How to Write a Journal: 6 Tips to Get Started

by Pamela Hodges | 61 comments

Writers are collectors of ideas, and where do we keep them? On scraps of paper, napkins, the notes app of our phones, and sometimes in journals. But as anyone who's started a journal can attest, sometimes it's hard to begin and even harder to keep one going. So how to write a journal? What to write in a journal? Let's look at some simple ways to start capturing ideas. 

How to Write a Journal: 6 Tips

There are a number of ways to capture ideas, from keeping a gratitude journal, to a reading journal, to a project journal. No matter what type of journal you keep, let me share with you some tips from my journaling experience for how to keep a journal and why a journaling habit pays off for writers.

Need some inspiration to start?
Click here to download our free calendar of journaling prompts.
Download Free Prompts Here

4 Advantages of Keeping a Journal

Julia Cameron, acclaimed author of The Artist's Way and more recently a 6-week program outlined in a book called Write for Life, begins the writing and artistic life with a practice she calls morning pages. In essence, she suggests writing three pages each morning to explore ideas and life, and to clear the mind.

The benefits of journaling this way are numerous. Writers who establish regular journaling time may find it helps them clear their minds and explore new ideas.

There are many reasons why it is a good idea to keep a journal. I want to share four big reasons this daily habit may help you with your writing process and develop your writing skills.

1. Remember details

When I traveled to Europe in 1978, I kept a journal of my daily life. I have notes from the trip to Greece where I wiped out on a moped, weeded sugar beets on Kibbutz Reshafim in Israel, and hitchhiked through occupied territory in the south of Israel.

There were several details of my trip that I had completely forgotten until I re-read my personal journals.

Recording the details of your life can enrich your stories. One year when for The Spring Writing Contest at The Write Practice, I wrote a story about when the IRS called me to say I owed money.

In my first draft, I wrote that the amount they said I owed was, $638. After I had completed the first draft I went back to the notes I had written in my journal, and the correct amount was over six thousand dollars: $6,846.48 to be exact. Well, maybe there are some things we don't want to remember.

Thankfully, I didn't send the money. It wasn't the real IRS. But it was even better than a writing prompt for a story idea.

2. Find old friends

Keeping a journal can help you find old friends. One of the women I met on November 26th, 1978, wrote down her address. I found her on Facebook and just sent her a message. (Social media and Google can also help, but the journal did remind me of her name.)

We'll see if she responds to my Facebook message. It has been almost forty years since she lent me a pair of gloves when I scraped my hand on the pavement when I fell off my moped.

3. Help process feelings and ideas

When you keep thoughts in your head it can be hard to know how you think and feel. Writing down how you feel will help you process your emotions, as feelings become words, which can be then be edited.

Processing your feelings and ideas can lead to personal growth and peace, but that's not all. Expressive writing can be therapeutic, but it can also help you flesh out characters later. 

4. Preserve the writer's history

When you are dead and a famous writer, your journals will give your readers insight into your life, thoughts, and process.

You may never sell more than one hundred copies of your book, you may never publish your writing, or your journals may only be read by the mice that crawl through your basement. Or your journals will be read by zombies after the zombie apocalypse, sharing insight into your life and daily routines.

If you don't want anyone to read your journal, keep it in a locked box and swallow the key. (Please don't really swallow the key. It would be unpleasant to have to find it again, and you might choke.) Put the key in a safe spot, and then remember where you put it. 

6 Tips for How to Keep a Journal (and What to Write in a Journal!)

Now you know why journaling can be helpful. But how should you journal? It is very personal, and you should do what works best for you. But I will give you some tips to help you get started on a journaling practice.

1. Choose your kind of journal

You have several options for how to keep your journal.

A book, where you write with a pen or pencil onto paper: Write in a book that is not so pretty you are afraid to write in it. Keep the size small enough you don't mind carrying it in your messenger bag, and big enough you can read your handwriting. Do not try journaling at night when the only paper you have on your bedside table is a bandaid. The next morning I couldn't read my writing on the band-aid, and the idea I wanted to journal was lost.

The advantage of pen to paper is you can write without having to be plugged into an electronic device. You don’t have to worry about a dead battery, and you can write even when the sun is bright or the airline makes you turn off your electronic devices.

The disadvantage to a paper journal is if you lose the journal and you didn’t make a copy of it, you have lost all of the writing. But either way, the journal writing helps you pay attention and record the moments of everyday life that will fade with time otherwise.

Software: There are several software applications and journaling apps on the market you can use to keep a digital journal. Be sure they sync to the cloud, as you don’t want to lose your entries because you fry your computer's hard-drive. 

Journey and Day One can add photographs and text, and export all of your entries into a PDF. You can also journal in Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or Scrivener and save your files to a cloud-based program that will keep your files safe if you lose your computer or pour water on your keyboard.

2. Date your entry

You think you will remember when it happened, but without a written date, you might forget. Make it a part of your journal writing routine to date the entry.

3. Tell the truth

The journal is a record of how you felt and what you did. Telling the truth will make you a reliable storyteller.

If you haven’t cleaned the seven litter boxes for a week, don’t write that you clean them every day simply because you want your readers one hundred years from now to think you had good habits. The beauty of journal writing is that you can record things honestly for yourself that you might not otherwise record or share. 

