Let me guess…
You’ve been asking Google to help you find journal prompts or journaling ideas, right?
You know that successful writers throughout history have kept a journal for creative writing, thinking, and self-discovery. It was a defining practice in the works and lives of Thoreau, Emerson, Wilde, and many others — and you think maybe, just maybe, it can do the same for you.
And you know what? You’re 100% correct.
All the creativity you need is already inside of you — you just have to tap into it.
And a great way to do it is with journal prompts.
29 Journal Writing Prompts to Spark Your Creativity
Like a fisherman’s fishing rod, the following journal writing prompts will help you fish out your best ideas from the depths of your mind. They will also help you:
- Exercise your creative writing skills
- Land more writing jobs (if you’re a freelancer)
- Learn how to write better
- Shift your perspective and access new points of view
- Overcome writer’s block
Grab a pen and a journal (or open a Google Doc, if you prefer), and let’s start writing.
5 Journaling Ideas & Exercises for Writers
Journal prompts are a great way to exercise your writing skills, but if you want to utilize the full potential of journaling to unlock your creativity, the journaling ideas and exercises below will take you one level deeper.
Whereas before you had a fishing rod to bring new ideas to the surface, these journal ideas will give you a scuba diving oxygen tank so you can explore all the treasures that lie at the bottom of your creative mind.
Ready? Let’s dive in (pun intended).
1. “One-inch picture frame”
Let’s face it…
You have so many writing ideas that you don’t even know where to start.
That brilliant plot you came up with while taking a shower. That self-development article that will become viral. The book idea you’ve been dreaming of writing since you were a teenager.
All those pieces of advice, all those short stories, all those scripts that will never become real because…
Well, because you’re too overwhelmed with ideas to actually start writing.
In her book Bird by Bird (Amazon affiliate link), Anne Lamott introduces a framework called “one-inch picture frame” that helps her beat overwhelm and get to work by writing down only “as much as [she] can see through a one-inch frame”.
In other words, you don’t have to aim at writing your whole life story in one go, or putting together a whole “Ultimate Guide on How to Beat Anxiety” in one sitting.
You can start by simply describing that one afternoon from your childhood when your mom bought you your first ice cream and you felt like you were in heaven; or you can start by writing down the main cause of anxiety that your clients tell you about.
I use this trick to make myself journal every day: all I have to do is write about one thought, one idea, or one life event from that day.
Very often, this is enough to spark my motivation and I keep on writing. Other times I don’t, but that’s okay — one little paragraph is better than nothing.
If you’re struggling to get started because the job seems too big, you can always scale it down. What can you see through your one-inch picture frame?
2. Start a public online journal
Writing has been my main job for over three years now, but until recently I still struggled with practicing my craft consistently.
So a few weeks ago I did something that I thought I would never do: I started a public online journal where I publish a daily entry about my life, thoughts, struggles, and ideas.
At first, it felt scary and vulnerable as hell. In fact, it still does.
But it also changed my life.
I only shared it with a few people, but the fact that someone expects to read my entries every morning keeps me accountable and makes me stick with my commitment. It’s the first time in my life that I have published something every single day for over a month.
Not only do I feel like I am writing my own life’s story, but I also use my old online journal entries for inspiration whenever I need ideas for a new piece of content for my blog. But the biggest benefit of journaling in public is that, unlike what happens with my offline journaling practice, I actually have to put some attention into my daily writing in order to make it readable and enjoyable for other people.
Plus, the daily routine lets me practice being vulnerable and sharing from the heart in front of an audience — a great skill to have as a blogger.
3. Brain dumps
Whenever I want to create a new piece of content, my default is to either begin with an outline or just start writing the whole thing straight away. Word after word, line after line, from beginning to end.
But the thing is, when I just do this, I often hit a wall and get stuck. There are only so many ideas that my brain can access by traditional direct association thinking.
That’s why I started doing brain dumps.
What is a brain dump?
A brain dump is a process of emptying your mind by transposing all your thoughts onto paper. When you hit a wall with your writing, brain dumping is like punching that wall really hard so send all the bricks flying and then get a good glimpse of what’s on the other side.
If you’re stuck or without ideas, stop for a moment. Take a step back and notice all the thoughts going through your mind. What are your worries? What’s taking up all your attention? Is there something you want to write but you feel ashamed because it’s not good enough?
Write it all down. Everything counts. Write it all over the page of your journal, without caring for keeping it organized. The point of brain dumps is not so much to get good ideas, but to relieve your mind of worries and blocks so that creativity can flow freely again.
4. Most Important Question
Sometimes, our best ideas are one night’s sleep away.
It’s true. In his book The Art of Thought (Amazon affiliate link), psychologist Graham Wallas proposes that the creative process happens in four stages:
- Preparation (identifying the problem);
- Incubation (processing the information on a subconscious level);
- Illumination (when everything becomes clear);
- Verification (testing if the idea really solves the problem).
Very often, we skip the second step, incubation. We obsess about the problem until we solve it, but what we should do is let it go, allow our subconscious mind to process it, and then come back to it with fresh eyes.
So, how can we start incubating our ideas more?
The technique I’ve been using for months (and it’s been working miracles) is something called Most Important Question (MIQ).
This technique was invented by Josh Waitzkin (he talks about it in this interview) and it goes like this:
In the evening, take some time to reflect and come up with your Most Important Question of the day. Once you’ve got your MIQ, write it down in your journal, and then…
Let it go.
Forget about it.
Take a moment to relax with a good book or a nice walk, and then go to sleep without it on your mind.
Then, in the morning, immediately after you wake up, open your journal, look at the question, and write down the answers you have on your mind.
I have been using this process to help me get ideas for new articles, fix writer’s block, and solve writing problems that I had struggled with for days.
It works like magic.
It’s been proven that our brains are at their most creative immediately after we wake up, and every time I do this I am in awe of the gems that my mind had been hiding.
5. Flip it around
We are so used to writing in a linear way that we fail to make use of the biggest advantage of a good old paper journal: its versatility as a tool for creating ideas.
The main reason why I always buy journals with plain pages is that there are no rules or boundaries for what my writing has to look like. That being said, the last journaling exercise I have for you today is extremely simple:
Flip your journal around.
Yep, that’s it. It’s that simple. Next time you’re in the middle of a journal entry, try rotating the notebook by 90 degrees (or any other number you fancy) and continue the entry at a different angle.
I know this exercise might sound silly or pointless, but it’s not.
Changing the visual representation of our ideas can completely shift the way we create. Rotating your journal in the middle of an entry brings your awareness to how you are using the space on the page, which will inevitably impact the words you choose. It can change your writing speed, the length of your sentences, and it can even inspire you to include a drawing here and there.
Small shifts in perception can make a huge difference to the final results. Don’t be afraid to look at things from a different angle. Spice things up. Open your mind to new ways of being creative.
And most of all, make it fun.
All it Takes is Five Minutes of Journal Prompts to Unlock Your Creativity
A journal is much more than just a few pieces of paper glued together.
It’s a free ticket to the depths of your creativity, and to the brilliant writer that exists inside of you. It’s also one of the best tools to get to know yourself and make sense of your life. Who doesn’t need that?
Whenever you feel stuck, or simply know that there’s something important you have to say but simply can’t find the words, use one of the journal prompts or journaling ideas above.
Sometimes, all it takes is five minutes to become a better writer, or to learn something important about yourself that will change the course of your life forever.