Idea Journals

One of the first pieces of advice I ever received when I officially began pursuing writing was to keep an idea journal. Being the overachiever that I am, I did a bunch of research on the topic. Look, I’m aware I probably didn’t need to research it. It’s a pretty self-explanatory topic. But part of being an overachieving perfectionist means I am terrified of doing something that is judged as wrong. It’s a character flaw. Take it or leave it.

Anyway, it turns out that I have been doing some version of idea journals MY ENTIRE LIFE. So here’s a blog post about what they are, what they aren’t, and why you should have one too.

What they are:


  • Quite literally a place to put random ideas that are not connected to any work in progress right now.
  • Random notes. Mine has scenes, characters, scenery descriptions, possible plotlines, memories, rants, poems etc.
  • Any format you want. When I was younger I used to keep things like this in actual notebooks (spirals, compositions, whatever). Today it’s actually a google drive folder. Do what you’re comfortable with!
  • Fuel for later works. More on this one in a little bit.

What they aren’t:

to do list

  • Stress. We used to do an activity with my writing class where we’d set a timer (the amount of time varied) and the only rule was you had to be writing silently until the timer went off. You could write about WHATEVER YOU WANTED. If you ran out of ideas you could write “I’m out of ideas”. It was a “no stress situation” that helped get your creativity flowing. That kind of stuff is good for an idea journal because you never know what GOLD may come out of that.
  • Deadlines or to-do lists. If in doubt, see the first bullet. They’re related.
  • Perfect. That’s the beauty of them, I think. You just write it. Later on, if you decide to use something from the journal you can worry about if the character felt real or if the setting is described well. When you are putting it in the journal it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be written.

Why you should have one too (IMHO):

Look at all these great ideas. Just pick one and go!
  • Fuel for later works. Right now I’m in that in-between stage. If you’re a writer, you know the one. I just finished one book and I haven’t yet picked a project to focus on as my next one. I’m living for my idea journal right now. My daily word count is being hit THERE. I’m reading about a character I put in the journal and adding a little to him or her. I’m reading about an idea I had and trying out the outline. It’s like walking through my old dreams and it’s an amazing source of inspiration.
  • Pride. I can’t tell you how cool it feels to look at all those files, all those ideas, all those scenes. It’s a physical reminder of how much I have to offer in this writing game. It’s like instant self confidence, which is cool.

Do you have an idea journal? What kind of stuff do you fill it with? Did I miss anything? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.


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