Do You Journal?


Look at all the lovely notebooks.

From the top:

Emerald Leuchtturm-Current Bullet Journal, containing calendar events, daily schedule, car maintenance, random notes taken when the appropriate journal wasn’t available.

White Paper-Masako Kubo–Stapled, not bound.  Last summer’s dream journal, reference.

Red HC Moleskine–Long term ideas for novels and stories since 2011

Light Blue Leuchtturm–Mid-End of 2016 Bullet Journal. I didn’t get into Bullet Journaling until late last year. Now using for blog thoughts and ideas

Teal Flexible Moleskine–Current Morning Pages Journal

Bright Orange Moleskine Notebook–Short story development

Buff Flexible Moleskine--Novel (Formerly The Intruder) WIP notes

Orang/Red Moleskine Notebook–Novel (Untitled cozy–Yeah, gonna give that genre a shot)

Bright Pink Leuchtturm1917 Master Slim–This started out as my 2017 Bullet Journal, but it proved too large for toting around. The 5×8 version (top) fits nicely in any purse or bag. I consider this my Journal of As Yet Unrecognized Possibilities.

For somebody who only owned one non-spiral bound notebook six years ago–the Red HC Moleskine–I’ve certainly made up for lost time. What you don’t see are the notebooks for my last three novels, the Bliss House Trilogy, because I’ve archived them.

As a young writer, I wasn’t much of a journaler. I wanted to write, but I was too embarrassed to write down things that might look silly to other people and carried around my ideas in my head. Of course, journals are meant to be private. I have no idea who I thought would want to even peek at my journals. The words were hardly titillating, the ideas tentative and unpolished. It’s not like I kept money or passwords between the pages.

But now that I’m a woman of a certain age, journals have become critical tools. Not only do I have more pressing/interesting  ideas, I also have a memory like a sieve. Journals are my full-body, writerly Spanx. They keep everything tucked in and looking, if not good, at least organized.

I’ve become very attached lately to the notion of ideas floating from writer to writer, looking for the right one to tell the story. It’s an idea I first read of in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. She talks about starting to write a novel that had been sort of pestering her–but she struggled, and it just wasn’t happening. So she temporarily shelved it. But then she talked to novelist Ann Pachett, who described her own work-in-progress. And the ideas were nearly identical. But Pachett’s book was going very well, and she later finished it and sold it.

By writing ideas down, I hope to tether them at least for a while. Collect them, live with them, let them nurture themselves with the attention I can give them. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone back to the pages of that Red HC Moleskin when I needed a quick idea fix.

Still, it’s a rather intimidating pile of notebooks. They don’t travel easily, and I’ve only recently gotten used to having the Bullet Journal always with me. For a while I tried an app called Wanderlist, but tapping reminders and notes into my phone makes much less of an impression on me than when I write things down. Then I forget to look at the app often enough.

Tell us how you keep track of your ideas and schedule. Do you journal? Or do you go the electronic route?



This entry was posted in #writing, A Writer's Life, Writing, writing tips by Laura Benedict. Bookmark the permalink.

About Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict is the Edgar- and ITW Thriller Award- nominated author of eight novels of suspense, including The Stranger Inside (Publishers Weekly starred review). Her Bliss House gothic trilogy includes The Abandoned Heart, Charlotte’s Story (Booklist starred review), and Bliss House. Her short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and in numerous anthologies like Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads, The Lineup: 20 Provocative Women Writers, and St. Louis Noir. A native of Cincinnati, she lives in Southern Illinois with her family. Visit her at

18 thoughts on “Do You Journal?

  1. I am absolutely a digital notetaker. OneNote is where all my ramblings live, plus clips from sites like The Kill Zone, other blogs, images, emails, even music and videos — everything is funneled to OneNote.

    Later, I can read, highlight, clip and copy, and organize.

    Ideas grow organically into full world building and nothing is ever lost because I have a double-redundant back-up system.

    I’ve been using a keyboard for so long I get impatient with pen and paper these days — too slow!



    • I absolutely swear by OneNote but weirdly, have only used it for my day job. I never seem to gravitate toward it for purposes of writing. But in terms of functionality, it’s an excellent store-keeper of info.

      • I overlooked OneNote’s potential for years. Now that it integrates with just about everything, it’s a great GTD tool, as well an efficient place to keep meta data on all my books — when the number of titles you have creeps up towards three digits, having an organized way to access the metadata you need becomes a sanity-saver.

        Plus, as I’ve mentioned, it is a superb story-development tool.

