Journaling Idea #27: Word of the Day

Many people find inspiration in‘s Word of the Day.

With a new word posted every day, Word of the Day can be a great prompt for daily creativity.

Whether you like to record the events of your day, write fiction, or craft poetry, starting your thinking with a given word can provide unexpected ideas.


Journaling Idea #26: Driving Tales and the Adventures of Learning Other Life Skills

My son recently got his driving permit. I bought him a mini composition book to record his adventures.

I picked out this green covered mini composition book for Aiden because green is his favorite color.

Aiden’s first entry

I’m excited that Aiden even chose write his entry in cursive.

I’m tempted to start my own companion mini journal to record my perceptions of this same experiences.

Mini journals work great for writers of few words or for short-term topics.

Journaling Idea #25: Get a Journal with Prompts

I received several journals for Christmas, and the sequel to Warren Berger’s A More Beautiful Question.
My son gave me Father’s Life: Dad, I Want to know Everything about You. This is a picture of its introduction.

Here’s my first entry written in response to a prompt that quickly stirred a memory for me.

If my messy cursive gives you trouble, here’s what I wrote in response to the prompt that said, “Describe the sight, feel, and smell of the first stuffed animal you remember having”:

I remember the night we arrived in Pennsylvania when I was four.  I had been born in Ohio, but we were moving to live upstairs in my grandparents house in Waverly, PA. I don’t remember whether I was carried upstairs or whether I stumbled up in a groggy state, but I do remember that I slept my first night on a daybed in the hall upstairs next to a stack of boxes.  Clutched close to me was my stuffed animal Tippy, a light brown puppy.  He had floppy ears and four legs that stuck out like he was sprawled.  He had a stubby tail.  I had named him after a real dog we had owned in Ohio that had run away.  Tippy, the stuffed animal, was actually silkier than I remember the real dog being.  I loved to pet and squeeze my stuffed Tippy.  I always took him to bed. I don’t remember how he smelled when I was little.  I can only imagine the dusty smell that he still has.  Yes, I still have Tippy.  I haven’t slept with him since grade school, but I keep him in my closet along with Ribby, my stuffed frog.  I’ll save the stories of Ribby for another page.

The journal my son gave me for Christmas is published by Chartwell Books. He gave a similar one to my wife and to his grandmother. The premise of this journal series is that you give the with its prompts to a loved one and when they are finished they return it to you to cherish.

You can find a wide variety of printed journals for purchase that have preprinted prompts at the top of each page. The one my son gave me, My Father’s Life, only has 204, with a slightly lower number of pages with prompts. It wouldn’t keep me busy for a whole year if I wrote in it every day, but it does provide some great questions to jumpstart my writing.

I’m looking forward to writing more entries in this journal and sharing them with my son.

I interviewed my mother after she retired and typed out the stories she told me. I cherish those stories.

Journaling Idea #24: Begin with a Song

I often catch myself unexpectedly humming and wonder why I thought of that song. Follow your subconscious, and write.

Boombox photo from Wikimedia Commons

Option 1: Playlist Your Day

If you enjoy journaling as a way of reflecting on your day, then consider creating a playlist of songs that would work as a soundtrack for your day. Include a title for at least four parts of the day:

  • Morning
  • Afternoon
  • Evening
  • Night

Option 2: Your Story Behind the Song

You can write about a song that comes to mind, or you can use the following steps:

Make a Google search for a certain year and genre. I searched the best country songs of 1995.

Pick out a song you remember identifying with more than once. I chose Bryan White’s “Someone Else’s Star.”

Find a recording of the song and listen to it.

Describe where the song takes you. “Someone Else’s Star” takes me to my dorm room. I’m lying on my bed all alone, listening to the radio as I look at the window. I was twenty-six and single.

What was your favorite line or lines? Why?

The chorus spoke to me as I tried to rationalize why I was stuck alone.

I guess I must be wishin’ on someone else’s star
It seems like someone else keeps gettin’ what I’m wishin’ for
Why can’t I be as lucky as those other people are?
Oh, I guess I must be wishin’… on someone else’s star

How do you feel about the song today?

As a man who has found his love, I don’t identify with this song anymore. It fit me as a single graduate student. I felt incomplete. My wife makes me feel whole.

Option 3: Playfully Parody

As a teen in the 1980s, I loved Weird Al Yankovic.

If you get an alternative thought to a song you hear, follow that angle and write a parody.

