Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 13, 2016

Can Journaling be A REAL Writing Exercise?

erikaphoto-45Can Journaling be A REAL Writing Exercise?

by Erika Wassall (the New jersey Farm Scribe)

I started out writing as a young girl, curled up on the floor at the foot of my bed, scribbling in a notebook. I didn’t know what half of what I wrote meant.  The sound of the words, and the reactions they evoked was far more important than the words themselves.

Emotions flowed. Young love, pain, and complex struggles all formulated themselves on the paper.  It was my soul on those pages. I am willing to bet that many of you have mental pictures of yourselves doing the same thing.

I still have about a dozen journals from high school that I can’t bring myself to throw away, because I know how much the words meant to me. Although to be honest, when I read them now, even when I try, even when I long to feel the intensity I did then, I often can’t relate.

Today, I still write when I’m feeling emotional. Journaling is my way of nailing it down, making what can be an overwhelming cloud of feelings more tangible, more EXTERNAL.  I can point to the words:  HERE.  This is what’s wrong.  THIS is why I’m upset.  And when it has a face, a place I can put it… whether it be a word document or a scribbled piece of paper… it then quickly looses its power.

It is no longer an intangible, all knowing, all powerful entity. It’s these words, these indulgent sentences, grammatically horrible, overly repetitive, emotionally unnecessary paragraphs.  That’s them, right there.  And it becomes something I can walk away from.

So all that brings me to the question: Is there any actual writing development that goes on there?  Or is it just an indulgent, narcissistic data dump of emotional drivel?

My opinion is a resounding: YES! There is writing development found in journaling.

There is the obvious argument that any words on paper develops us as writers, and I agree with that. But I think there is more to be found here.

Deepens our Characters

Our stories and characters come from US, our emotions, our feelings.  And often, they are involved in paths that in many ways are reflective of the very steps we’ve taken ourselves.  So understanding the depths of our emotions can help us create deep, multi-sided characters that others can relate to in the same manner.

Get to Know Your Natural YOU

Obviously, the style in which we write our manuscripts is not the same as when we’re journaling. However, it can help us develop our natural voice, the style of writing we’re drawn toward and how we express yourselves.

The most incredibly unique version of ourselves is the ones we only let out when no one is looking. It may not be the polished, “editor-ready” version.  But it’s powerful.  And it’s important that we’re not fighting that natural pull, but instead finding ways to cultivate that very voice into the professional finished product we are ultimately looking for.

In order to polish that voice, that exceptional one that is no one’s but our own, we have to know exactly what it is.

A Pressure Relief Valve

WRITE EVERY DAY!!!  When this mantra becomes a point of stress, it can be very counterproductive.  Maintaining goals and taking writing seriously is extremely important.  But it’s a fine line between guidelines that make us better writers and guidelines that make us forget why we ever wanted to be writers in the first place.

When we allow journaling to count as our writing for the day it gives us a chance to relax, reset and get ready to come back even more focused and ready to go. Similar to free association, it can be a great way to break out of a writers block or to take a break and work through a scene we’re struggling with.

While it’s obviously important to also have constant writing practice that is more structured and stretches our less indulgent muscles, journaling can undoubtedly be used as a tool to remind us of the power of the written word, and to bring our craft to a new level.

The depth of your voice, your characters…

… and your manuscripts, are worth it!


Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!

Thank you Erika for contributing every other Wednesday to Writing and Illustrating this year. I know people enjoyed your articles.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Erika, so happy to know my daily journaling is worthwhile. 🙂


  2. Wonderful article!


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