        • Can you give me a ‘for example’ on how you organize OneNote for your writing. Let’s say you have a notebook for “Novel X”. How do you organize your tabs? Like do you have one for research, one for outline, character info, etc.? I’m always curious about these things cuz I’m always looking for ways to be better organized.

    • Tracy, I do like the idea of collecting clips in one place, rather than having bookmarks on four different devices. You sound like you’re great at organizing so your creativity can flow.

  2. For me, keeping track of ideas for fiction and journaling are two separate things. As far as fiction goes, I have a folder on my computer simply titled “My Writing.” Within that, there are individual folders. Let’s say I get a brainstorm for a new story idea, I immediately create a new file folder in “My Writing” titled “Novel [brief word description of concept]”. That way the idea is a living breathing entity and ready for me to tackle it whenever. If I’m not near my computer, I email myself ideas or thoughts that I add to that file later.

    As to journaling: for me it is simply thoughts and tracking of day to day life–most of the time simply a utilitarian tool in recording things that happened, decisions I’m trying to make etc. I do this on the computer as well, because my handwriting sucks. I’ve lost track of paper journal entries that I never got around to loading into the computer.

    But interesting thing about computer vs. hand writing: Lately I’ve been going through a phase where I WANT to hand write more. AND I don’t like to do it near my computer because I just feel the need for them to be separate spaces.

    I have to move apartments in a couple months, and I not only want to write more but also chase the visual arts too (drawing and painting) so when I move, I AM going to make my “utilitarian” and my “creative” space separate spaces in the new apartment.

    For the creative side, I’m going to set up a drafting table like this one:

    We’ll see how that affects my creative side going forward.

    • Your urge to handwrite some things is interesting. You’re so smart to follow it. It’s a good example of how the work dictates itself–there’s something different and important it’s trying to tell you.

      Cool table. (I love Overstock.) Be sure to get a chair with good support so that your feet are comfortable.

  3. I keep track of everything in Evernote. I keep wanting to use a paper journal but I type faster than I write, and I don’t always remember to carry notebooks with me, but I always have my phone!

    • Good for you, Icy. The typing issue is interesting. I do find sometimes when I’m free-journaling that my ideas come much faster than I can write. So it feels slow, almost like I’m repeating myself. But I also text with one finger, lol, so unless I have a full keyboard, there’s little difference. ?

  4. There are two things that are most difficult for me: to forgive my enemies, including political enemies, as the Bible teaches, and to keep a journal.

    To paraphrase a friend of mine, “A journal is not something you start. It’s something you start over.


    • I hear you, Jim. I’m constantly starting and restarting. I finally had to drop my worries about getting it right, and just try to have fun with them.

  5. Love the notebooks, but I don’t journal. I’m too busy writing novels. My thoughts for future scenes and stories are scattered on scraps of paper. Wish I had the knack for using those lovely notebooks.

  6. Ooh, pretty notebooks! My only version of a journal would be the Notes tool on my cell phone and iPad. I keep a running log of jotted down thoughts and lists there, everything from links related to research, to grocery lists and random musings. Writing related work is usually longhand and messy, kept in a homely grouping of legal pads and school notebooks. Trying to maintain beautiful notebooks would for me be like trying to look pulled together while writing: ain’t gonna happen! ?

  7. Sounds like you’ve got the perfect mix, Kathryn. Once I stopped buying spiral notebooks in piles for the kids, I decided to treat myself. I went through a period where my notebooks said “SCIENCE” or “ENGLISH” on the front–cast offs. Confession: that photo is the first time I actually knew where every single notebook was at the same time.

  8. I have been using the long, thin, reporter note pads for daily jottings of lines or ideas~ they fit in the back pocket of jeans, and can take a sitting-beating for a while, though the paper can bleed or see-thru with certain inks.
    And I’ve (almost) always got a pen with me (and at least one pair of pocket-stained jeans to show for it).

    To flesh out or draft things, I prefer the 5×7-ish notebooks usually given out at trade shows and such, college ruled if possible.

    I will use notes on my phone when I have to, and transcribe to paper later.

    My handwriting is best described as poor lettering, since my cursive is curseable. Like reading “analog” books, there’s something about the feel of pen on paper a keyboard can’t match.

    Nice to see you have so many journals~ I thought my collection was a symptom of my packratitis~ and have been pitying my kids when they eventually have to go through my “stuff…”


  9. I’ve always found that journaling enhances the creative process. My writing is deeper, richer, when I work to get some of the extraneous thoughts down. Day One is my current journal of choice and blog drafter, though I love a good Bulket Journal… my Quo Vadis Habana is my business go to. Fun blog, Laura! We can all use some journaling.

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