Option 4: Lyrics for a Tune Without Words

Listening to instrumental music that has no lyrics, or whose lyrics you do not know, can provide you with the opportunity to compose words for the tune yourself, or the piece may inspire you to imagine a narrative.

Option 5: Write Your Own Song

Reflect on your day, and sing what you feel. Write down the words that come to mind. Start with the classic verse,-chorus-verse-chorus pattern.

Journaling Idea #23: A Commonplace Book

Years ago, after reading Abraham Verghese’s “Cutting for Stone,” I started my own commonplace book.

Different than a diary or a journal, the commonplace book focuses on material gathered from others.  Its power for creativity lies in the opportunity it provides its maker to see the similarity and differences of what others have said about a given topic, to note the range and gaps. Commonplace books also serve as a writer’s personal pantry of quotations to add to their own creations.

from David Stone’s Inlandia Literary Journeys: Consider ‘commonplace book’ as alternative to a journal February 17, 2018

Read my whole column on commonplace books as it appeared in The Press Enterprise newspaper.

Journaling Idea #22: Count Your Day

By replica by François D’Albert Durade (1804-1886) – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 1405, Public Domain

Count That Day Lost

If you sit down at set of sun
And count the acts that you have done,
And, counting, find
One self-denying deed, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
One glance most kind
That fell like sunshine where it went --
Then you may count that day well spent.

But if, through all the livelong day,
You've cheered no heart, by yea or nay --
If, through it all
You've nothing done that you can trace
That brought the sunshine to one face--
No act most small
That helped some soul and nothing cost --
Then count that day as worse than lost.

Many have been inspired to reflect on their day by the words of the Victorian novelist and poet Mary Ann Evans (22 November 1819-22 December 1880), who published under the pen name George Eliot.

My wife’s high school English teacher Ora Mae Kirk regularly exhorted her students with a variation of Eliot’s words. She proclaimed, “Count that day lost in which you learn no knew thing.”

Considering the success of your day can be meaningful reflective activity for all of us. You may make this judgment a part of your daily writing. You may include it as a part of a traditional diary approach to journal writing, or you may choose to keep a mini journal where all you record are your wins and losses.

You can adopt the criteria of George Eliot, Ora Mae Kirk, another moralist, or one of your own making.

You might find inspiration for your own criteria for a well-spent day in one of Ananya Bhatt’s “50 A Day Well Spent Quotes for Friends and Family.”

Whatever your criteria, you might want to write it out inside the cover of your journal.

I say, “Count each day where you write from both your head and your heart a day well spent.”

Journaling Idea #21: An Anecdote Journal

A photo of the rest area at Oakland Woods on I-90 in the U. S. taken by daveynin

Seven years ago I wrote about anecdotes for an Inlandia Literary Journeys column titled “Anecdotes Are the Antidote” that was published in the Press Enterprise newspaper on October 18, 2015.

I advocated in my column that our personal anecdotes deserved a place on our coffee tables along with our photos. I’d still make that argument, but I no longer recommend writing them on index cards and keeping them in a box. Experience has taught me that a journal is a safer place.

Years ago a student caught my attention as he went to leave the classroom.

            “Can I go to the bathroom?” he asked.

            “I don’t know.  Can you go to the bathroom?” I replied with my typical smart-aleck teacher response.

            “Yeah, I can,” he said matter-of-factly and left the room.

This anecdote illustrates the basic three part-structure of most anecdotes. Anecdotes are simple narratives with a beginning, middle, and end.

The beginning sets up the story. It provides context. The writer often answers three questions: When? Where? Who?

In the middle, the writer creates conflict by presenting a complication. The reader learns the answer to the fourth question: What? They learn what first happened, and they begin to wonder what will happen next.

The end provides the twist and tells us the answer to the fifth question: How? How did things turn out?

Anecdotes don’t always answer our typical sixth question: Why?

Not all anecdotes are humorous, but many are. They follow the classic pattern of humor: preparation, anticipation, punch line.

So whether you pick out an event from each day and record it in your journal as an anecdote, or your choose to write on the days when something strikes your proverbial funny bone, I hope you’ll sharpen your narrative skills through anecdotes.

If you come up with some funny anecdotes, you might be able to earn some money. Reader Digest is always looking for jokes and funny story. Look here for details about submitting.

Journaling Idea #20: I Spied Today–A Journal of Sightings

“I spy with my little eye,” is the opening line to a children’s game many of us played on long car trips. I usually took joy in finding an object that would stump everyone else in the car or in finding something unusual.

