Writing Well

Make a Deposit in the Idea Bank

Whether you keep a journal to help you express your feelings or gather ideas for your writing, the very act of journaling will help you become a more skilled and confident writer. Here's how:

Writer's Block

Under no circumstances should you keep your personal journal on your office computer; increasingly, courts are upholding the rights of employers to read any writing done on office time and even to use it in court cases.

  1. The more you write, the better your skills become. Practice does make perfect.
  2. The more productive you are, the better you'll feel about your progress as a writer. Success engenders more success.
  3. Keeping a journal helps you learn to observe things, people, and ideas closely. The more you delve into a subject, the more you'll learn—and the more you'll be able to express on paper.
  4. Experimenting on paper when it doesn't count, as in a journal, takes a lot of the anxiety out of writing.
  5. A journal is a great place to store ideas for later writings.

As you can tell, keeping a journal offers even more benefits than exercising—and you don't have to break a sweat to become a fine journal writer! Stay tuned; here's how to make journals work for you.

Journals vs. Diaries

Word Watch

A journal is an idea book, a record of your thoughts, emotions, and reflections. A diary, in contrast, is a record of your activities.

A journal is not the same as a traditional diary. Journal writing is generally used to spark self-reflection, to get in touch with your deepest feelings, and to sort out your emotions. This is what makes journal writing, when done often, such a powerful tool.

Diaries, in contrast, are used to record the day's events—sort of a super Filofax or Day Timer.

Diaries are not used for reflection or experimentation. As such, they don't help you improve your writing skills while you grapple with life issues. A diary can help you make it to that 10:00 meeting on Tuesday, however.

Don't Go There

Writer's Block

If you decide to keep your journal in electronic form, on a laptop or PC for example, be sure to back up each entry on a disk. I also recommend that you print each entry so you have a hard copy in case the computer crashes.

So far, journals sound like the best thing since sliced bread. After all, they can help you become a better writer as you're dealing with the stress of everyday life. But journaling isn't for everyone.

Journal writing may not be for you if …

  • You are obsessive, because the technique itself could become an obsession. In that case, you would get little benefit from the writing, since you're not doing it to explore technique or content but rather just for the sake of doing it.
  • You are coping with a terrible loss. For some people in a tragic situation, writing in a journal becomes a substitute for taking action.
book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Well © 2000 by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book direct from the publisher, visit the Penguin USA website or call 1-800-253-6476. You can also purchase this book at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.

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