Using Journaling as a Writing Tool


I have written in a journal, diary, notebook – what I call it depends on my mood that day – off and on since I was seven years old, which is when I received my first journal as a Christmas gift. It was one of those simple kids’ diaries with a plastic flowery cover and cheap metal lock that could easily be picked with a bobby pin, but I fell in love with it.

As one of five children, the household was often noisy and I found that writing in my journal was a way of taking some alone time. Throughout the years, I wrote about my classes, my first crushes and best friends, fights with my siblings, anything that was part of my life. When I filled that first journal, I moved through various other ones, which were sometimes elaborate decorated ones, or, as when I went through my Harriet the Spy phase in middle school, plain black and white marbled composition notebooks. I carried my journal with me to school in my backpack, and during my angsty teenage years, snuck it in among my class notebooks so I could even write during math class.

As I have gotten older, technology has popularized other forms of writing, but I still prefer to write with pen and paper when it comes to journaling. Although I like to type when doing other forms of writing, the tactile nature of physically writing in a journal is therapeutic for me. Stepping away from the computer and turning towards a notebook for a while helps me separate my “work” writing from my journaling.

Below are some of the ways I have used my journaling to aid my writing process.

Relieving anxiety

I am a huge supporter of using journaling as a tool to reduce anxiety. Being able to write out my feelings or worries helps me to gain perspective on them, and mental health professionals often recommend people to keep a journal. Sometimes, just putting the words down on paper make me see that things aren’t so bad as I imagined them to be just a few moments earlier. Also, as I have mentioned in a previous post, I personally find it difficult to write in the times where I am overcome with anxiety in my personal life. Journaling can be a way for me to recenter and refocus during those times and allow me to transition into the more structured writing that I may be aiming to accomplish, such as essay or fiction writing.

Story ideas

Although I have typically thought of my journal as a (rather biased) record of my own life, I am often surprised at how often other people’s lives have found their way onto the pages. I have reread journals from years before and found mention of someone who had crossed my life fleetingly at that time, possibly in a college class for instance, and later resurfaced in my life as a co-worker or friend of a friend. I have also written about encounters with strangers or situations that struck me as interesting that day, which I can use in future stories.

Writing practice

Some days I find it hard to sit at the computer and come up with anything to write. On those days, turning to my journal, I seem to rid myself of any filters. I can start off writing about the most mundane events that morning, whether it was pouring a cup of coffee or feeding the cats, and simply writing complete sentences such as these help me to loosen up. More often than not, after a few paragraphs about my day, my mind has started turning over some of those events and those people I met, and I am able to get some ideas flowing.


When I flip through my old journals, I am amazed at how I can see my priorities and interests shifting. The things I worried about when I was fourteen compared to those at twenty-two are worlds apart. Seeing my words as I wrote them down at different times in my life help me remember what it was like to be a self-conscious teenager or to be a naive college student. When I am writing stories, these perspectives can help me write more authentically from different characters’ points of view.

At nearly thirty years old, I still turn to a journal when I am feeling overwhelmed or in need of writing inspiration. When I worked in the school setting, I urged students to keep journals as well, and sometimes, when they would share a poem they had written or a writing sample that was especially meaningful for them, I could see how useful journals were for them, as well.

I would love to hear about your experiences with journaling. Leave a comment below, and I will get back to you!

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