What to Write in a Writing Journal: Prompts & Techniques

Picture of Julia McCoy

Julia McCoy

Creator and Co-founder

what to write in a writing journal

Journal writing is like having a conversation with yourself — on paper. It’s a safe space where you can untangle your thoughts, unpack your emotions, and track your growth without judgment.

You can chronicle your daily experiences, capture fleeting inspirations, or work through challenges — all while sharpening your writing skills.

There’s no one right way when it comes to what to write in a writing journal, but that blank page can feel pretty daunting when you’re staring at it.

A lot of people get stuck because they worry about grammar, spelling, or making every sentence sound profound. But remember, your writing journal is just for you.

Don’t get hung up on trying to sound smart. Let your thoughts flow freely and trust that the process of journaling will naturally help you improve your writing over time.

So grab a comfy pen, a journal that speaks to your soul (or a journaling app like Day One), and let’s explore the different possibilities for what to write in a writing journal.

Table Of Contents:

Journals for Everyday Life: Capturing the Big, the Small, and Everything In-Between

Journals are your time capsules. Think about how awesome it would be if you could read your grandma’s teenage diary. Maybe she scribbled down stories about her first crush or hilarious anecdotes about high school shenanigans. Those glimpses into her younger years would be priceless, right?

Think of your own writing journal as a gift to your future self — a record of your adventures, relationships, heartbreaks, triumphs, and even your mundane routines. Years down the road, those entries will help you understand the journey that shaped who you are.

Daily Journal: Making Each Day Count

The daily journal is like your personal chronicle, a space where you jot down everyday events, both extraordinary and ordinary.

Did you have an awesome work meeting that led to a big breakthrough? Write about the thrill of success.

Did you finally finish that crochet project that you’ve been working on forever? Celebrate that sense of accomplishment.

Or maybe it was a normal day, full of little things like a delicious latte or a phone call with a friend that brightened your day. Jot those down.

Daily journaling is all about capturing the fabric of your life, no matter how big or small the threads. Try ending each day with a simple question: “What were the best parts of my day today?”

Gratitude Journal: Counting Your Blessings

I know this type of journal writing has become super popular lately. You go online and there are entire shops dedicated to selling “gratitude journals”.

However, there’s a good reason why gratitude journaling is so popular — focusing on the things you’re thankful for, even on tough days, can shift your perspective and make you happier.

Psychologists have actually proven it. In one study from Harvard Health, they found that practicing gratitude can have long-term positive effects on our emotional well-being. This gratitude can have impacts on both mental and physical health, and who wouldn’t want more happiness in their everyday life?

Now, you don’t need a fancy gratitude journal. Just add a section to your regular writing journal to write down things you’re grateful for.

Start simple with one or two things each day — like having a warm bed to sleep in, a good laugh with your bestie, a favorite meal, a kind gesture from a stranger… even a stunning sunset or a song you love.

You’ll discover the things to be grateful for are already around you.

Travel Journal: Recording Your Adventures

Traveling is one of the best things you can do for personal growth. Not only do you see incredible sights, try exotic foods, and encounter different cultures, but you also get to test your comfort zone and grow from new experiences.

And believe me, you’ll learn tons about yourself — like how adaptable, resourceful, and open-minded you really are.

A travel journal is all about making those travel memories last longer — but it’s way more than just a collection of dates and destinations. Your writing journal can become a colorful, evocative record of all your awesome travel experiences.

Imagine rereading about your first time seeing the Eiffel Tower or hiking through the majestic Yosemite Valley — those sensory details and raw emotions come rushing back when you start a travel blog.

Go beyond the typical sightseeing details. Describe how you felt when you took that first bite of a steaming plate of pasta in Rome or how you were awestruck gazing at the turquoise waters of a secluded beach in Bali.

Turn those details into vivid snapshots. If you enjoy visual journaling, a bullet journal can be an awesome way to spice up your entries. Experiment with whimsical doodles, travel stickers, watercolor paintings, snippets of local maps, ticket stubs… you can even glue dried flowers from those flower markets in Thailand.

Get creative. Let those visuals tell a story that transports you back to your journey.

Journaling for Creativity: Spark Your Imagination

So far we’ve covered how journal writing can capture the big and small events of your life. But it can also be an incredible tool for nurturing your imagination.

If you want to start a creative writing piece or if you feel blocked and uninspired, journal writing can help you get those creative juices flowing.

Think of it as a sandbox where you can experiment without judgment. There are tons of awesome journaling techniques and writing prompts to kickstart those creative bursts.

Morning Pages: Tapping into Your Subconscious

Have you ever read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron? This book is basically a bible for artists.

