Stepping Stones Blog

Purposeful Journaling

artist wayFor several years now I have been faithful to writing Morning Pages, the brainchild of Julia Cameron in her classic book, The Creative Way.  The concept is to handwrite three pages when I first awake (or type its equivalent of 750 words).  Its purpose is to dump the mental clutter in my head in order to make space for creativity.

I tend to use these pages as a diary, however, documenting yesterday’s activities and creating today’s task list.  While this does help clear my mind, and I do like a daily record of my life, I must confess that I do not consider this “real” writing.  I am not improving my craft, and I am not making progress on any current projects.

I have recently discovered, however, that this journaling process has a benefit:  I rarely stop to edit, but rather keep writing no matter what.  I don’t spend a lot of time pre-planning each sentence; the process tends to guide the content.  Now granted, what I write is not eloquent prose, but at the end of the session, there are words on a page which can be crafted into something more polished, if I choose.

When I sit down to work on a particular writing project, however, I immediately freeze. I feel pressured to produce something worthy.  I struggle with knowing how to start, and I frequently pause to review and edit.  I lose my train of thought and become frustrated.  In the end, I am not pleased with the product and have failed to enjoy the process.

While I write consistently, I am not happy with the results.  I don’t just want to put words on paper; I want those words to eventually mean something – a blog post, a personal essay, a book.  I feel as though I am on a stationary bike, pedaling like crazy but getting nowhere.

On Monday morning I received an email from Jeff Goins inviting me to join his new challenge:  write 500 words for 31 days.  On the surface this sounded like a no brainer, I mean, I am already writing 750 words every morning.  But on the second day of the challenge he asked us to consider WHAT we wanted to write and HOW we wanted to accomplish that goal.  Ah… this was not just writing any 500 words – this was writing 500 words with a purpose.  I liked that idea… but I still wasn’t sure how to proceed.

This morning, however, I read Nina Amir’s blogpost, How to Journal Your Way to Published Author Status.  While I am not convinced my ultimate goal is become a published author, I was intrigued by the premise:  use the journaling process to thoroughly explore a topic.  Each journal entry is further development of the subject.  For me, these entries could focus on my memoir, scenes for a book, or a collection of travel articles.

I have already discovered that journaling helps me shut off the inner critic and just write – exactly what I need to do to move forward on any writing project.  So the solution seems simple:  Journal the rough drafts.  Once the words are on the page, revising can occur another time.   And if I journal 500 words over the course of 31 days, I will be 15,000 words ahead of the game.

So I am going to accept Jeff’s challenge.  I am going to write 500 words a day – purposeful words that contribute to a current work-in-progress.  And I am going to do it old school – that is – I am going to write long-hand.  This will help me slow down my thoughts so I am more mindful of the content, and by literally crafting each letter I will energize that creative side of the brain even further.

This might be the change I need to move forward in (dare I say it…) my writing career.




  1. cathyensley

    I would definitely change my definition of what is “worthy.” Freezing up is no good at all! Maybe worthy is just getting words on the page. Maybe it’s gaining insight on a character’s motivations, never mind whether the writing is any good. Maybe worthy is simply seeing that you are becoming a stronger writer with every word that is written. You’ve probably heard that writers (fiction writers) need to write 1,000,000 words of fiction before they’re competent. That’s 10-15-20 books. That’s why freezing up (if you plan to write fiction) is no good at all.

    • Actually, Cathy, I had not heard that statistic about writing – although I know it makes perfect sense. In photography it was said that 10,000 photos were needed before becoming competent, but that was in the day of film photography. In the digital photography age, I would say it is more like a million.

      Yes, I think I do need to change my definition of “worthy” and I really like your suggestion of “seeing that I am becoming stronger with every word written” — thank you!

  2. joyweesemoll

    Journaling comes naturally to me, now, and I do use it for more purposeful things. It has stopped the “freezing” problem but led to a different one: I can write all day _about_ what I’m going to write, but never get around to writing what I’m going to write. So, it takes me a week or more to write a scene — and that’s a good week for writing. In a not-so-good week for writing, like last week and this week, all my writing will go to blog posts because I need some queued up for the trip and because the pre-trip mood doesn’t feel right for working on my book.

    • You know, Joy, that makes sense. I haven’t been journaling this way long enough to properly evaluate, but I can see were I will be more comfortable journaling about writing than actually writing 🙂 It’s all a process, isn’t it?

      In the meantime, I am so very anxious to read all your posts about this fabulous trip to England!

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