Tips on Keeping a Free-Form Journal


Almost every writer and artist keeps some type of a journal. Below are some tips for free-form journaling. Even if you are more of a reader than a writer, keeping a journal can become a sacred testament to your life and something for you and your family to treasure. Virginia Woolf said there is something worth writing about every day of our lives. I believe her words are true and that even the most mundane of days hold something worth remembering.

Purchase a Quality Journal

There are many journals that are cheaply made, and you can tell by the binding and quality of paper in them. You don’t need to spend a lot, but make sure the journal will hold up over time. You don’t want one that will fall apart or one with very thin paper that will cause ink, etc. to bleed through. Make sure the paper in the journal is acid-free.  Also, try and avoid spiral-bound journals as the pages can tear and become loose.

Find a journal that is not lined so you have plenty of space to create what you wish within its pages. The idea here is complete freedom and randomness. With lined journals you don’t get that freedom. Buy one with a cover that inspires you, or one with a blank cover that you can personalize. (The one I am currently using is hand-painted and is reminiscent of one of my favorite paintings by Vincent van Gogh. I enjoy admiring the cover just as much as I enjoy filling the pages.) Try and find a journal that is fairly lightweight and small enough to carry around, yet large enough to give you adequate space.

Making Entries

There really are no rules here, other than to obviously set aside time for your journaling. It can be as little as five minutes. Even a quick doodle, idea, or one or two sentences can become more important than you may initially realize. The goal is to fill the pages with your life in various ways. It doesn’t have to be numerous pages of deep, elaborate thought and description every day.

Ideas for Entries

Grab the crayons. Yes, crayons. Quit acting like you have one lodged in the wrong place, even if you are the somber, serious writerly type. Allow yourself to play. Use glitter crayons, neon crayons, regular crayons to write or draw or both. Additionally, gel pens, markers and colored pencils are fun too.

Make Lists. No, not your headache and anxiety-inducing TO DO list. List your favorite places, foods, recipes, songs, books you’ve read or want to read, memories, websites or whatever else makes you unique.

Interview a friend or family member. None of us live forever, and people often change over time. Furthermore, the history and personality of those we love is a part of us also. Things you may think you will remember about someone may be forgotten over time, and no doubt you will learn some interesting things you may not have otherwise known. (I cannot express enough how many questions arise that I wish I would have asked my mother and grandmother before they passed away.) No doubt your interview will become very sacred as time goes on.

Make collages. Choose various images and/or words and don’t overthink this one. Grab the glue stick, your array of pens, crayons, etc. and allow yourself total expression. If you purchased a journal with a blank cover, you can also make a collage on the front and back of your journal if you like.

Jot down ideas. A journal is great for jotting down ideas for your next short story, art piece, poem, or other creation. Sometimes we think an idea is so great there is no way we will forget it. Then we do. Oops. It would have been great if you had jotted that down, right?

Use Prompts. There are a ton of books that include prompts and a ton that you can look up for free on the internet. While some people may find that prompts make them feel restricted, they really can help take you to a new place and help you discover/uncover some interesting things.

Make your own dictionary pages. No matter how educated or well-read you are, chances are there are many words you don’t know the meaning of. Grab a dictionary and make entries of words you don’t know along with their meanings. Expanding your vocabulary is always a good thing, especially if you are a writer. You can even decorate your dictionary pages if you like, and can always refer back to the words to generate creative ideas. Throw in some foreign language words if you want to.

Fill it with facts. Did you learn something interesting about birds while watching a nature program? A fact about history or your favorite artist or literary figure you want to remember? Write it down in your journal.

Write down your travel notes. Even if it is a small day trip, take notes on the surroundings you visit, the people you meet, your personal observations, etc. Many people who travel a lot keep journals specifically for this purpose. When I was moving from North Carolina back to Washington State a couple of years ago, it was a grueling road trip. But there was also a lot of interesting things I saw and people I observed (including a lady at a late night drive-through who was especially kind) that I took notes on. Some of those notes have even helped inspire some art and writing pieces.

Press down those flowers and leaves. Did you go for a walk and find some wildflowers or receive a beautiful bouquet? Did you discover an interesting leaf or do you have your own garden? Why not press some into your journal and add a note or two, such as the date they were found, the occasion or mood. I visited Soco Falls near Maggie Valley, North Carolina some years ago and picked some daisies in the rain. Every time I see the daisy in my journal I am transported back to that moment and recall the beauty and lush woods there, the feel and scent of the warm rain.

Add quotes and excerpts you like. Most of us have some favorite quotes and excerpts from books we find compelling. Maybe that new book you are reading is full of passages or lines from poems you really love. Write them down in your journal and return to them at leisure for inspiration or to eventually be able to recite them. There are so many passages or quotes from books I am reading that are unknown but resonate with me. Write down the ones that resonate with you, and maybe you can even add some new and refreshing quotes or excerpts to the deluge of repetitive famous ones on the internet. (Honestly, we could use some new ones to reference and enjoy.)

The possibilities of and ideas for free-form journaling are vast. The ideas I have included above are just the beginning. The main goal with free-form journaling is to make it your own and include a wide variety of things; different aspects of your life in both visual and written entries. Along with the common writing-about-your-day entries, employing the ideas above will give your journal great variety. You will have a unique treasure to share or enjoy all on your own as you fill those pages. And no doubt looking back through your journal will inspire even more creativity and ideas for other projects.

Heather Lenz

Heather Lenz

Poetry Editor at Stepping Stones Magazine
Heather Lenz is a poet, editor and visual artist. Her poems have appeared in both online and print publications such as Enigma Rag, Mind Eclipse, Adoration, The Monarch Review, Carcinogenic Poetry, Ink Sweat & Tears, Falling Star Magazine, Because We Write and others. Born and raised in Washington State, she continues to explore new outlets for her art, which birthed Ravens Among Me, a site dedicated to her creative expression.
Heather Lenz

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