4. Write down details

Record details like the time, location, who you were with, and what you were wearing. Details will help bring the memory alive when you record using your five senses.

To this day, if I smell a certain kind of Japanese soup, I can remember vividly the day I flew to Korea to renew my Japanese visa, only to discover the Japanese embassy was closed for a traditional Japanese holiday.

5. Write down what you felt

What you were thinking? Were you mad? Sad? Happy? Write down why.

6. Write a lot or a little

A journal entry doesn’t have to be three pages long. It can be a few words that describe what happened, a few sentences about the highlight of your day, or it can be a short description of an event from your day, where you describe details to help you remember what happened. What time of day was it? What sound do you remember?

Your journal entry might be a drawing, a poem, or a list of words or cities you drove through. It is your journal, and you have the freedom to be creative.

You can use journal writing prompts or simply tap into a memory that floats into your mind. 

Bonus tip: How to write a journal entry

Aside from the date, you can write your journal entry in a number of ways. You can write stream-of-consciousness, try bullet points written rapid fire, you can use various art materials, or any form that speaks to you.  Try a list or a mix of writing and doodling, or even dialogue exchanges. 

The most important thing is just to take the journaling time and make a regular habit of it, even if it isn't on a daily basis. The words will show up when you do. 

When to Journal

There is no right or wrong time to write in a journal. Write when you will remember to do it. Do you always brush your teeth before you go to bed? Have writing in your journal be part of your bedtime routine. Perhaps put it on your bedside table, or beside your hammock, or on the floor beside your futon.

If you are a morning person, consider keeping your journal on the table where you drink your morning coffee, tea, water, milk, or orange juice.

These are only suggestions. You don’t have to write down your feelings or why you felt a certain way. I hate being told what to do. Even if it is a good idea. But I hope you'll give it a try and see if you find it unlocks your own writing. 

Do you write in a journal? Why is keeping a journal a valuable practice? Please tell us in the  comments.  

Need some inspiration to start?
Click here to download our free calendar of journaling prompts.
Download Free Prompts Here

Do you write in a journal? Do you think writing in a journal is a good idea for a writer, or a bad idea? Please tell us why in the comments.


Write for fifteen minutes about some aspect of your day as though you were writing in a journal. Your journal entry might be a drawing, a poem, a list of words, or a list of cities you drove through.

Please share your writing in the Pro Practice Workshop here and leave feedback on someone else’s practice today. We learn by writing and by reading.

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Pamela writes stories about art and creativity to help you become the artist you were meant to be. She would love to meet you at


  1. Saul Marchant

    I found writing a journal to be a learning experience in itself. When I started, I soon realised I didn’t really know what I was trying to achieve. It seems obvious now but I had to keep at it a while for that to become apparent. Everyone has to find their personal journalling style. A few pointers certainly help, so thanks for your post. I completely agree about the sensory aspect. It’s not the result of a to-do list we’re writing, it’s shades of what gave meaning to our day.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Saul Marchant,
      I love your description, “shades of what gave meaning to our day.”
      So, not just a list, but what has meaning.

    • Billie L Wade

      I also like your “shades of what gave meaning to our day.” Sometimes I find myself lamenting that I want more meaning in my activities—as evidenced by my journal entry above. I need to remember that the purpose and the meaning come from my perspective of the experiences, in all the various colors and shades. Thank you.

    • retrogeegee

      I agree with Pamela I to love your description “shades of what gave meaning to our day. I think I fall more into a listing journalistic style but time has lead me to include more meaning as I progress.

  2. Billie L Wade

    Pamela, Thank you for a great article on journaling. I started out writing a diary when I was twelve years old, then moved into journaling as an adult, which I did for twenty years, and dropped off for about five years. I renewed my journaling practice in September 2002 and began daily journaling shortly after that. I record the date and time of the entry and number my pages. I am now on page 6515 (since 2002). Some days I journal just a paragraph—other days, I write up to ten pages. It depends on what is happening in my life, and how I am feeling. The time of day and my energy level also play a part—sometimes, I am too tired to write much, but I arrange my day so that I journal every day. I am in the process of reading previous entries and harvesting them for prompts for my fiction writing and blog posts. The depth and wisdom of some of my entries amaze me. Journaling enriches my life and allows me to process my feelings and emotions which contribute to my well-being.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Billie L Wade,
      Thank you for sharing your journaling experience. I love the idea of numbering the pages. I regret not keeping a journal when I lived in Tokyo, I have some of my letters a friend saved, but there is so much I don’t remember.
      Would you like to share a short excerpt from when you were twelve, or something more recent, in the comment section on The Write Practice?

    • Billie L Wade

      Hi Pamela. Unfortunately, I no longer have my journaling prior to 2002 (long stories). The following entry is indicative of a frequent experience with me in which I start out with with a challenge, problem, or issue and come to some resolution by the end of the session. This entry spans pages 6447-6449. This is not edited except to remove names of people. Thank You.

