Stuff You’ll Want to Read: On Keeping a Journal

Why and how to keep a journal or notebook.

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Learn why keeping a journal is so important for creative people (and everyone else) and how to get started.

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I have been a devotee of morning pages on and off throughout my adult life, and have been doing them almost daily for about three years now.Why and how to keep a journal or notebook.

I love having a place to put thoughts that aren’t meant to be shared with anyone else. It’s part dream journal, part to-do list, part venting and remembering what’s going on in my life. It contains first drafts and wild ideas and mundane stuff that makes me crazy when I write about it day after day.

Journaling as a Cornerstone of Creative Life

Many people find keeping a journal to be a key part of their creative process. It can help clarify your thinking or clear out the cobwebs. It’s a way to set goals, keep track of progress and celebrate success.

More generally, keeping a notebook gives you a place to store ideas, snatches of conversation, quotes from books you’re reading, and other ephemera that might prove handy someday.

commonplace books
Commonplace book by Winston Hearn via Flickr.

I’m obsessed with the idea of commonplace books, a place where you write down meaningful flotsom from your readings, viewings, observations, etc. It’s a physical representation of the collected wisdom of your life. (If you’ve read or watched A Series of Unfortunate Events, Klaus has a commonplace book).

This old post from Thought Catalog by Ryan Holiday covers the basic hows and whys of having a commonplace book, though his is on index cards. The Open Collections Program at Harvard has a great collection of digitized commonplace books, and there’s a great collection at the Harry Ransom Center at UT Austin, too (see this article from the Daily Beast about some of their collection), as well as the Beinecke library at Yale.

commonplace book recipes
Recipes from a 17th century commonplace book, from the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

It’s sort of a manual version of Pinterest, or a really souped-up bullet journal.

I have tried bullet journaling, too, but I’m not great about keeping up with it.

On Starting and Keeping a Journal

Bianca Stone says keeping notebooks is part of creative compulsive disorder, and something that is to some extent being lost now that Pinterest really is a thing. I am such a lover of all things analog, though, I think I’ll keep keeping my notebooks.the value of keeping a journal and how to get started.

Thomas Oppong explores the value of keeping a journal, which he calls a life-changing habit, and explores some ways you might start cultivating this habit for yourself, such as:

  • writing bullet points about your day
  • writing for five to 10 minutes a day
  • starting a gratitude journal

Those are all good places to start if going straight to three pages a day seems like too much for you. Beginning to collect quotes, or even just a book list with thoughts about what you have read, is another good place to start.

Don’t worry about the kind of notebook you use; I love wide-ruled, spiral bound notebooks for my morning pages and have a Moleskine for my bullet journal.

You can always adjust your methods and materials as you go on. Starting is the most important thing!

Do you keep a journal, a commonplace book, a bullet journal or some other kind of notebook? I’d love to hear about it!


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