Journaling Idea #17: A Comic Journal

Photo with Comic Mono filter by Erin Stone: Super Stan Man

I took a course in the graphic novel years ago. Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art was our primary text for the course. It’s a great place to start if you do not have a background in comics, also called visual literature.

When I thought about the idea of keeping a comic journal, I searched the Internet to see if I could buy one for a reasonable price or if I should just begin with a blank journal that I already had around the house.

I bought this book at my local Target because I didn’t want to wait for one of the many other options for comic journals I found on Amazon to arrive to my house.

I viewed Palle Schmidt youtube video on How to write and draw comics! Episode 3. I don’t think I’m personally interested in his book The Devil’s Concubine, but I think he gives some solid tips on making comics.

I decided I want to draw myself fairly realistically. I remembered the comic filter on my phone (on my phone it is an option as a filter in the text message app) and took a few photos to get me started. My daughter teasingly calls me StanMan because Stanley is my middle name. I decided I would title my journal The Adventures of StanMan. I took some photos with my the filter on my phone and then attempted my own drawings in my journal.

A photo I took with the Comic Mono filter of the template page I decided to use to start.
This is the first three panels I’ve drawn. So far, I didn’t find a need for captions or speech balloons. I’ll use some of those soon enough.
This is a panel my daughter Erin drew for me as a start to her comic journal. She enjoys drawing comics.

I’ve got a ways to go with my comic drawing skills. (Just look at my first attempt at drawing my face!) However, I think I will keep drawing entries in my new journal and improve my skills.

Once again, your journal is your journal. You decide what you put in it and how often. You may want to stick with one approach to journaling that you do every day, or you may chose to work in different journals on different days. Maybe an eclectic journal is what you want. We’ll explore that idea on another day.


Journaling Idea #16: Make it Molecular

Photo by Erin Stone

You could choose to write about molecules, but that’s not what I’m suggesting here. I’m recommending you write in very small particles. Try writing an atom poem. I learned of this short form variation of a haiku from a post on Ben Alexander’s “The Skeptic’s Kaddish,” a blog I enjoy following. Alexander cites the Poets Collective website for the source of the instructions for the form:

  • Provide a title.
  • Write in a series of three-line stanzas.
  • Use five letters in the first line of each stanza
  • Use seven letters in the second line of each stanza.
  • Use five letters in the third line of each stanza.
  • Do NOT capitalize any letters.
  • Do NOT use punctuation.
  • Use as many stanzas as needed.

Below is my first attempt at an atom poem:

Photo by Erin Stone

When it Snows in San Bernardino




on top




peaks of


You can create a whole journal devoted to atomic poems, or make a journal devoted to short form poetry where you try out a different form each day, week, or month. You could create an eclectic journal where you respond to different prompts/ideas on each page. You’re in charge of your writing. Your journal is yours.

Journaling Idea #15: Introductions

Put your imagination to work each entry and create the first meeting of two fictional characters or recall the first time you met someone in real life. First impressions say a lot.

I don’t have to imagine the first time I met my wife. I stepped into my graduate classmate’s apartment and turned my head to follow the sound of laughter. Sitting in Todd’s curvy Ikea chair just to the right of the door was a curly blond with mischievous blue eyes that glinted in the light from floor lamp as we were introduced. I was struck by her confidence. Besides being tall like her brother that I already knew, she looked nothing like him with his angular frame, olive complexion and dark hair. She was full-figured, and lightly tanned with naturally rosy cheeks. I was immediately taken with her, but it was her witty sense of humor that made me wonder why it had taken us so long to meet.

Romantic meetings may have obvious appeal, but first encounters with all types of people can add interest to any narrative.