      Monday, 3/20/17, 9:38 p.m.
      I’ve been afraid I’ll die before I’m ready, before I feel fulfilled, before I’ve done what I want to do, before I’m successful, before I’m “self-actualized,” before I’m joyous. At the same time, I hear of young people—22, 35, 38—with plans and futures and young children, dying of cancer and strokes. I’m 67. I’ve lived to see my son grow into adulthood. Really puts things into perspective. I’m not financially wealthy, but I have enough—my bills are paid; I have life, car, renters, health, and supplemental insurance; I have food; I enjoy dining out with friends; I can afford my medications; I have a car; I have books and magazines to read; I can think and feel and love; I can see and hear; I have my natural teeth; I have a new cell phone; I have leather-bound journals and hand-crafted pens; I drink bottled water that is delivered to me; I live in a beautiful apartment with a nice, green view; if I’m frugal, I can afford a few extras each month. I have people in my life who care about me; by many standards, I’ve had three successful careers, I’m educated and articulate; I can taste and smell and feel the sensuousness of touch; I can write; I have challenging projects to work on; I have a therapist who “gets” me and respects me; I have [my family]. The future is uncertain—always has been—and I sometimes feel frightened when I hear the prospects. I read an article within the past few days in which the author wrote something similar to “our acceptance and behavior in the present moment are predictors of our future.” When I am joyful and grateful and fully alive in the present moment, I have a better chance that I will do so in the future. The more I cultivate an attitude of gratitude, faith, and hope today, the more likely I will feel those attitudes in the future. And, how great it would be to die as [my partner] did—with joyful anticipation and expectancy; with gratitude; with hope; in peace. I can feel fulfilled every day by bringing acceptance and awareness and appreciation to everything I do.

    • Susan W A

      …exquisite …
      and inspiring

      thank you for your gift of words and reflection

    • Billie L Wade

      Thank you Susan.

  3. Amanda Niehaus-Hard

    I started keeping a journal in the third grade, after reading “Harriet the Spy.” I have a drawer full of them, dated and numbered, and I get them out to browse whenever I’m working on a kids story or something YA. It’s a great resource for me to be able to see how a twelve year old mind worked. I’m so glad I kept them. My five year old keeps a drawing journal of the things he sees during the week, which I hope will eventually grow into something he does for a lifetime.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Amanda Niehaus-Hard,
      Wow! How exciting to have writing from when you were twelve. I am happy you kept them too. What a treasure. A drawing journal is a great idea, a way to journal for children who might not be writing yet.
      If you would like to, please share a short excerpt from one of your third grade journals with the date, and/or one of your child’s drawing, if they don’t mind.
      All my best,

    • Billie L Wade

      Hi Amanda, I am impressed that you have your journaling from age twelve, organized so you can easily use them. Everything I wrote before 2002 was destroyed, and I miss not having all of my writing. I am glad you can use your journaling to inform what you are writing now. Happy writing to you.

  4. Abhijato Sensarma

    I did not want to do it this way, but this is regarding my guest post submission idea that I proposed on 31st March. I got the email of confirmation from the automatic mailing system, but did not recieve any manual response for the idea that I had submitted.
    What has brought me here today is that just six days later, a guest post was published on this very website titled “Show, Don’t Tell : How to Inject Drama Into Your Writing.” This did not seem to be a coincidence, since when I read the article, most of it seemed to be derived from the idea that I had proposed to you, and got no response to. I wrote another email, and that too has not recieved a reply regarding the state of my query.
    I know that this is not how this matter is appropriately resolved, but since I have got no response from your side, I am becoming both ancious and disappointed. The publication of the guest post resembling my idea might have been a coincidence, albeit a strange one. But the fact that I have recieved no response troubles me. All of us are writers here, and I think that beyond a moment of doubt, all of us would agree that it isn’t in the best interest of the art of writing and all the virtues which come with it.
    Again, I know this is not the way things are supposed to be dealt with, but right now, I seem to have no other option left to retrieve the creative right over what is beyond a doubt my own idea, credited to someone else right now.
    Thanking you, and hoping for a legitimate response,
    (I would have provided my email here, but I do not want any spam. I request you to kindly respond to my enquirery.)

  5. Marieca Lashawn

    Great article. I have tried in the past to journal but have never kept it up. Perhaps my life is not interesting enough or I’m not disciplined enough to form the habit. I’m going to start again and not put so much pressure on myself thanks to this article.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Marieca Lashawn,
      I don’t journal every day either. I treasure the journals I have from my trip to Europe in 1978. It never occurred to me that every day life also had value.
      I am going to start again too. We don’t have to be perfect, and there are no rules to keeping a journal.
      I will floss all of my teeth, and write something every day.
      A new habit for me too.

    • retrogeegee

      Hello Marieca;
      I think one for the reasons I journal is that I feel I don’t have to be interesting. Sometimes years go by before I reread what I have written. Some is boring, so what? Now if I am writing a story, and article or a memoir,, I try to be literate and interesting. But journaling, hey the pressure is off and at least I am writing.

  6. Jacqueline Gu

    The great travel writer Tim Cahill just taught a writing class in Morocco, which I was part of .. and the biggest take away I got (he said if you only remember one’s this) : “take copious notes” (as life happens, whether traveling or whatnot). Great post and in the exact same vein as Mr. Cahill’ instructions!

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Jacqueline Gu,
      Morocco, how fun. A writing class with Tim Cahill.
      “Take copious notes.”
      I love this. It is worthy of a tattoo. Or at least writing it on my chalkboard.
      Thank you for sharing your adventure, and the lessons you learned.
      Now I will look up Tim Cahill, I am not familiar with his work. Do you have a favorite book written by him? What book do you recommend I read first?
      What do you like to write?
      Where in Morocco were you? I was Casablanca in 1989 talking photographs for a Japanese client.

