June 01, 2017

On Journals and Writers’ Notebooks by Sandi Somers

This month our writers discuss their experiences with writing in journals and/or notebooks. InScriber Violet Nesdoly gave us a prompt when she wrote: "the very act of noticing and writing things down makes us more observant, alert people—all part of the package we need to be successful writers.” 

“Write the vision…” Habakkuk 2:2

My journals and notebooks

Over my life I’ve had different kinds of journals: travel journals, including one from my two years in South America; several binders full of cultural perceptions and classroom interactions while teaching ESL; and a journal of praise which focuses on the positive side of writing. I keep a notebook handy for writing ideas for this IWO blog.

I also have an almost-daily journal, in which I explore and process dilemmas and how God is speaking to me through scripture in my quiet time. Writing helps sort through my thoughts, and I come to a deeper understanding than I would have without writing.

A wonderful benefit of journal writing is that often gem thoughts become the raw material for articles and blogs. For example, while writing an article for our InScribe Christmas Anthology, my writing seemed flat. With divine timing, God led me to a forgotten version I had written some years before. There I found more vivid descriptions, more immediate emotions and clearer details which strengthened that article (it was accepted, by the way).

On the Values and Varieties in Journals/Writers’ Notebooks

Journals and writers’ notebooks are very individual, and the varieties and values are endless: ten minute freewrites of "moments in memory "; an idea journal which you can carry with you; a quotation journal; a submission journal; a dream journal. Or your journal can be the first draft of a memoir, story or other article.
Over the years I’ve collected a number of journal/notebook ideas and approaches from various writers. Here are a few.

Julia Cameron, in The Artist’s Way, advocates “morning pages”: three pages of free writing first thing every morning. Doing so, she says, taps into our left brain’s creativity and inner wisdom without concern for that “inner critic”.  Many writers follow her advice.

Judy Reeves advocates another daily approach: writing practice. Her book, A Writer’s Book of Days, includes focused prompts, one prompt for every day of the year.  Writing from prompts, she says, is a discipline that improves writing as well as gladdens our spirit and adds to the quality of life. 

Violet Nesdoly switched from journal writing to a writer’s notebook. Rather than a process of fluid writing of journals, she said a notebook is a place to keep track of: details of life, ideas for future projects, lists, dialog, telling details in a scene, and more. (Read her article filled with practical ideas here.) 

Joan Didion’s notebooks are a “flotsam and jetsam” of ideas. She often wrote just words, locations, time of day, or brief notations—sometimes wondering on rereading why these details had been so important in the first place. She would probably never use these erratic thoughts in her writing, but they often brought back vivid memories and moods from those earlier times--memories she was otherwise likely to forget. (Read her article, “On Keeping a Notebook” here).

Writers have creatively woven journal entries into books or articles. Madeline L’Engle and her family spent one summer on a USA cross-country camping trip. At the end of each day she pulled her typewriter from the car and journaled the family’s excursions. Later this trip became the basis for a children’s adventure novel, The Moon by Night. (As I read the novel, I easily noticed the connection between her family’s travel and the adventures in the novel.)

As Christ followers, we often journal our daily devotions, spending time alone with God and opening ourselves to whatever God want us to hear. Janice Elsheimer, in The Creative Call, called her journal the “artists’ daybook” (a name I’ve adopted). Writing daily for ourselves alone, we come to hear the voice of the Spirit and “understand more clearly the relationship between journaling and listening, between listening and being an artist.”

Jack Popjes, past-president of InScribe, has incorporated a unique approach to journaling daily devotions:  he writes his regular prayer requests as conversations with God—question-and-answer format. Writing his prayers this way helps him keep track of his requests and God’s answers.  The additional benefit, he wrote, is that he’s also practicing his writing craft. (You can read his article, “Let Your Fingers Do the Talking,” in our InScribe anthology, 7 Essential Habits of Christian Writers.)

In conclusion, Phyllis Theroux in The Journal Keeper wrote that your journal or notebook “should be a wise friend…Choose what you think has some merit or lasting value, so that when you reread (it) in years to come, it will continue to nourish you."

 What varieties of journals/notebooks do have, and what value do you place on yours?

PS Writing this blog has been inspiring. My daily journal had come almost to a standstill, but last week new ideas began flowing and I resumed my morning pages with a renewed vigor. Hmm, I think I’ll try Jack’s conversations with God, too!

Further resources

In her blog on notebooks, Amy Ludwig Vanderwater’s guests explain different ways they use notebooks. (Check it here)   

Famous authors discuss the importance of keeping a journal (Read here)

Here’s another read on keeping a notebook or three.


  1. Wow, Sandi! What a resource your blog will be for me. I have been thinking of beginning a writer's notebook for some time. Recently, I read Violet Nesdoly's blog, "A Writer's Notebook," and this got me thinking some more. I have a plastic tub that I've been throwing scraps and scribbles into for some time. I even have the blank, good-quality-paper book I'm planning to use.

    Up, up and away! Thanks, Sandi.

    1. Way to go, Sharon! I’m so glad this blog was an encouragement for you. All the best as you plunge into the world of writers’ notebooks.

  2. You've opened a treasure chest of resources for us to sort through. What fun. I will re-visit, but my pick for now is Violet's notebook. I'm sure I'll be back for more.
    Thanks Sandra,
    Pam M.

    1. I agree, Pam. Violet’s article was a real treasure trove of ideas!!

  3. I love journals and have done variations on many of the suggestions. What a wonderful start to the month! I will be bookmarking this Sandi

    1. Thanks, Tracy, for bookmarking this article. There are so many ideas for journal writing.


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