Throughout my life I have, at various times, tried to keep a journal, and failed. I’ve read biographies of famous men from history who kept a journal and been inspired to do so myself, but it never lasted. And even during the brief periods when I was faithful to keep a journal, I always felt a bit silly.

When reading about John Adams, or Charles Spurgeon, or someone of that stature who kept a journal, I’ve walked away feeling like I have nothing of any importance to write. But I’ve come to see that’s not the case.

While history may never use my journal for the basis of a biography or mini-series, my children may enjoy browsing through it at some point in the future, and that is reason enough. But the truth is, keeping a journal isn’t about who will read it in the future, it’s for me, now.

How to keep a journal

Why you should keep a journal

Here is a list of 26 reasons why you should keep a journal, and here is an article that addresses the awkward issue of feeling cheesy about your journal. There are many good reasons to keep a journal, but I am just addressing one, improving your imagination. And in my last article I shared a few reasons why you should keep a journal. Now I want to talk about how to keep a journal, to improve your imagination.

Paper vs Digital

Obviously, if you are going to keep a journal, you’ll need someplace to record your thoughts. This could be digital, but I’m going to urge you to go old school, and keep your journal with pen and paper.

My experience has been that a paper journal has several benefits over a digital one.

Distraction free

When you keep a journal on paper, Facebook, or any other part of the internet, is not as likely to distract you. I’ve found that a digital journal keeps me too close to the internet, and I need the space. Not that I don’t love the internet, but when I’m writing, I need to focus.

Flexible entry

With a paper journal you can easily sketch or doodle right in your notebook. You can glue concert tickets, or a drawing your child made, almost anything, right to the page. I’m careful not to do this too much, I’m keeping a journal, not a scrapbook, but occasionally it benefits. Depending on your personality you will find this more or less beneficial.

Since our goal is to improve our creativity, I think having the freedom from ruled lines on the paper will serve you well.

Travel ready

I know you’ve always got your phone with you and you’re never unplugged from the internet. Still, you can take a paper journal with you almost anywhere (camping, vacation, business trips, etc.) and not worry about the battery running low.

Sensory experience

Perhaps most importantly, the tactile experience of feeling the pen on the paper aids me in the creative process. I enjoy the weight of the pen in my hand, and finding just the right notebook (we’ll talk about this in just a minute). You can pause to reflect and think without a screen locking on you. And when you fill it up, you can file it, or even dispose of it. A digital journal is never full, and doesn’t convey this same sense of accomplishment.

For these reasons, I strongly encourage you to keep a journal on paper. Which leads us to finding the right pen and paper.

Pen and Paper

One thing that has helped me be more consistent in my journal keeping, is having high quality tools. When you have tools you enjoy using, you’ll use them more often. It took me a while, and some experimentation, to find what worked for me. I’m going to give you my recommendations, but you’ll need to try things out for yourself to find what works best for you.

The Pen

I tried pencil first, because I always liked the feel of the lead on the paper, but mentally this didn’t feel like a strong enough commitment, so I opted to switch to ink.

I tried several different types of pens before finally making the move to a fountain pen. This is not an easy move to make since a fountain pen is a larger investment than a ballpoint. I did a lot of research. I spent time reading the discussions at the Fountain Pen Network and reading various reviews online. I then spent some time researching prices and thought I knew what pen I wanted. Then I visited a pen shop here in Boston and tried it out. I didn’t like it, at all. But another pen caught my eye, so I gave it a try and enjoyed the feel of it in my hand, and that’s the pen I ended up with.

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It’s the Sheaffer Intensity Ultramarine Striped. The link is to a pen with a medium nib (point), while I bought a fine point, and if I ever buy another pen I’ll probably go for an extra-fine nib. I have very small handwriting, so get what works for you. Figuring this out, is why you should visit a brick and mortar pen shop and try out a few pens.

This pen is somewhat heavy, with a lot of metal in the casing. But it is easy to clean and care for, and when full will write for more than two weeks before I have to fill it again, and I write a lot.

Until now I’ve used the Sheaffer Blue-Black ink, but I just bought a new bottle the other day of Noodler’s Black Waterproof. I haven’t inked the pen with it yet, but I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

Again, visit a good pen shop. They’ll be happy to let you try different pens, nibs, and inks.

The Paper

Once you’ve got a good pen, you’ll need a notebook. This is a less important decision because you won’t use it as long as the pen. Which means you can buy a different notebook next time.

If you decide to use a fountain pen, one thing you’ll notice is that the ink is wetter and tends to feather a bit on cheep paper. Spend a little more to get a notebook made with fountain pens in mind. My preference is Clairefontaine. They make notebooks in many styles, sizes, and colors.