“The Lion and the Mouse,” bronze statue by Tom Otterness
(Photo by Qwertzu 111111)

Consider character options by their narrative role:

  • protagonist
  • antagonist
  • deuteragonists
  • love interests
  • foils
  • tertiary characters

Think about types of relationships:

  • family
    • parent-child
    • siblings
    • cousins
    • aunts/uncles and niece/nephews
    • grandparents and grandchildren
  • work
    • boss and employee
    • coworkers
    • seller/service provider and a client
    • educator/healthcare provider and support staff
  • friendships
  • acquaintances
  • situational
  • educational
    • classmates
    • teacher-student
    • cross grade

Think comic book:

  • hero
  • villian
  • mentor
  • comrade/sidekick
  • trickster
  • victim
  • fool

Whatever the pair you put together, remember the basic ways a writer reveals character:

  • Direct characterization
    • the narrator states the character’s trait(s)
  • Indirect characterization
    • character’s speech
    • character’s actions
    • character’s appearance
    • character’s thoughtshts
    • how other characters respond to them in speech/action

Reviewing the pages of your introductions journal may feel like your watching speed dating, improv, or a job interview. You’ll likely want to turn the page on some of the characters, but others you will want to get to know better. Give those their own document, but keep making more introductions.

Journal Idea #14: It’s All in the Form of a Sentence

Illustration: Chiswick Chap

“Not every pretty thing should be touched,” my son read aloud with joy from Anthony Ryan’s The Martyr. The insight of the novel’s protagonist and former outlaw Allwyn Scribe spoke to my son not only because of the ringing truth of its content, but also because of its form.

Look a the placement of the negative adverb at the beginning of the sentence. What a difference it makes to remove it: every pretty thing should be touched.

Consider the turn of the sentence’s final word–touched.

Play with the content: Not very man should be married.

A single sentence can provide so much fun.

Consider keeping a journal where you play with the forms of a sentence.

Your entries could include one or more of the following:

  • Quote a memorably constructed sentence.
  • Imitate a sentence you admire.
  • Define a grammatical construction.
  • Define a rhetorical device.
  • Construct a sentence from a grammatical or rhetorical definition.
  • Play with the construction of a single sentence, trying out diferrent options.
  • Review the function of different punctuation marks.
  • Play with the punctuation of a sentence whose words remain in the same order.
  • Practice combing clauses in different patterns.
  • Savor a sentence by reading it aloud repeatedly with different intonations.
  • Analyze a sentence’s construction.
  • Attempt your own endeavors at techniques described in a book about sentences.

I thoroughly enjoyed Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence: And How to Read One. I got it for Christmas in 2011 when it was new. If you start looking at the options for books about sentences, you might be surprised at how many exist.

Cicero’s De Inventione

Journaling Idea #13: A Process Journal

Photo by David Stone of a bulletin board in his classroom depicting Donald Murray’s stages of the writing process as described in Murray’s book Write to Learn

Whatever you make, there is a process, a series of actions, that creates your product. I find value in consciously considering the process I follow for creating everything I make.

Graham Wallas designated five stages in the creative process in his 1921 book The Art of Thought:

  • Preparation
  • Incubation
  • Illumination
  • Evaluation
  • Verification

You can find a description for each of these stages on Pearce Center for Professional Communication hosted by Clemson University.

If the idea of a creative process is new to you, then take time to reflect on what you make and how you do it. How do I start? Is that how I really start? Is there anything before that? What’s the second thing I do? Write out a description of how you made your last creation? Do you see distinct phases? What would you call them? Are they similar or different than the stages of Graham Wallace?

Consider what new insights you might gain from documenting your creative process and reflecting on it.

