One of the most common suggestions to help writers keep their work together is a writer’s journal. But what is a writer’s journal? I’m so glad you asked.

a woman with blue nails writing in a notebook with the text "So, What is a Writer's Journal"

A writer’s journal is whatever it needs to be. And depending on what stage you’re at in the writing process, it may morph into many different things. If you’re one of those people who looks at an old blank journal and thinks to themself, “Oh no! I can’t be defiling these pristine pages with my writing,” then a writer’s journal is probably not for you.

But if you’re ready to get your hands dirty (with ink) and fill up some pages with stuff you absolutely have to get out of your head, I think you’re going to love having a writer’s journal.

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What is a Writer’s Journal?

Keeping a writer’s journal is like having a catch-all for your brain. When you’re writing a novel, you need a place to put all the information that’s swimming around in your head. Ideas will come to you even when you’re not writing. (Especially when you’re not writing.) And the writer’s journal gives you place to keep them.

To me, a writer’s journal is a place to put all the thoughts and ideas you have about your novel project. There’s the actual story, and you’ll be putting that into the document where you’re actively writing the story. But the writer’s journal is where you put the list of things you need to remember, or random ideas you had about the world you’ve created.

You can journal about the writing process and make notes about how writing at a certain time of day is best for you. You can also use that space to work through issues you’re having in the actual story itself.

There are tons of writer’s journal examples on YouTube, and many writers have videos that walk you through the process of using theirs. But please know that you don’t have to use a writer’s journal in a specific way. You can do with it as you please.

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And I’ve talked a lot about what is a writer’s notebook, or how to organize a writer’s notebook. Know that some folks may approach a writer’s notebook the way some approach a writer’s journal. To me, a writer’s notebook is for stuff outside a particular project, and the journal is specific to a project. But that doesn’t mean it has to be that way for you. Do whatever you want, and if you want to start a writer’s notebook, go for it.

And if you want some writer’s notebook examples, YouTube has you covered.

Writer’s Journal Ideas

There are tons of writer’s journal ideas out there, and ultimately, it’s up to you what to include in a writing journal. Here are some ways a writer’s journal can help you organize ideas for your novel.

001: Figure out plot issues.

I always feel really brilliant when I come up with a story idea. It isn’t until the afterglow of that idea has worn off that I realize there are so many holes in the story.

And while a lot of plotting is sitting and thinking and daydreaming and staring out a window, it’s also writing down little bits and pieces. You can write down the ideas as they come to you, and you can even sketch the layout of a particular scene to help you better understand how something would work.

Plot holes are always coming at you from all sides, and if you have some space to work through them and write down ideas as they strike you can always come back and look at the ideas together. Having a place where you keep the ideas and can revisit after they’ve had some time to settle can help you see what you need to do.

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And once you have a ton of ideas in one place, you can connect dots and see what you can combine to fix the plot holes.

002: Record ideas about your WIP.

If your novel project is more intricate or involved, you can keep a running list of ideas. These ideas could be about any part of your novel.

Maybe you need to keep some ideas for the world you’ve created. They could be about the magic system, the currency, or how gravity affects the planet your characters are exploring.

It could be ideas for a character. Maybe you have a character with a cool backstory, and you need a place to keep all the tags and traits you want that character to have.

003: Keep track of characters.

If you’re writing a book with a lot of characters, you’re going to need a way to keep those characters straight, and you need to know how each of those characters relate to one another. A writer’s journal is a great place for you to do that.

If the notebook you’re using is big enough, you can draw out a family tree or something that visually shows all the characters know one another. Don’t hesitate to use a tip-in, where you tape some paper to the edge of the page, and expand the space you have.

You can also dedicate a page to each character so you can have all their physical and personality characteristics in one place.

004: Figure out the timeline of the story.

I’m terrible with timelines. Seriously. I don’t know when shit happens in the story world I’ve created. To be fair, though, I really don’t know when shit happens in my actual life, so at least I’m consistent.

Having some space to suss out the timeline of your story is a great way to make your story make sense. You can figure out what happens before the story even starts, and keep the events clear and in order. This is especially important if you’re working on a series, or a book with very specific events that affect your characters.

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A novel that’s about people meeting up for coffee and chatting? Maybe not necessary.

A novel about two people meeting up for coffee as political events spiral toward an inevitable war? Very necessary.

005: Build the world.

I mentioned this is a bit in the point about recording your ideas. But if you have a world that’s different from the world we live in, you need a place to hold that information.

World building takes a lot of time and effort, and it’s a very detailed process. So keeping those details in one place is crucial. I’ve shared this book chock-full of world building questions before, and it’s definitely a good place to start in your world building journey. But a writer’s journal may be the best option for you simply because you need space to think about how the magic system affects the politics of the world, and how the politics may affect a particular magic user.

And how the money is affected.

And the societal structure.

And the physics of the world when that magical energy is released.

And so on.

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Do You Keep a Writer’s Journal?

To you, what is a writer’s journal? How do you track all the stuff you have going on for your WIP? As a writer, what tools do you need to help you keep everything in one place? Do you prefer to keep your writer’s journal digitally?

2 Responses

  1. Thanks, Marisa.

    My version of a writer’s journal is a file on my computer. There’s no way I’ll carry a notebook with me while I’m gardening, shopping, or standing in line at the bank. I update the computer file from my collection of sticky notes, memos on my cellphone, scribblings on scrap paper, etc.

    The trick is to make the updates a daily practice. *wink*

    1. That is definitely the trick! (I’m so bad at remembering to do stuff like that.) And I definitely have a phone note or two full of ideas or bits and pieces. Though, now that I work from home and rarely leave it, I’ve been able to keep most of my stuff in the notebook.

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