I keep several journals, for different purposes which we’ll discuss in a moment, and I use a different notebook for each purpose. If I had to pick one notebook though, it would be the Clairefontaine Classic Hardcover 6 x 9 Notebook. The paper is a very high quality that won’t feather or bleed. The pages are blank in this one, though you can get them ruled, dotted, or graphed. And I like this size. It’s large enough to get some writing done, but smaller than standard paper size, which makes it feel more portable.

Note: The links to the pen, ink, and notebook are amazon.com affiliate links, which means I’ll get a small commission, at no cost to you, if you buy something through those links. These are the actual products I use and recommend. However, I do purchase mine locally. Bromfield Pen Shop here in Boston carries a nice selection of these products at prices that are actually better than Amazon, so be sure to check locally.

Where, when, and how often

Now that we’ve covered the basic tools, it’s time to get down to writing! But there are still a few “how to” questions we need to address.

Where to keep a journal

This is a double question. Where do you keep your journal? And, Where do go to actually write in your journal? I’ll answer the second question first.

The best place to sit and write is the place where you will be undistracted and best able to think. For me, that often means my desk in my home office. But only if I’m up early enough to write before the kids get up. So I often find myself writing at a quiet coffee shop. This works well for me because I don’t have the kids, or my wife, vying for my attention, and I can concentrate. Having a nice cappuccino also helps!

But, like I said, I take my journal camping with me. I throw it in my backpack and take it on vacation, or any other sort of trip. Ultimately, you just need to find a place that work best for you.

As for where to keep the journal, when you’re not using it, or when you finish it? I have a bookshelf behind my desk that houses my journals. I can just reach back and grab the one I need, write in it, review something I wrote previously, or toss it in my bag on the way out the door. Just find someplace you’ll be comfortable leaving it when you’re not around. My wife and kids respect my journal and don’t read it without an invitation, at least not to my knowledge! If you’re worried about that, I suggest you work on building some trust and respect in your family.

When I’m finished with a journal, it goes to a different, less prominent, shelf where I can access it later if I want to. I label the front of my journals with a label maker, so I know which journal they are, and then I label the spines with a sharpie when I’m finished, so I can see the type of journal it is and the date range. Then it goes one the shelf for storage.

When to keep a journal

I don’t have a set time for writing in my journal, though I do fall into some patterns that I’ll discuss in a moment. Generally speaking, the best time to write is when you have something to get out on paper, and will have no distractions doing so. For this reason, I end up doing most of my writing during the early morning hours, later at night after the kids are asleep, and on Mondays, which is my study day out of the house.

How often to keep a journal

Now we come to a much more difficult question. And this is where we need to talk about the different journals I keep.

1. I keep a journal for my daily bible reading, where I record my thoughts and prayers after reading the scripture first thing in the morning. Obviously, I write in this journal almost daily, usually at my desk or the dining room table, early in the morning.

2. I keep a journal for my sermon preparation notes (I’m a pastor). I write in this journal almost daily as I’m studying to preach. Then on the Monday before I’ll preach, I take this journal to a coffee shop and use my notes to outline and write my sermon for the coming Sunday.

3. I keep a journal for family leadership. This journal is where I record ideas and plans for the coming months and year for my family. An idea for a great day trip or vacation is something I would record in this journal. I also keep a running evaluation of how I’m doing as a husband and father. I make plans for dates with my wife and daughters, record ideas for gifts, or note ways in which I need to improve my character. I also record evaluations of my wife and daughters and how I think I can better serve them and help them grow as people. I refer back to these entries about once a quarter to see how I’m doing.

4. I keep a journal for creative ideas, thoughts and reflections on life, observations of the world around me, etc. This is more akin to what most people think of when they think of a journal. Though, it really isn’t a daily diary about what I did today, but rather a place to capture ideas and be creative. Sometimes I’ll just record something one of the kids said that was funny, or childishly insightful. Other times I’ll jot down a poem about something I’ve been studying or thinking about. At times it may be about the events of the day, but not simply a recording of them, more a reflection on what I can learn from them.

This last journal, the creative journal, is the type I’m suggesting you start for yourself, if you’re interested in improving your imagination. My encouragement to you is not to worry about how often you write in this journal. Write when you remember to. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t write in it for a month. Just pick it back up and make an entry when you remember and have something to record.

The more freedom you give yourself in this, the more likely you are to keep using this journal. And the more you write creatively about life on planet earth, the more creative you’ll become. Writing will become easier.

I hope all these ideas, about pens and notebooks and when, where, and how often to keep a journal, will serve to help you along the path to improved imagination and creativity.

If you have any additional ideas for how to keep a journal for improved imagination, please share them in the comments.