She calls them “morning pages” and the concept is simple: Every morning, as soon as you wake up, grab your writing journal and write non-stop for three pages, no matter what comes out. Stream of consciousness, uncensored ramblings, random thoughts… anything goes.

Now, here’s why those three pages of morning madness are so awesome. This judgment-free zone helps you clear all the mental clutter and tap into the subconscious wellspring of creativity where a lot of those “aha” moments happen.

Don’t edit, don’t censor, just let those ideas gush out.

You’ll uncover hidden desires, buried fears, and surprising insights… the stuff that inspires awesome stories, poems, or artistic breakthroughs.

Dream Journal: Deciphering The Subconscious

I find dreams to be so mysterious. They can feel so real one minute and vanish like smoke the next.

We’ve all had those dreams where we’re chased by a giant panda or we forget our clothes during a job interview. The thing is, these nonsensical stories our brains weave can offer surprising insights into our deepest desires, fears, or anxieties.

To unlock their meanings, consider using your writing journal to capture those fleeting dreamscape stories. Keep a pen and your paper journal right by your bed, or better yet, download a journaling app on your phone and try and quickly jot down those crazy dreamscapes as soon as you wake up — trust me, those dreams dissolve fast.

Maybe an eccentric character from a dream would become the muse for a short story or a breathtaking dreamscape could be transformed into a painting. You just never know.

Fiction Prompts: Exercising Your Storytelling Muscles

Whether you want to write for your company website or even just to work through some personal emotions, consistent creative practice is key to good storytelling.

To make journal writing a daily practice, find journal prompts to get you writing. There are countless prompts online that give you an instant starting point.

I am going to list 10 of my favorite journal prompts, but also remember you don’t need someone else’s words. Choose a random object, a vivid color, or an intriguing sound to spark an idea. You’ll have endless possibilities, even for non-fiction writing.

  1. Describe your morning routine in a second-person point of view. How would you guide an alien through making coffee, showering, and getting dressed?
  2. Imagine yourself as a tiny ant navigating the wild, unpredictable jungle of your backyard. How would an ant see your garden hose? Your lawnmower?
  3. You’ve won a “golden ticket” to your dream destination, but there’s a catch — it’s an offbeat place that nobody ever chooses (like a cheese factory tour or a taxidermy museum.). How does your perfect “dream trip” unfold?
  4. If you had to teach a seagull how to use the internet, how would that hilarious lesson play out? What websites would it find irresistible?
  5. Your quirky neighbor insists on telling you all about their unusual hobbies during your weekly “dog park chit-chat”. This time it’s REALLY strange. Bring those awkward conversations to life through snappy, authentic dialogue.
  6. The local thrift store holds countless hidden treasures. Each week, you find an object brimming with personality. Maybe a pair of 70’s platform shoes? An 80’s cassette player? You write stories based on your latest thrift store finds.
  7. Pick up a random cookbook. Flip it open and blindly choose a recipe. Rewrite that recipe in fantasy style (imagine replacing measurements with potions and charms.)
  8. Write a series of 6-word memoirs, as Hemingway famously did (“For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”)
  9. You’re in line at the grocery store. Observe those around you and create inner monologues for each person based on what they’re buying or wearing. What secret longings are they hiding?
  10. Flip through fashion magazines. Rip out intriguing images and craft your dream home using collage. Get crazy with those luxurious bathrooms, funky staircases, and secret libraries… the more outlandish, the better. Create detailed room descriptions in your writing journal, capturing those vibrant visuals.

Writing Journals for Self-Discovery

Think of journal writing as a mirror. As you capture thoughts, feelings, and everyday interactions, you start seeing those recurring patterns and deeply ingrained beliefs about yourself and the world.

You notice what triggers joy or frustration — those “aha” moments that help you unlock greater self-awareness and make wiser choices.

Bullet Journal: Creating Your Customized Roadmap

Have you heard of bullet journaling? I find the format to be ingenious. This journaling technique is all about combining thoughtful reflection with awesome organization using those lovely dotted pages.

The best part? You design your bullet journal based on your unique needs and aspirations — the possibilities for layouts and content are truly endless.

The core principle is rooted in mindfulness — tracking experiences, identifying goals, and charting progress.

Your bullet journal is like a trusty travel guide — except it guides your life. Think calendars for appointments, daily to-do lists to boost productivity, and visual trackers to monitor habits and progress.

Try dedicating one page (or even just a few bullet points) to personal insights from that yoga class you’re trying, that pottery course you’re finally taking, or the book club you’ve always wanted to join.

You may not want to get all artistic at first, but consider incorporating doodles, charts, color codes, and stickers … those elements help break up the text and make the pages a pleasure to look back on.

