3 Things A Writer’s Journal Isn’t

3 Things A Writer’s Journal Isn’t

Have you started a journal? Have you stopped? In this post, we look at three things a writer’s journal isn’t.


Apparently, the literary community wants you to know why aspiring writers should keep a journal. Thoreau gave the same advice centuries ago: “Is there any other work for [a poet] but a good journal?”

But what exactly is a writer’s journal anyway? Is it a diary? A logbook? A planner?

Online advice offers competing perspectives on what a journal should be or how to write in it properly. And most of this advice misses the mark. Why?

It’s because a writer’s journal has no rules. That’s the fun of it.

The Low-Down On Journaling

The writer’s journal is a play space catered to every writer. It’s a free-for-all. It’s an opportunity not to follow directions. It’s an invitation to do whatever, whenever you want.

Many writers don’t know what to do with this freedom. So much of writing revolves around grammar rules, submission guidelines, best and worst practices. When you take away all that structure, what do you do?

In come the bloggers. In comes the contradictory internet advice.

It’s not that the blogs and listicles offer up bad ideas. A lot of them are great places to start. But as these articles dominate search results, writers get the wrong idea about journals.

[Suggested reading: 5 Tips For Writers On Keeping A Journal]

3 Things A Writer’s Journal Isn’t

In the spirit of internet list-making, here are three things that a writer’s journal isn’t:

1. A writer’s journal is not a daily obligation (if you don’t want it to be).

We’ve all heard by now that writing every day builds skill. Or: forming a writing habit could turn you professional. That’s a tall order to fill if you’re serious about writing.

But that advice doesn’t have to apply to writer’s journals.

Don’t treat your journal like a chore or a skill-building mechanism. It’ll only make you more likely to abandon it. It’s like those ambitious new years’ resolutions no one can keep.

You want to pick up your journal and feel inspired. You want to be able to flip through it and see your ideas and thoughts on the page.

If opening your writer’s journal fills you with dread, something is wrong.

2. A writer’s journal is not all your best ideas (if you don’t want it to be).

Of course, everyone wants to feel inspired. But don’t feel pressured to constantly be inspiring when you write in a journal.

You shouldn’t be afraid to commit words to a page because they’re not “good enough”. Anything goes in a journal. It’s yours and yours only. Work through ideas, try them on for size.

So many people stop journaling because they’re intimidated. What if I write something stupid? What if it doesn’t make sense?

It doesn’t have to make sense.

3. A writer’s journal is not pretty (if you don’t want it to be).

Blogging has changed our expectations of how journals “should” look. The adjacent community of bullet journalers has beautiful, photo-worthy spreads.

Suddenly, there’s an expectation that a journal must look good to be good.

This added pressure can stop writers from expressing themselves. Your journal doesn’t need stickers. It doesn’t need scripted headers. A writer’s journal doesn’t need to be pretty enough to show off. It just needs to be written in.

In conclusion

This post told you things a writer’s journal isn’t and it didn’t tell you what to write in your writer’s journal. Good.

Journaling comes with nothing but freedom. Don’t make rules for yourself (If you don’t want to).

Anita Trimbur by Anita Trimbur. Anita is a writer and litfic enthusiast. She has a BA in English from the University of Pittsburgh. Find her on Twitter @anitatrimbur where she gushes about books.

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Posted on: 18th June 2020