    • Jacqueline Gu

      Hi Pam – nice to meet you. always great to be acquainted with a fellow writer. I’m reading Tim’s “Pass the Butterworm” but I also heard good things about “Hold the Enlightenment”. I do creative nonfiction/travel/memoir writing but I haven’t shared my stuff with many ppl yet so i’m working on becoming published. I was in Fez/Moulay Idriss/Sahara/Chefchouwen for my 2 week trek in Morocco. So much material (so much copious notes) now to write from! And 1989? That’s awesome – sounds like a trip too! Did you ever write about Morocco?

      Cheers to you Pam! I will look up your blog and url now.

  7. retrogeegee

    Writing a journal is the only consistent form of writing I have done for the past few years. My journal consists of Writing down which of my 12 daily disciplines I have accomplished and which ones are left to do. I began this practice when I retired and found my days slipping by without accomplishing much and giving into a lifelong leaning towards depression. After some time I changed the disciplines around and found the exercise helped me in many ways. Life, however intervened and heart attacks, strokes, and major moves intervened in the practice since my life priorities changed. So to the twelve disciplines I added a daily description of the foods I eat in a day; the physical activity and exercise I have done; and a spiritual insight along with five things for which I am grateful on each specific day. Today’s post is timely, because I was thinking the practice was getting me nowhere; but I think I will continue since so many successful writers do journal. Thanks for the timely post.

    • Maryjhowell

      I like the sound of daily disciplines. Life has begun to slide recently. A reformed depressive, a serial dropper outer, I love writing but have not allowed myself to recently, ditto dancing and yoga. I love lists and the daily disciplines sound list like, something with a big tick beside it to feel like achievements until they build up into something big and can count as such. I used to blog and make copious entries and notes and have let that slide too. So thanks for the timely post and for contributions, and here’s to getting back to good habits.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Maryjhowell,
      Yes, here’s to getting back to good habits. There is a yoga class I keep meaning to get to, I am a serial do it tomorrower.
      Wishing you all the best, and hope you find time to dance, stretch and journal.
      Please share your url for the next blog post you write, as you find your way back to yourself.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello retrogeegee,
      I love the name you use here, very creative. I hope you are feeling well, I am sorry to hear you have experienced heart attacks and strokes. Thank you for sharing how you write in our journal with your daily disciplines.
      What did you eat today?
      Today I will also write down five things I am grateful for. Sometimes I lean towards depression too, exercise has helped me. Looking at what is good in my life will help too.
      Thank you for sharing your life. I appreciate your honesty.

  8. Mary Derksen

    I have kept a diary since childhood, although those are long gone. It was a good habit, and I have been journaling since I am an adult. Now I am writing Our Story – 45 years in Japan – and some details that I needed were in there. My son thought the dog under our house gave birth to eight puppies. I checked my journal – it was only six! I have separate loose page journals for the visits we made to our missionary kids in Zaire (now Congo), and the ones in Nepal volunteering for six years with MCC. Wonderful memories preserved.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Mary Derksen,
      The journals sound really helpful in remembering details. “45 Years in Japan”, sounds like a great title for a memoir. I lived in Tokyo for seven years, and wish I had kept a journal when I was there.
      What happened to the puppies? That must have been a fun memory.
      Hope you are well.
      So nice to meet you and hear of your and your children’s adventures.

  9. Cheryl Sams

    Hi Pam, great inspiring article. I have been journal writing and keeping diaries for years. For some reason I started this practice in the 5th grade. I went back to read the first entry in this diary hoping to find why I started this practice, but unfortunately I didn’t write the reason Why. You are right, journaling helps people keep personal records of their life. Mine have taken me from grade school to high school, to college. Through dating, marriage, kids, divorce, death and now back to a long term relationship, that I could probably turn into a never ending novel.. Some things that were too painful to write about, I put them in these journal writings as short stories to make it seem as if these were things that happened to someone else. To date I have 38 diaries/journals. Most recently I started a journal for my writing ideas and a personal one for my everyday happenings. So really I now have 40 journals.

    • Billie L Wade

      Hi Cheryl, Yes, our journals get us through so much. Mine are a constant repository of self-nurturing as I wrestle with the gamut of feelings and emotions, challenges and resolutions. Rereading my entries validates my perseverance and resilience. I am up to 18 journals now, lots more to go. Best to you.

    • Cheryl Sams

      Thank you Billie, all the writing instructors always say write daily. So when I’m not writing on a story, I make it a habit to write something in my journals. So that’s my way of writing everyday.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Cheryl Sams,
      Your approach of writing the hard parts of your story as short stories is a great idea. A record of what happened, but keeping the pain in the third person.
      I hope your story has more sunshine in it today, and in your tomorrows. I wonder what your 5th grade self thought. How special that you have all of your journals.
      Wishing you all my best.

