Keeping a Journal

Journaling. As Martha Stewart says, “It’s a good thing.” I’ve attempted many times over the years. For some reason, I never stick to it. 

Recently I enrolled in a writing class and the first assignment was to write in a journal a minimum of three times per week. Getting started was difficult, but after about six entries, it didn’t feel so intimidating. 

I didn’t realize there are tremendous benefits to spending as little as five minutes, three times per week putting your thoughts or dreams on paper. People from all walks of life are journaling and quietly reaping the rewards.

The top five reasons for me keeping a journal are: to boost memory and comprehension, to strengthen self-discipline, to spark creativity, to achieve my goals, and to solve problems.

Boosting memory and comprehension.  When you write something down, you’ve told your brain it’s important. It can be your hopes and dreams or something less exciting. Boosting memory and comprehension goes hand-in-hand with sparking creativity. 

Strengthen Self-discipline.  When you actually commit to writing in your journal (make an appointment if you have to), you are putting value to your writing. You’ve made it a priority. Not only for writing in your journal, but that same self-discipline can spill over into other aspects of your life. 

Spark Creativity. Writing in a journal the old-fashioned way (pen and paper) helps to spark ideas. There is a correlation between the hand and brain that typing on a keyboard does not capture. This is why many writers prefer to hand write their first draft. 

Many times, journaling drums up old memories and feelings. These can be bouncing-off points for that novel you’re working on. Once you start writing, the ideas seem to come at you more freely.  

Achieve Goals.  When you write out your goals, it’s like a plan of action. You know more about which direction to go to make it happen. You will discover what you are truly passionate about and pursue it.

Solve problems. Many times writing things down will help you to see the big picture. Maybe things aren’t as bad as you thought. Seeing your problems in written words may give you the courage to tackle problems head on. Maybe it will give you the will to forgive or to fight. Whatever the case may be, many therapists recommend journaling as a coping mechanism. 

These are only a few of the benefits of journaling. Other benefits are:  you may feel calmer, gain clarity, build empathy, decrease the symptoms of arthritis, counteract stress, and heal physically and psychologically. People from all walks of life are journaling. It’s the “in” thing. 

With so many wonderful advantages to keeping a journal, why would you NOT do it?

Finding Time to Write

So, you want to be a writer, but do you have the time? Today’s world has become increasingly more hectic and constant pulls in every direction can leave you frazzled. Can you possibly add one more thing, like writing, into your schedule? After all, writing time is an unrealistic luxury, right?


Like many others, I struggle to find time to chase my dream. Constant interruptions cloud my day. Ding! It’s the dishwasher. Ding! The mailman is at the door. Ding! The dog wants out. ( Yes, she really does ring a bell). Ding! The dryer is finished. Ding! Ding! DINNNGG! The dog sees a squirrel. Need I go on?


Let’s face it, for most people, time is limited and writing is hard. Staring at a blank computer screen, searching for the perfect word, letting the world see your work…it’s all terrifying. It’s risky. And sometimes, it’s enough to make you give up before you even get started. Then the biggest problem creeps into your mind. Can I justify spending time doing something for myself?” In a word, YES! But how do you free up a tiny sliver of time when there is none left in the day? 

What if I told you, it is possible to write daily? I’ve listed some tips to help push you in the “write” direction. Hopefully, you’ll be completing that novel before you know it!

