Journaling without the tedium

The Writer has found some specific approaches that put the creativity and ideas back into writing
By Ruth O'Neil | Published: March 27, 2012


Journaling can be fun, but everyday journaling can be tedious, monotonous and boring. At least that’s the case in my life. I spend each day struggling to keep up with all that has to be accomplished. Life seems to be going faster and faster, while I am slowing down. I end up falling farther and farther behind. And what is there to write about every day anyway? Let’s face it—most of our lives are not exciting enough to write about on a daily basis. Many of us get up, get the kids off to school, and go to work. We come home, fix dinner, do homework, bathe the children, put them to bed, and do a few chores before we fall into bed ourselves. Our lives are routine, with only minor interruptions of excitement.

The good news is that there are other forms of journaling we can do that may spark our creativity and give us ideas to use later in our writing. I have several different blank journals, which are readily available at most dollar stores. You can also use notebooks if you prefer. Buy them at back-to-school time for a pittance. Keep the journals handy and use each one for different categories.

• Start writing down memories from your childhood. Surely, there is a plethora of events and images you can recall. Remember how it felt when you tried out and made the basketball team or cheerleading squad? There was the time you gave yourself a black eye pretending to be Wonder Woman while playing in the woods one day—you got a little too dizzy with all that spinning and ran right smack into a tree. (Yes, I really did!) What about that neighborhood kid no one wanted to be around? What did he look and smell like? How did he dress?

Even if your childhood memories are not something you want to remember because they’re unhappy, you can still incorporate those unpleasant memories in your writing. Write an article about those experiences and your reaction to them. (If you don’t want people to know it’s your childhood, use a pen name.) How did you feel then? How do you feel now? You have no idea whom you might help because they’re in the same situation right now and don’t quite know how to handle it, at least until they read an article you’ve pulled out of one of your journals. Don’t underestimate the negative experiences in your life; they can be quite useful.

If you have trouble recalling early memories, siblings can be a great help, since they have a tendency to remember all the things you wanted to forget. My sisters have reminded me of so many of my blunders that I wish I never asked them for help.

People from childhood who have stuck in our memories can help develop characters for longer works, such as novels. Remember that teacher you had who really helped you with your schoolwork? What about the friend who lived down the road for just one summer? Your childhood memories can also provide incidents you can use to move the plot along in your stories if you are searching for just the right event.

• Children can themselves be a treasure trove of stories. I have begun a journal for each of my children, which I hope they’ll enjoy many years into the future. You never know when they will say or do something funny, or foolish. I’ve had several of these things published as fillers. All types of publications love cute kid sayings. Those fillers may not pay a whole lot, but they can often be resold over and over.

Even if you never pull anything out of the journals you keep for your kids, they will make a great gift later in their lives.

Kids also give lots of ideas for stories for children’s magazines and parenting magazines. My oldest daughter has given me more opportunities to be published with things she has experienced. If you’re going through something difficult with your kids, you can bet there will be someone who will be going through the same thing and may need some advice.

Write down all of your children’s important dates and your feelings at the time. We often forget how we really felt when they won their awards or succeeded in a big accomplishment, but if we jot down a few words during the moment, they can help us recall those emotions when we need to for our writing. Actors use sensory recall when they are preparing for a role; why can’t we as writers?

My children have given me ideas for entire stories based on one incident. I have written short fiction inspired by the clothing they wear, their struggles fitting in with other kids, even on what they want to do with their lives, not to mention articles on just being a parent.

• One of my friends uses a journal to pray each morning. She does a lot of devotional writing for the Christian markets. While she may not be thinking of articles as she is writing down her prayers, she can often go back and pull out ideas, and many times all she has to do is type into her computer what she has already written. With a few changes in format, she is all set to send out another article.

Journaling is also good for those small bits of writing time. We all have to wait in line somewhere, whether it’s the DMV, the bank, the repair shop. Sometimes two minutes is all that’s necessary to jot down a short memory, or at least a couple of sentences of it to help you continue the thought later.

During such waits, you can also be taking notes on characters. I call it people watching. If you take time to notice people, you’ll find all sorts of interesting characters. Does someone catch your eye because of his or her appearance? How do they walk? Do they have any interesting mannerisms? Write down descriptions.

Get a whole journal full of diverse characters, then find pictures of people in magazines who resemble those characters. Keep the pictures, along with the descriptions you wrote, together in the journal. Later, when you need a new idea for a character, you’ll have a whole journal to look through.

• Parents and grandparents are great for memories. They often have hilarious stories cooped up in their heads just waiting for someone to ask for them. My brother had to write about a grandparent’s memory for his college English class. I can’t remember exactly how the whole story went, but I do know there was a chicken at the bottom of an outhouse that ended up being given to a doctor as payment. On a more serious note, maybe parents or grandparents could tell you about a war they were in. Take them out to lunch and scribble down whatever they want to tell you. Such articles are great for history magazines.

A word of advice: Always keep pen and paper handy. A great present from my husband was a little notebook in a metal case that fits in my purse. I always have it with me if an idea or memory surfaces. Even if I’m driving, I’ll have one of my children write down a few words for me. Sometimes they look at me funny, but it’s worth it for a memory not lost.

Keep journals all around the house, in the car, and in your purse or pocket. Ideas will come to you at the strangest places and times. You will be surprised at what objects you see or scents you smell or words you hear that trigger your memory. When my husband bought a new truck, the smell reminded me of my dad and all the times he took me to work with him when I was a child. Those were special times.

In my experience, memories come in bunches. If you’re someplace where you can’t really write, jot down just enough of the memory so you can write thoroughly about it later.

Lastly, what are you waiting for? Go buy some journals and get busy writing. Even if you don’t have any children and your grandparents and parents are deceased, you did have a childhood and you can begin writing down all your memories. You will be surprised at what comes of this.

Ruth O’Neil, of Lynchburg, VA., has been a freelance writer for more than 20 years. Her work has appeared in numerous publications.