Reflective Journal: Dive Deeper into Your Inner Self

I’ll share something that changed my own life for the better — reflective journaling.

A reflective journal focuses on uncovering those hidden feelings, beliefs, and values that shape who we are.

Think about those deeply ingrained thought patterns that we unknowingly carry with us. These can influence how we interact with others or respond to challenges.

As you become aware of those underlying influences, you’re more equipped to shift your perspective and shape a life that aligns with your true self.

I’ve found that using prompts can help jumpstart your deeper reflection in this writing process. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. What activities truly bring you joy and energize you? Are you actively making space for those activities in your everyday life? Or are you allowing obligations and external demands to pull you away from things that truly make your soul sing?
  2. Reflect on those times you feel completely absorbed. Maybe you lost track of time painting, coding, or having a profound conversation with a friend? Identify the characteristics that created those peak moments and ask yourself: How can I cultivate those conditions more in my daily practice?
  3. Write down those recurring negative thoughts or self-critical messages that keep circling in your mind. Explore where those thoughts originated and if they’re still true today. Then reframe those beliefs using a positive mindset with encouraging and empowering messages that help you reclaim your narrative.
  4. When a challenge throws you off balance or an experience evokes intense emotions, ask yourself: “Why am I feeling so triggered by this situation? What underlying wounds, unmet needs, or limiting beliefs could be influencing my response?” These prompts get you to delve into those tougher emotions.
  5. Identify your core values and use them as a guide to chart your life course. Try creating a visual “wheel of values”. It sounds weird at first, but a visual guide like this can be incredibly helpful.

Your writing journal is your own, private therapist and you are writing all the answers you already know. There’s no need to judge the content and don’t hold back.

Unlocking The Power of  Writing: Specialized Journals

We’ve gone over many types of journaling for chronicling events, gratitude, and self-reflection. You’ve learned how they are important for personal development.

However, we can also use a creative writing journal to hone in on a more specific interest, passion, or area of personal exploration.

Book Journal: Enriching Your Reading Journey

A lot of entrepreneurs, marketing experts, and company founders read A TON.

How else can you stay on top of new business trends, management principles, or leadership styles?

Reading should never stop if you want to keep growing.

In my writing journal, I often write questions or quotes. Here are some tips for getting the most out of a book journal.

  1. What surprised you about the storyline or the author’s style? Why did a specific passage hit home?
  2. How does the theme resonate with your own experiences, beliefs, or values? What valuable insights did you glean that could shape your actions moving forward?
  3. Write bullet points about quotes you loved, facts you want to remember, or new and uncommon vocabulary words.
  4. Consider this simple prompt: “If I were the author of this book, how would I have ended the story differently?” Sometimes switching your point of view can ignite intriguing ideas.
  5. Write a letter to the author, sharing your genuine thoughts and questions. Don’t worry about grammar as no one is going to see your entries — these will only serve as fuel for your imagination.

Idea Journal: Sparking Innovations & Brainstorming Sessions

Here’s a brainstorming tip that’s useful for journal writers in every setting. Instead of letting all those awesome business strategies, witty taglines, or clever design concepts swirl around your brain — capture them in an idea journal.

This is your “catch-all” repository for your most creative inspirations.

Don’t try editing, or filtering. Just grab your writing journal and jot everything down before they vanish into thin air.

I call mine the “Big Idea” notebook, although it is just a simple paper journal. There are also digital ones if you prefer to use apps.

A well-structured bullet journal works well for capturing all your thought storms. However, a writing journal can take on any shape or form that resonates with you and encourages you to start writing more.

Techniques for Writing Better Journal Entries

So now we’ve gone over a wide variety of writing journal ideas — ways to document experiences, unlock emotions, and fuel those bursts of creativity.

How do you improve the actual quality of your writing?

Write By Hand, Sometimes

Even though our phones have replaced countless aspects of writing (like shopping lists and reminder notes), studies suggest there’s something special about using our actual hands.

Writing by hand isn’t just romantic or quaint; it has a cognitive impact that has helped a lot of my friends who feel uninspired by a project, especially in their personal development.

Here’s a crazy experiment. Next time your employees are in a brainstorming session, have them turn their computer screens off. Grab some notebooks and pens. See how their ideas start flowing in different, more expansive ways. They will start to see better outcomes for a challenging project or product.

When we write with our own hands, more areas of the brain engage than when typing. It slows us down. And this forces us to savor the shape of each letter, making each word more intentional.

Choose The Tools that You Really Enjoy Using

While writing by hand is incredibly beneficial to most people, sometimes that process doesn’t fit with how our busy, chaotic life flows.