Teaching writing as a process became the dominant approach to teaching writing in the United States during the last quarter of the twentieth century. Most frequently I see the writing process labeled in the writing textbooks with five stages:

  • Prewriting
  • Drafting
  • Revising
  • Editing
  • Presenting/Publishing

I have found value in creating discomfort in my students by presenting them with more than one model for the writing process. I want them to experience cognitive dissonance. Looking at the same process from a different perspective with a different set of labels deepens and broadens their understanding. I use Donald Murray’s labels to help them reconsider the writing process:

  • Conceiving
  • Collecting
  • Focus
  • Select
  • Order
  • Develop
  • Clarify

(The labels above are a mix of those found in Murray’s book Write to Learn and those accredited to Murray by Roy Peter Clark in an article on the Poytner website.) I have my students place their work in a classification folder with six flaps. Before they turn in their “final” draft, I have them write a reflection on the process of writing their paper. I ask them to consider the following questions:

What worked well for you? 

What gave you difficulty? 

What will you repeat the next time you have a similar writing task?

What will you do differently next time?

Which models/samples of similar writing influenced you?

Is there an aspect of the process where you think you need to sharpen your skills or gain more knowledge?

Of which aspect of this piece are you most proud?

I hope you will begin to keep your own process journal, if you haven’t already, where you record and reflect on how you make whatever it is that you value and create. Consider creating a model for your process and share it with other creators.

Journal Idea #4: Five and Beyond–A Sensory Journey

Allegory of Taste by Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656)

Most of us learned in grade school that we had five senses, but much has been written about how we may have more than three times that number, depending on what you count.

David Hiskey, founder and editor of the website Today I Found Out and creator of The Brainfood Show podcast, argues in a post on Hella+Health that we have eighteen.

A journal devoted to exploring and savoring different types of sensory experiences provides numerous opportunities to practice description and increase your personal awareness of your body’s sensory receptors.

Hiskey’s list includes sight, taste, touch, pressure, itch, thermoception (heat and cold), sound, smell, proprioception (awareness of body’s position), tension, nociception (pain), equilibrioception (balance and body direction and acceleration), stretch receptors, chemoreceptors, thirst, hunger, magnetorecption, and time.

Take time to listen to Julian Treasure’s 2011 TED Talk (“5 Ways to Listen Better”), where he argues that we are losing are listening.

Try out Treasure’s five tools for improving your listening. Record your experience with each of his suggested activities and then consider how you might attempt similar activities with some of your other senses.

In literature, descriptions of sensory experiences are called imagery. Visual imagery captures what one experiences through sight. Auditory imagery describes sound. Olfactory imagery takes its name from the olfactory nerve which conveys our sense of smell to the brain. Tactile imagery describes what we feel through touch. Gustatory imagery is the name for taste descriptions. Kinetic imagery is the name for descriptions of motion.

One could easily spend a year exploring their senses and practicing using the description techniques of naming, detailing, and comparing. Naming focuses on your choice of nouns and verbs. Detailing utilizes adjectives and adverbs. Comparing utilizes similes and metaphors.

My college composition professor Dr. Ottilie Stafford emphasized repeatedly the importance of concrete and specific writing. Concrete writing focuses on sensory words as opposed to abstract words. The more specific your word choice, the more vivid the imagined experience for your reader or listener.

Block for World Peace Poets Postcard Project

I finished carving the block to make the postcards I will be sending out each day in February as a part of the World Peace Poets Postcard Project.

I will write a short poem about peace each day in February and send it out to one of the other members in my group.

I am looking forward to receiving cards back from other poets across the country.

Making your own postcard is optional.

Which sensory experience brings back your Christmas memories?

For many it’s a fragrance that brings a memory fully to mind. Does the scent of evergreens, peppermint, mulling spices, or mothballs unwrap the holidays of the past for you?

Or is the feel of glitter, velvet, ice, or the deep warmth of a fire that makes you recall?

Which gustatory delight takes you back with its taste? Popcorn balls, chocolate covered cherries, or hot cocoa?

Is it the sound of bells, the shattering of ornaments, the tinkle of a music box, or the hoot of a toy train that harkens you to a certain moment?

Or is it the sight of glistening snow, tinsel strewn trees, or mountains of crumpled wrapping paper?

Whatever the sense, savor the memory and write it down.