    • Cheryl Sams

      Sorry to get back to you so late Pam, but you had me wondering about what did I write about in my first diary. Well I dug it out of my pile of journals, and my first entry was dated January 1, 1979. I introduced my immediate family, my grandmother, mom, aunt, uncle, stepdad, siblings and half siblings, and my 5year old cousin. It was the deep south and on that day it was windy, wet, cold, and there was a chance of snow. Christmas vacation was over and I was ready to go back to school. I didn’t want to be at home, school was more exciting(I stayed in a very rural area). Well I caught a cold and I was miserable, and I stated “I’m tired of writing now, I’m going to bed.” Well I guess I went to bed for a very long time, because my next entry was dated January 1984 and I was in college getting ready to go out on a date with an upperclassman. This was a one year diary, but I wrote in it throughout the years. My last entry Jan.2016. I updated my life. Three more pages left in this 38 year old diary. So I’m going to finally close it out on a very positive life update. Just needed to share. thanks.

  10. Kristine Adams

    Yes! Creativity doesn’t recognize boundaries or rules! I write, am an artist too, many mediums for both. I think it’s a pretty healthy, natural condition. Haven’t had the rich overseas experiences, but lived in a good many U.S. states and Canada, amassed 37 addresses so far, leaving fingerprints and/or words/artwork in my wake. Many journals created, some with people whose names I’ve forgotten but whose sketched faces I recognize. Hope to check in with you often. Cheers! 😀

    • Susan W A

      wow … “whose sketched faces I recognize.” … I can just imagine the lovely nature of your journal with sketches intertwined with your written thoughts.

      Definitely do come back to The Write Practice to visit … it’s a welcoming place, as is Pamela Hodges’ wonderful website!

    • Kristine Adams

      Thx Susan. I’m a fan of The Write Practice, visited Pam’s site as well. My site’s a bit wonky at present–but c’mon over if you don’t mind stepping over the mess! { }

    • Susan W A

      I thought I might have been making a wrong assumption based on your “check in” phrase. Nevertheless, I’m glad I commented and got your response so I could visit your website. LOVELY! Looks like you do remarkable, meaningful work. Loved, for instance, reading the glowing feedback from your memoir workshop participants. I’ll visit again.

    • Kristine Adams

      Sorry for delay- my digital myopia caused lapse in finding your note. Have not yet launched newsletter but hope to find reliable tech soon! What’s your writing?

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Kristine Adams,
      Love your description of leaving fingerprints in your wake. Words and artwork.
      You have lived in a lot of places, so many memories. Where in Canada? I grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
      Hugs to you.

    • Kristine Adams

      Sorry for delay- email folder used w/ Write Practice exchange was misplaced. I lived just into southern Ontario–first near Petrolia, and later near Sarnia. Shared communal houses with friends who now are in B.C. Wow, with our bogus potus, Canada’s appeal is skyrocketing!

  11. shiwangi agarwal

    I absolutely LOVE this article. I’ve been writing journals since i was a kid but quit writing for a very long. I’ve again started to write down my journals. It’s the best thing I’ve discovered. I’m more aware of my thoughts and myself now. It’s the best practice for a winter of any sort. Be it a beginner or a published author.
    I’m not sure if I want to share it with anyone but i just enjoy the whole process of writing my journal

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello shiwangi agarwal,
      Thank you for confirming that journal writing has helped you be more aware of your thoughts.
      You don’t have to share your thoughts. I like having a private place to write and think. Now to find a safe spot to hide a key, where no one else will find it and I can remember where I put it.

  12. gemma feltovich

    This doesn’t relate to this post, but feedback is greatly appreciated.

    Mara shivered, pulling her ratty, practically obsolete sweater closer around her torso. Tevrah was cold this time of year. And drizzly. A drop of rain landed on her nose, freezing and unexpected. She wished she had warm pants instead of her school dress and her mother’s cardigan.

    Her younger brother, Deo, tugged on her hand and pulled her off-course toward a stand selling jewelry. A young woman was standing behind the tables, smiling benevolently at her customers. She eyed Mara and Deo. “We don’t have long,” Mara warned him in their language, trying to smile innocently at the shopkeeper. It wasn’t as if they were going to steal something, but they certainly had the stink of poverty around them, accentuated especially by their thin, dark features. Deo’s hair was sticking up all over the place, his face the only inch of cleanliness on his body. Their mother was quite persistent about the need for washing your face twice a day, even if nothing else was clean. “It is important to make a good impression,” she had warned. Mara could only imagine what the people of this town thought of her and Deo, as she surely looked just the same as her six-year-old brother. She wished she hadn’t disregarded the necessity of neatness that morning. Every sort of person on earth could be observed in this market. The rich, the seedy, the fine, the poor, the gaudy, the drab. And Mara and Deo looked like beggars.

    She still had a few coins left in the pockets of her sweater. Her bag was filled with day-old bread, bruised apples, and several rolls of bandages. They still hadn’t found someplace selling sponges for cheap, which was unfortunate since the younger kids cried when you scrubbed them with the rougher brush. And that was Mara’s job. She would have taken a used oil cloth by now to avoid Skya Menyon’s sharp glance whenever she heard the wail of her toddler, who was the whiniest child Mara had ever met.

    It had been her job back at the village, at least three hundred kilometers from Tevrah’s town of North Market. They were three hundred kilometers from the place Mara had never left in her life– until now. The people were different here, even not so far away. The area was drizzly and brown and green, filled with grays. The people here had lighter hair, while the skin on Mara’s arm was dark as a macadamia nut’s shell. Her village was all but disappeared, nothing but ashes on the gods’ gentle breeze.

