How to Start a Creative Process Journal

You’ve probably kept some form of personal journal before, for yourself or for a class. But have you ever kept a journal specifically for your creative process? 

You might be writing a book, or it might be a process journal for another long-form creative project you’ve taken on, like making a mural or series of paintings, composing an album, or creating a business.

No matter the topic, keeping a process journal can be highly useful during a big creative endeavor. I’m going to use the example of writing a book – hey, I’m the book midwife, it makes sense! – but feel free to adapt it to your own needs.

What does one include in a writing process journal?

The main use I’ve found is to track what’s working – and equally, what isn’t – as you establish a regular writing habit

To further that goal, start by making an entry at the end of each writing session – that is, each time you sit down to focus specifically on writing (or editing, or brainstorming about) your book. 

Include the date and time, how long you wrote, how many words you wrote (if you’re tracking word count), what methods you used (sprints, Pomodoro technique, free writing, etc.), and how it felt. 

You might also want to include other information that will help you determine when you feel at your best and most creative, like the moon phase, how you slept the night before, and the like.

Here are three sample entries, so you can see what this could look like:

Tuesday 1/10/23, 11am: Did some writing sprints with 2 other writers on Discord. I did 3 sessions of 15 minutes each, and wrote 1072 words. I felt good, and the words flowed pretty easily. I had a good night’s sleep. Moon is waning gibbous. I stopped in the middle of a scene, while I still had energy, so it’ll be easier to start next time.

Saturday 1/14/23, 2:30pm: Wrote on my own today, for almost an hour. I only got 844 words – felt sort of sluggish today. I struggled with ending the scene. I slept fine, but I’m achy for some reason, and got hungry during the session. My brain doesn’t want to focus. Moon is last quarter today. 

Sunday 1/15/23, 11am: I joined a 90-minute co-writing session with that new online group, and it went super well! I wrote 1433 words, and enjoyed it. I got a little distracted near the middle of the call, but overall it went well and my creative ideas were flowing freely. I like having others there, even if we’re not interacting a whole lot. Slept okay last night. The moon is waning crescent. It snowed all day.

You can see from these examples (completely fictitious, but based loosely on my own experience) how a pattern is already beginning to emerge. This writer seems to do better earlier in the day, and when around other writers. 

The more entries you make, the more personal data you’ll have. Use it to observe your own rhythms and cycles. This will help you plan writing times and use methods that best serve you and your process.

You can also use your writing process journal to capture notes about your project when you’re not actually in writing mode. 

This might include, depending on the genre you’re writing in:

  • character studies
  • a flash of a scene that came to you in the night or while walking the dog
  • anecdotes or case studies you want to include
  • ideas for a subplot or added chapter
  • sketches of the places or people in your book
  • a list of candidates to write your Preface
  • graphics you plan to include
  • your response to writing prompts about world-building
  • notes for your eventual revisions and edits

Add your own ideas about what you’d want to keep in your writing process journal. 

If you don’t enjoy writing longhand, or can’t read your own writing after the fact, keep a journal in digital form. You can even do an audio log on your phone, just make sure it’s organized such that you can review it.

I suggest reviewing your writing process journal at least monthly. Look for clues about what will help you improve your process. I don’t mean that you should only focus on making things as efficient and productive as possible. I also want you to find the joy and pleasure in your creative project. This will keep you going when you start to struggle or become bored. 

Keeping a writing process journal is a powerful way of improving the experience of writing your book.

It’s also a great place to begin, if you haven’t started writing your book yet. You can compile all your ideas and notes in one place, and then commit to writing sessions, with the support of your journal.

Have you tried this? Is it something that appeals to you?

Tell me what you think!

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