as a journal itself. I use it to expel negative thoughts and self-doubt. Writers are well-acquainted with imposter syndrome. Even published authors admit they feel crippling self-doubt at times. No matter what we do, self-doubt is part of a writer’s journey.
A daily journaling habit can help as it can be the place you release all of your frustrations. I can’t tell you how many entries I’ve written where I talked about my failings and my anger about the writing process. Why can’t I figure this plot point out? Why can’t I seem to nail down this character’s motivation?
Journaling gives you a safe space to be a critic of your story. Yes, you always want to champion your work, but sometimes you need to look at things with a critical eye. This helps you discover what’s wrong. Defeating self-doubt also clears the way for you to make sound decisions about your story. Will it come back? Of course. But now you know what to do to get rid of it.
When you rid your mind of unwanted or negative feelings, you're giving yourself energy. Energy to write a complicated scene. Energy to step into the mind of a character when you otherwise couldn't because you weren't in the right headspace. It's amazing what clearing your head can do for your writing.
These benefits merely scratch the surface of what you can do with a creative writing journal. The questions you can answer, the worlds you can build, and the characters you can create are endless.
So, if you have a stack of notebooks at home (and I’m sure you do), dedicate one as your go-to writing journal. Make it a habit to write something in it every day. Even if what you write isn’t writing-related. Who knows? Your ordinary life might deliver some exciting plot points for your next or current story.
Jessica Leibe is a copywriter and proofreader from New Jersey. She is a strong advocate for personal growth and is always on the hunt for ways to improve herself. You can follow her writing journey and other interests on her Instagram.
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