    The day after the fires, the women of the village had shorn their hair to shoulder length, Mara included since her fifteenth birthday had passed two weeks prior. She wasn’t used to it. She liked to twirl strands of her hair, mindlessly twist them together as a nervous habit, and with it so short it was hard to wrap her black locks around her index finger. She kept reaching up only for her hand to stop short and sink back down to her side.

    Deo was gawking at a gold necklace. The shopkeeper’s hawk eyes stayed locked on him, drawn as a moth to a flame. She was clearly suspicious. “Deo,” Mara hissed. He barely looked up.

    “What?” he muttered.
    “Stop it.”


    Mara tugged him a few feet away from the necklace, the shopkeeper still watching them. “Stop looking at that like you’re going to grab it.”

    “I wasn’t going–”
    “She doesn’t know that!” Mara protested. Deo frowned, looking at his grubby hands curiously.

    “Is it time for lunch yet?”

    “Deo!” she chastised. The woman had begun to emerge from behind the booth. Mara turned toward her, widening her eyes. “Yes?” she inquired politely, switching to Tevranian for the shopkeeper’s sake.

    “You kids like my jewelry?” she demanded.

    Mara smiled shakily. “I apologize, miss, but my brother, he is not so smart,” she said, patting Deo’s hair and shushing his protests with a hand over his mouth. She tried to adjust the bag on her hip so the woman could peer into it and see there was nothing out of the ordinary inside.

    “Oh?” the woman said, raising an eyebrow.

    “He does not know how much the necklace does cost, you see?”

    She grunted again.

    “The cost is too much for us, anyway, because you see–” Mara saw something out of the corner of her eye. A glint of silver. A flash of crimson red. She stopped short, aware of the shopkeeper’s eyes trained on her dubiously. A girl had slipped in behind the stand, wearing vibrant red pants and a gray shirt, hair that must have been white as ivory when it was clean hanging in strands down her back.

    “Yes?” the woman prompted.

    “Yes…” Mara forced herself to look away. “I, um, we were not taking the necklace.” The fair-haired girl’s hand danced out of her pocket and hooked the bracelet onto a finger. She stuffed it into her overcoat.

    Mara stared for a second before coming to her senses. “Hey!”

    The shopkeeper whirled around. “What–”

    The girl’s green eyes darted up to meet her accuser’s, and then she nimbly slipped into the crowd, that white hair a blur behind her. Mara began to run after her, leaving Deo and the shopkeeper behind, but stumbled over a man’s shoe. He sneered at her. “S-sorry,” she stammered. “Sir.”

    A warm, dry hand grasped Mara’s hand in its grip. She looked down to see Deo staring up at her, his hair wet from the rain. “Deo,” she said , trying to see over the crowd’s heads, “go… go find Thyme and Yuri.” She shoved the basket of goods into his hands.

    He began to whine, but Mara was already gone. She darted around a fruit cart, a few berries falling to the ground as she bumped it. The boy selling the fruits cursed at her in a language she didn’t understand. Mara kept going. Where had that girl gone? And why hadn’t she yelled “Thief!” and left other people to take care of it?

    She was an idiot, Mara reminded herself, that’s why.

    She tripped over her own shoes, a size and a half too large, not once but twice. Her gray dress was small on her, barely modest as it ended a few inches above her knees. The only reason Mara could get away with it was because she didn’t look her age. She’d kept a bit of baby fat, and she hadn’t shot up like a bamboo stalk. At least, not yet.

    Ah. Under that bridge over there, stretching across the rushing river below, its banks mossy and wet. Mara saw a flash of blonde hair and those strange red pants the girl was wearing before she took off again. By now, the rain was coming down hard, clumping Mara’s dark eyelashes together and blurring her vision. She stumbled over the muddy ground beyond the market, the sounds of the city disappearing from her ears, and ducked under the cover of the old bridge.

    It was quiet but for the sound of rain pattering the stone above.

    “Hello?” Mara called out softly. There were no footprints in the mud leading off into the forest on the other side of the tunnel, but she couldn’t see where else the girl could have gone. Perhaps she’d disappeared, like in the Yaba’s stories back home. “Hello?” Mara said again, louder this time. She took a tentative step forward, then froze in her tracks when a voice responded.

    “It’s not worth that much.”

    Mara startled, whirling around. No one. “What?”

    “The bracelet,” the voice explained. “Didn’t cost as much as that lady was selling it for.”

    “Ay.” Mara didn’t know what to say to an invisible person. The distant sounds of shouting salesman only just reached her ears.

    “You can leave and pretend this never happened.”

    Mara seethed. “No.”

    “Why not?” the disembodied voice challenged.

    “You took it!”

    “I stole something deserving of a halved coin.”

    “What in ny anaran’Andriamanitra is a half coin?” Mara retorted. She wrung the rainwater out of her hair, and it splattered on her already-soaked dress, hanging limp around her knees. She wasn’t sure where to look, as she couldn’t see the person she was talking to.

    “Oh, you know.” Mara didn’t. “A copper. Not even a single silver. She was marking it three times its worth.” They didn’t have much of silver where Mara was from.

    “And who are you,” Mara said, “to judge?”