For instance, imagine trying to grab your journal and pen while rushing to work on the subway during peak commuting hours. I’d drop my pen and lose the page marker for sure.

Journaling should be a tool for relaxation and mindfulness. Don’t force yourself to always write by hand if that approach doesn’t make you want to stick with it, or to write more entries. If a sleek, techy journal app gets you fired up to write, go for it.

The ultimate goal is consistency, no matter which approach you’re trying.

Use All Your Senses When Describing Something

One of the most helpful benefits of writing in a journal is to improve our creative writing and expressive powers. Whether you’re running your company website or communicating with a customer, those words are everything.

As you hone your skill in describing things, you can tap into the sensory elements that paint those vivid pictures for readers and encourage them to imagine being there with you.

I suggest starting with these everyday journaling practice activities:

Sense Observation Prompts Example
Sight – What vibrant colors draw your gaze?  Are the edges sharply defined, soft and hazy, or distorted and shifting? Are the surfaces shiny or matte, smooth or textured, static or fluid? – How do shadows create mood and reveal forms in unique ways? The cafe counter was covered in glossy subway tiles. These tiles reflected the golden light of those vintage pendant lights in hazy bursts. I love visiting quaint shops and observing all these details as it helps me when thinking about the details I could put into an interior space to help attract and inspire our employees.
Sound – Close your eyes for a few moments, really tuning into the world of sound around you. Is it near or far? Loud or muffled, grating, harmonic or melodious, constant or intermittent?– What intriguing rhythms and melodies can you discover? Are these natural or man-made sounds? At that coffee shop around the corner, that whirring coffee grinder seemed to create the soundtrack for our conversations. As a side note: I absolutely love how ambient sounds can enhance a situation and use those observation skills when designing new office spaces to help improve employee mood and communication.
Smell – As you inhale those familiar and foreign aromas around you. Are these sharp, subtle, nostalgic or evocative, sweet or savory, refreshing, energizing or soothing? – Can you create an aroma palette that helps to convey a certain location or story using vivid descriptions in your writing journal? At the local florist around the corner from my house, the intoxicating aroma of gardenia and rose mingled with that damp earthy fragrance. Now I think of visiting flower shops more. Writing down our everyday interactions or observations can help make the customer service at your shop better or help spark an idea when creating social media posts to connect with more customers.
Touch – What distinct textures are around you? Soft or prickly, smooth, rough or gnarled, warm, cold or even slick? – As you write these down in your journal, notice how physical sensations impact your perceptions, emotions, and thoughts. This can help us to see how objects make us feel and lead to innovative products or services for your business. While reading “Braiding Sweetgrass” in my cozy library chair, the silky, velvety surface of that blanket wrapped around my legs helped me to dive deeper into Robin Wall Kimmerer’s heartfelt prose. Since our physical experience impacts our mental process I now keep cozy blankets on each chair within my library for company guests to enjoy, which often leads to better brainstorming sessions or communication.
Taste – Close your eyes as you savor that favorite treat (mine is dark chocolate truffles.) What distinct flavors, textures, or sensations emerge when trying new recipes for your writing journal? Maybe sweet, tart, salty or bitter?– This prompt encourages readers to focus on a more refined description and hone in on our subtle senses, like using bullet points for texture to use in blog posts to connect with an online customer. When my company won our biggest award ever we celebrated with glasses of Prosecco. I love this drink — that sparkling effervescence with its notes of pear and that delightful tart crisp finish on the tongue. Capturing all the sensory elements using this approach helps writers evoke a sense of memory, not just an image for your company product reviews, to better connect with new customers.

Your Writing Journal is a Lifelong Companion

I’ve been keeping writing journals since I was a kid. Now I have a stack of them and I treat them like priceless artifacts — full of memories about personal development.

As an entrepreneur or founder, you’re no stranger to transformation. Looking back on the paths we’ve forged helps to see just how much we’ve grown in every aspect of our lives, including writing.

As I reflect on my own writing practice and how my friends struggle with writing more consistently, here’s my biggest piece of advice: A journal isn’t meant to be a daily writing obligation that you have to check off your to-do list. That would only kill the very magic and power those empty pages can inspire.

Treat your journal as a sanctuary and write those entries only when you are fully open and ready to express yourself. If one day you are unable to write, then don’t do it. If a different journaling method helps more than another, then go for it.

Remember, these entries are an exploration of who you are now and your creative vision moving forward.

Allow your words to spill out honestly.

Embrace the messiness and experiment freely.

Enjoy the freedom those empty pages hold.

Those journal entries can become your compass and guide you as a founder or entrepreneur in your marketing and branding efforts.

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