Journaling. Why bother?


If you’re not already addicted to journaling, then you are probably like me:  You can’t figure out why on earth you’d waste the time.

Why not use the time dedicated journalists waste, and write fresh manuscript, instead?

For me, writing fiction often helps me resolve issues in my own life, as my characters sort through the problems I’ve been facing, and jolt me into different, fresh perspectives.  Writing to my “dear diary” would be redundant.

At least, that’s the way I always thought of journaling.

However, there are a hundred ways to journal–possibly a different way for every journalist–and some of them are actually useful and worth the time to adopt.

Here’s just four of them you might consider using:

Teaching Journal

Yogi Bhajan said:

“If you want to master something, teach it.”

There’s a lot we indie fiction writers must master.  As we are usually introverts, and words are our preferred medium, one of the best ways to learn a new skill or break down a new, complex topic, is to teach ourselves.

Once you’ve read a book, article or blog post, put the source material aside and write a journal entry explaining the new subject yourself, as if you are the teacher.  

The trick is to assume that the reader knows nothing about the subject, and you must make it as clear as you can.  The act of having to outline the topic on paper will sort it out in your mind, so you retain the new information far better than you would from merely reading, or even reading and highlighting.

Quite often, these teaching entries can be repurposed as blog posts, source material for non-fiction books, etc., so the time isn’t completely wasted (not that it is a waste in the first place).

You can also index, cross-index the entries, or tag them, so the information will pop up when you search, later.

If you regularly write stories that cover subjects you know nothing about (I do!), then your research into those subject areas can be summarized in your teaching journal and used for the planning of upcoming books.

Commonplace Book

A commonplace book is an old-fashioned idea that is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

When books were rare and hard to come by, and far too precious to write in the margins, underline and all the other marginalia practices we use these days, thinkers of the day would keep commonplace books in which they wrote any tidbits and passages they came across in their reading that struck them as worthwhile retaining.  The books would become concentrated volumes of the wisdom of the era.

My 21st century version of a commonplace book is OneNote, to which I can clip anything I want, tag it, sort it, and review the sorted notebooks regularly.  I have summaries of how-to books I’ve read (and links to the books themselves), useful blog posts outlined in bullet points and inspirational quotes.  The range of subjects is enormous, and include philosophy, science, futurism, writing fiction, publishing…any every research subject that has ever intrigued me enough to consider incorporating it into a novel, somewhere.

My “teaching” summaries are included–I’ve combined both types of journaling in one.

A commonplace book is a great way of boiling down and making manageable the huge about of information that is dumped upon us every day.

The habit of reviewing the commonplace book is essential, though.  Otherwise, you’re just collecting more useless information.

Revolving Events Diary

I love this idea, and have put it into practice for myself only recently.

Daily, you add a simple list of events, or perhaps some short comments about what happened that day.  It pays to keep the practice daily, or the build up of passing days will make you forget what happened a week ago.

You can record business events or personal events — whatever you think might be of interest to you in the future.  (But also check out the business journal, below.)

At the end of the year, you turn back to January 1, and on January 1st’s page, you record this year’s events just above (or below) last year’s.

The diary is perpetual.

After a few years, as an example, January 1 would look like this:


  • Event
  • Event – comment!
  • Event


  • Event
  • Event


  • Event
  • Event
  • Comment


  • Event
  • Event

The value in this type of perpetual diary comes after just one year, when you go to enter events beneath last year’s.  You are reminded of last year’s events and what was happening in your life on that day.  As the diary ages, it grows in value as an interesting archive that you automatically review each day.

Business Journal

Business journals are far more mundane, but they’re excellent business practice, and a great resource.  My bookkeeper encouraged me to begin keeping a business journal.  I don’t record in it every day, but when I make a decision that has the potential to impact the business, I record the decision in the journal, along with some basic reasoning for the decision, and hoped-for outcomes.

A properly recorded and maintained journal can be used to support records during an audit (although, as always, check with your own accountant, as tax laws change from country to country).  They also provide an archive of previous decisions and their effectiveness, which you can consult to help make choices you’re facing right now.

You can consider a business journal as a “meta-record”.

There you have it.  Four different types of journals, none of which involve murmuring secrets upon the page.  Each of them have potential to help your indie career, too.

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