    “And who are you?” the voice echoed.

    “I–” Mara started, then cut herself off. “You are a criminal.”

    “Hm.” The girl’s body dropped from the top of the bridge, and she landed perfectly balanced, wearing that red sweater and brown, unfitted pants. Mara stumbled back, surprised at the girl’s entrance, and almost tripped over a rock behind her. “I disagree,” the girl said.


    “Are quite good at climbing things,” the girl said. She stared at Mara unblinkingly, her green eyes startling against the gray of the day. A gust of wind picked up her wispy blonde hair on its wings. “I’ll tell you what. You let me go, I’ll give you this bracelet.”

    “That is not a deal!” Mara said, indignant. “You took it! Here is the idea: give it back and I will not… tell. Tell the police.”

    The girl chuckled, flashing a crooked smile, dimples appearing at the corners of her mouth. “Let me guess. You aren’t from around here?”

  13. Susan W A

    Hello, Pamela. Nearly every journal I’ve ever written starts with, “Well, I’m not good at journal writing, but I’ll try again” or some such lame thing, and invariably that entry is followed by a handful of dated entries, followed by some more six months or six years later. I try to let go of that feeling of “defeat before I’ve even started” because what’s the point? I tell myself, “Let go of thoughts of perfection because it ain’t coming to my doorstep any time soon.”

    I’m going to include here an entry in my journal from the month after my mother passed away in 2014. I’m guessing that I was using your writing style as part of my inspiration because I included a level and type of detail that I may not have previously.

    I was reflecting on why I am thankful. It reads, …

    The piece I’m going to start with is the sweet gesture that Mehrzad [my husband] made yesterday, showing me his deep love and such a respectful honoring of Mom. We sold her car yesterday at Carmax [2003 Lexus ES 300 silver/light blue, “wood” steering wheel and other trim areas, 40,708 miles bought for about $30,000 new – mom’s decision with no consultation – sold for $7,000]
    Carmax gave us back the license plate [NWSTOY] and license plate frames [“I’d rather be stitching”]. I’m thinking, “OK, What do we do with these? Should we keep them? No, we’re trying to declutter not reclutter.” A bit later on, Mehrzad lovingly says, “Shall we hang these up in the garage? It’s part of your mom’s life and we want to keep that history. We’ll need to find a place to hang it.” WOW! … THANKFUL!
    [I just now took a picture of the license plate on our pegboard in the garage to include here, but I guess an upload option is not included; forgot that.]
    As always, I’m thankful for you, Pamela.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Susan WA,
      Thank you for sharing the excerpt from your journal about your mom. The detail about the car, including the milage brought me emotionally into the story. Life is made up of concrete details. Little bits of reality that allow me the reader to feel the story.
      I am so sorry your mom died. And, so thankful to read of the kindness of your husband who hung the license in the garage.
      So nice to hear from you Susan. I am thankful for you also.

  14. Susan W A

    One of my biggest heartaches is that I accidentally threw out a notebook that I thought was empty … turns out it was my son’s reflections on quotes from when he was in 8th grade … it was a daily exercise by his history teacher, a man who inspired my son deeply, and is his favorite teacher of all time. Love those amazing connections when a teacher has such an impact on a student’s life.

  15. GirlGriot

    Hi, Pamela! Here is a way to have both the handwritten and the electronic record:

    I haven’t tried this system, but it looks pretty interesting. I also like the idea of using Scrivener. I prefer to journal with pen and paper, but am currently doing a hybrid: early morning brain dump online at, and then a notebook and my pretty new purple fountain pen throughout the day.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hi GirlGriot,
      So nice to see you here! Thank you for the suggestion to combine the handwritten and the electronic.
      Maybe I need to get a pretty purple fountain pen too. Something to remind me to take notes on my life.
      I will check out the 750 words site, and dump out my brains too.
      Hope you are well.

    • GirlGriot

      (FYI, 750 words is a paid site now. Not sure what it costs. I joined when it was free and was grandfathered in when they switched over.)

  16. Pamela Hodges

    Hello TerriblyTerrific,
    You could always swallow the key. (This is meant to be funny, and is not a real suggestion, in case you do swallow the key, and then want to hire a lawyer and say we told you to eat a key)
    How old is your daughter? Maybe she needs to find a safe spot to hide her journal. 🙂

  17. Elizabeth Mc Kenna

    I started writing journals when my children grew up and went to college. I felt lost in myself and wanted to get the emotions out of my system. I then began to cycle long distances with some friends. We cycled from coast to coast in various countries including Australia, Vietnam; parts of Europe and the Himalayas. I have recently been expanding some of my journals and one thing I noticed is that, throughout all the scary parts of the journeys; when we thought we were in dire states, someone came out of the blue and saved the day. When the bike broke, when we ran out of food or water on the mountains, or when we had no shelter. I call them the Angels on my journeys all of which I am deeply thankful for.

    The journal in 2014 helped me deal with a lot of sudden deaths of close family and friends, there was almost one a month that year. When I look at that year I realise we are all challenged and no matter how hard that challenge with a bit of help we can get through it. Journals can be lifesavers reminding us to be grateful and how lucky we are.