Photo of a 1956 GMC truck by Bull-Dozer

Whether it’s birds, cars, people, plants, or memes, whatever you enjoy watching, keeping a journal of unusual sightings can be particularly satisfying.

Name it.

Classify it.

Describe it.

Connect it.

In the past I’ve kept a record of lists of birds or plants I’ve seen in a day, but I’m proposing a more focused record of your best sighting of the day.

My family and I get a good laugh out of watching the fashion choices of people we pass. We often say to each other, “There’s your next look.” My wife likes to make-up a story to explain some people’s unusual wardrobe choices.

My son and I keep an eye out while we drive for unusual cars. With the end of the sale of gas-powered cars and light-weight trucks coming to California by 2035, we find ourselves really valuing the different cars we can see.

Whether you keep track of your daily favorites for yourself or to share with others, the process of describing them in a journal will enhance your observation skills and make you more mindful of the distinguishing features of whatever it is that you enjoy watching each day.

Journaling Idea #19: Divide the Year by Your Age

I’ll be 54 in 2023 since I was born in 1969. When I divide the number of days in a year by my age (365÷54), I get 6.759, which means I could write about each year of my life for about a week. My son who is turning 18 would end up with about three weeks for each year of his life. By now, I think you get the idea.

Your entries could be fictional or nonfictional.

I enjoyed reading the Nobel Prize winning writer Gϋnter GrassMy Century, an overview of the twentieth century created in a modernist style with varying narrators and styles. A story is told for each year of the century.

Photo of Günter Grass from Wikimedia

I propose one could write a similar view of the years of one’s own life. I’d start with 1969.

For the first day you write about each year, I’m suggesting you make the entry an overview of what you can remember about that year, what you can remember being told about that year by older members of your family, and with any remaining space recall or gather information about that year. Consider looking at a Wikipedia entry for that year, or searching the Internet for trends in fashion, food, or vehicles. Look up what movies, television shows, books, and games were popular that year. Find out what was happening in sports.

For the remaining days you write about each year, which would be five or six days for me, recall stories you remember from that year about yourself or other members of your family.

If you don’t recall enough about your personal life, consider filling each day with nonfictional articles about what ever interests you from that day, or write a fictional story about a character set during that year.

Your journal will create a unique portrait of the time period you have lived so far.

Journaling Idea #18: Encouraging Words

“You should become an English major,” said my Honors Composition teacher Dr. Ottilie Stafford when I was a Freshman in college.  She made me feel wanted and valuable.  She saw potential in me. Her encouraging words changed the direction of my life. I dropped my music major and became an English major.

In graduate school, I encountered another encouraging professor, Dr. Edna May Loveless.  She modeled empathetic listening skills and taught with a positive spirit, notable in her frequent use of backchanneling utterances–uh-huh, hmm, etc.   She encouraged my fellow composition and rhetoric classmates to value the power of positive psychology.  She emphasized the importance of noting the strengths in our students’ writing. She encouraged me to write up a teaching activity I had shared with her and submit it for publication.  Setting on the Sidewalk: Using Chalk Drawing to Teach Narrative Setting became my first peer-reviewed publication.

Now after thirty years of teaching, I have become a mentor teacher and conscious once again of the importance and power of encouragement.

The words of the American motivational speaker William Arthur Ward ring true to me:

“Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you. Love me and I may be forced to love you.”

Brainy Quote

As I have spent time considering journaling ideas, I’m convinced of the value of creating a encourager’s journal. A book/digital document where an individual can mindfully collect encouraging resources and track the results of encouraging.

I’ve chosen to create my encourager’s journal as a Google Doc.  The outline function connected to headings allows me to easily organize and store the exemplary anecdotes, quotes, and inspirational texts I locate. I’ve already added the quote from William Arthur Ward and another from Joyce Meyer:

“We can improve our relationships with others by leaps and bounds if we become encouragers instead of critics.”

I’ve set up a section for listing people I am seeking to encourage. Although my Encourager’s Journal Google Doc is password protected, I have chosen to use initials to identify the people I am seeking to encourage.  I put in labels for the person’s initials, circumstances/conditions, encouragement method, and results.

I’m making a list of methods for providing encouragement, i.e. affirmation, providing vision, sharing hope, and empathy.

I’m also including a list of common circumstances/conditions needing encouragement:

  • Changing circumstances
  • Changing conditions
  • Facing Challenges
  • Experiencing Indecision

Here’s a link to my encourager’s journal template to share with anyone who would like to use a Google Doc to create an encourager’s journal of their own.