  •  Set goals. How much do you want to accomplish per day or week? Is it a word count, finishing a manuscript in progress, editing your work, brainstorming for ideas, researching factual details for a story idea? Everyone is different. Don’t compare your goals to other writer’s goals. Comparison kills your creativity!
  • Set a timer. Whether it’s 30 minutes or 2 hours, turn off your phone television AND social media (Those cat and dog videos are addicting)! When you are on the timer, make that specific writing time, no interruptions. This might mean going into a room and closing the door or a trip to the library or coffee shop.
  • Decide what you are willing to give up. Is it your favorite television show? Your bubble bath? An hour of sleep? Anywhere you can shave off some time, take it! You’d be surprised what you can accomplish in as little as 15-30 minutes.
  • Have a dedicated writing space. It doesn’t have to be a fancy, schmancy office. Sometimes a corner of the kitchen table will do just fine. Claim it as your own. Many times, a routine atmosphere will make your writing come more frUnknown-2eely, plus you don’t have to figure out where you’re going to write. That can drive the desire to squeeze in just a bit more time on that manuscript.
  • Schedule your writing time. Are you more mentally alert first thing in the morning? Maybe you need to set your alarm an hour earlier and spend that time writing before everyone else is awake. Maybe you need to stay up later at night. Make an appointment. Yes, write it on the calendar and stick to it.
  • Take advantage of every minute. Even as busy as we are, there’s a lot of time we spend waiting. Waiting for your kids in the carpool line at school, waiting at the doctor’s office, waiting at the drive-thru, etc. Carry a notebook and put that wasted time to good use. You can even dictate into your phone while you’re driving. make wasted time, quality time.
  • Remind yourself, YOU ARE WORTH IT! The dishes, laundry, vacuum, etc. will wait.
  • Have an accountability partner or critique group. You’ll push yourself to get more accomplished if you know others are depending on you.
  • If you don’t FIND writing time, MAKE it! If it’s important to you, you WILL make it happen!images

If you want to be a writer, roll up those sleeves, get your behind in the chair, and write something! Don’t let anything hold you back.

Read Like a Writer, Picture Books

Here are a few things I’ve learned about picture books by reading picture books:

Picture books don’t have to rhyme.

Picture books can rhyme.  The rhymes don’t have to be formal, but they do have to sing. Read Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s What Can a Crane Pick Up? and Tammi Sauer’s Mary Had a Little Glam.

Picture books don’t need a whole lot of words, but as in a poem, every word must count.  Here’s an example of what a writer can accomplish with less than 100 words: Extraordinary Jane, Hannah E. Harrison

When you are finally ready to submit a picture book manuscript, don’t include illustrator notes unless some small tidbit is essential to your story. You have to leave things open for the illustrator. See how Tammi says just enough and leaves the rest up to the artist:  Making a Friend, Tammi Sauer

Sometimes, the illustrations tell a completely different story than the words tell.  Just Another Ordinary Day, Rod Clement

Here’s something else you can learn from Making a Friend and Just Another Ordinary Day: You can’t be too outrageous for kids, but if you are going to be outrageous, you have to make the outrageousness believable.  I love that Beaver can make stripy socks, and I believe he can.

You can tackle hard subjects.  There are picture books about missing an incarcerated parent, about homelessness and living in shelters, and about hard times. Let Eve Bunting teach you how to be empathetic without being maudlin.  Yard Sale, Eve Bunting

Kids are sophisticated enough not only for the hard topics, but for humor. I’ve read this book aloud to many audiences, and the ending never fails to make me and the kids laugh out loud:  Clancy,  Una Belle Townsend

You can write on topics that please students and, at the same time, satisfy teachers’ needs for content, including Social Studies and STEM.

Here’s an award winner that has both science and civil rights history:  Tiny Stitches, Gwendolyn Hooks

My picture book follows musicians from the Mississippi delta to Memphis. It’s written to be read aloud, but I included a short history of the Memphis Blues and W. C. Handy for teachers and history buffs.  Froggy Bottom Blues,  Sharon Edge Martin

This Oklahoma author gives us history as memoir: Dust Storm, Jane McKellips

Barbara Lowell can teach us all something about writing biographies that kids want to read.  She finds unfamiliar facts about familiar names. Sparky and Spike, Barbara Lowell

If you are going to write, you must be a reader first.  And you can’t just rely on the classics.  Read what’s being written now.  Being a reader first may be the one non-negotiable rule for writers, regardless of your genre or audience.