    • Pamela Hodges

      Hello Elizabeth McKenna,
      You have lived some amazing adventures. I love your perspective on how “journals can be lifesavers reminding us to be grateful and how lucky we are.”
      I am sorry about the sudden deaths of family and friends in 2014. That sounds like a hard year.
      Sending you hugs and sunshine,

  18. Carol Anne Olsen Malone

    In Julia Cameron’s book “The Artist’s Way,” she teaches her students to writing their “Morning Pages,” as a way to get back their creativity. Sometimes they are referred to as our “Mourning Pages,” because we mourn the ills of our life. I wrote faithfully for about a year then quit. It’s something that cleansed the soul and helped me dig down deep to the heart of my frustration with a certain family members and clear out some junk. Journalling is so important to our mental health and to bring us clarity. It can help us clear our mental blocks to our creativity as well. Thanks for the post.

  19. Shauna Bolton

    April 20, 2008

    We had breakfast with Uncle Jerry today after church. He made waffles, and we brought the side dishes: sausage, fried potatoes, cheese soufflé, and crunchy cantaloupe. It was nice to be together. He’s having more trouble with his breathing, but he isn’t taking any treatments for it. He’s refused what treatment the doctors have offered, although for his condition—interstitial lung disease—there really isn’t much they can do. He is allowing the disease to run its course. It’s strange seeing it happen to him because I know that I will follow soon.

    In truth, I’m simply afraid. I have always had a horror of drowning, of suffocation, of being unable to breathe. Since I’ve got late-stage pulmonary hypertension, that’s exactly how I’ll die: one gasp at a time. I might get lucky, though. People with this disease often die of sudden cardiac death. The heart just stops, and they’re dead before they hit the ground. I like Door Number 2 much better than Door Number 1.

  20. frederick schinkel

    “Writing is the only way I have to explain my own life to myself.” Love that. Must try it, but I need to be ‘plugged in’. I thought I’d never write again after the shakes got me. Now I can even read my writing!

  21. LilianGardner

    Hello Pamela,
    Many thanks for your article on keeping a journal. Very handy.
    I wrote a journal in the past, for a year, when I was grieving. There was no one to confide in, and writing my feelings and the events that filled my day, brought a little solace.
    Now I write daily, (in longhand, in a small blue booklet) to record my husband’s medication, (the names of his medicines and the hour in which he took them) his moods, and in brackets, a little about myself.
    The journal is a verification of what we did. My husband contests me on many things, declaring that ‘we did not’. Out comes my journal to satisfy his verification. I’m glad I recorded it on paper.
    In the blue booklet, I write the day, then the date, and below, the weather and mean temperature.
    I record where we went and why, like, shopping for shoes, meat, presents, etc:. I write of guests who came to lunch or to visit.

    I write a line about Minnie and her friends.
    Yesterday I recored that she vomited… a bunch of grass.

    Please give our love to Harper and the users of the other six litter boxes.

    With love,

  22. drjeane

    I love journaling and have even taught journal workshops. It is what helps untangle my thoughts and make sense of life. I make a practice of re-reading (currently once a week). That’s when I’m reminded of things I need to follow up on. It’s about the only time I use paper and pencil now, which really sets it apart from all other activities.

  23. Lindsey Wigfield

    Great article. I took a trip to Europe a few years ago and I was so happy when I came across my travel journal. All the details that I had forgotten are in there! I’ve now converted to a digital journal since it’s accessible from anywhere and I usually have my phone on me to jot down entries when I have a few minutes. (Disclaimer: I blog for JRNL.)

  24. Jane

    I have an urgent need to journal, and I do so, but always with a feeling of trepidation because am afraid my kids will judge me poorly when I’m gone. Haven’t committed crimes or anything like that but am somehow ashamed of the strong feelings of insecurities that come up again and again. But I need very much to write them. Anyone else have this problem?

    • Rose Kayani

      Yes. I sometimes feel like you as well. That is why, I write a lot and then get rid of it. This helps me with my self awareness. When you write everything down as true as it has happened and you read back to yourself, you somehow judge yourself and that would become very valuable to you for many reasons. 1) you might realise, it was not as important, good or bad or even important as you first thought. 2) You can realise what went wrong or right in that occasion and you might have the opportunity to make it better or try to accept it and draw a line under it. 3) you have become your own best imaginary friend whom you can talk to in confidence and get help without any worry of it going further or be judged. The list of benefits are endless and can go on and on and on, but I am sure, you got the gist of it. 🙂

  25. Kai

    I love this articular because it explain how writing journals makes you a better writes. it help you
    express your emotions also your daily lifestyle. I never really writing a journal before but I starting
    to write down my thought in my journal. it’s the best way to practice writing or express yourself for example I wake up seven in the mourning eat breakfast brush my tooth and wash my face.I get dress walk out the front door to wait at the bus stop.

  26. Judy Peterman Blackburn

    Great post. I have journaled ever since junior high and maybe even a bit earlier. As time goes on I think I’m writing down better things, descriptions and such and digging deep into my real feelings about things and life. It’s a good way to explore and figure out who I am and what I’m thinking. 🙂

  27. dhahavii

    I started journaling few months ago and I think it really improved my mental health a bit lol. Usually, I write at night and sometimes, I forget what just happened hours ago (which I have to reopen my gallery to find some specific photos that have to do with my “day”). Anyways, it’s a great and a helpful article btw!



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