WHETHER YOU’RE NEW TO JOURNALING or have been doing it for years, it’s beneficial to shake things up now and again — use a new technique or approach your writing from a new perspective.
A fun activity is to generate your own journal writing prompts. What makes journaling prompts different from creative writing prompts, although they overlap, is the personal nature of the prompts. When journaling, you are asking and answering questions of yourself: What does this statement, question, or situation mean to you?
Ways to generate writing prompts are endless. Here are seven:
- Browse the day’s headlines. You can accomplish this by looking at your newspaper or browsing online news resources (give yourself a time limit so you don’t get distracted). Search any section that appeals to you: politics, local news, lifestyle or entertainment. Even the comics can be a great source for writing ideas. Choose topics that make you think and reflect on your own life.
- Read blogs. Another online way to spur ideas is to read blogs on topics of interest to you — family, hobbies, etc. Freewrite about your reactions to different blogger’s ideas. Make a list of personal questions you might ask if you were to interview the blog’s author, then answer those questions yourself. Not only is browsing blogs a great way to generate writing topics, but it’s also a good way to network and get to know other writers.
- Make lists. Get in the habit of making lists of issues, problems, joys, and desires for the future. These lists are wonderful sources of writing prompts. For example, let’s say your list of desires includes traveling through Europe. You can then make up several questions related to that desire: What country do I most want to visit, and why? What will I do first when I get there? Not only is this exercise fun, it can also help you clarify and understand your related motivations and emotions.
- Explore extremes. What are your greatest hopes and fears? When have you been most happy or sad? What are your best times of day? What’s your favorite thing to do for relaxation? You get the idea.
- Investigate values. Make a list of values and then ask questions about each of those values. For example, for the word “honesty,” you could ask: Do I believe it’s better to always be honest, or is it okay to tell “white lies”? Is it a lie to omit some part of the truth? For “loyalty” you could ask: What does loyalty mean to me? Does it change depending on what or who I am loyal to? Define “cheating” in a relationship. Then write about why you feel that way. And so on.
- Imagine the impossible. Think about things that might happen in a fantasy world or in a science fiction novel. What would you love to do if you could do the impossible? How would the world be different? Would you want a superpower? If so, what would it be and why would you want it? If not, why not? Would you want to meet a magical unicorn, if such existed? What fantasies from your childhood would you bring alive if you could?
- Go online. Type “journal writing prompt” (with the quotation marks) into your favorite search engine. When I do so, I come up with more links and resources than I could ever hope to exhaust. The only danger with this method is that you will end up spending so much time clicking on links and looking at prompts that you will not find time to write! My advice? Give yourself a specific time limit — ten minutes, for example — copy as many writing prompts as appeal to you during that time, then quit. Select a prompt, and begin writing.
Finally, I challenge you to challenge yourself. Go deeper. No matter what your answer to any question, ask why or why not. Then, no matter what that next answer is, ask why again. Continue to drill down through each why and why not. Or, alternatively, ask how, what, when, or where, and continue to ask that one word again after each answer. You might be surprised by what you discover!
If generating your own prompts sounds like too much work, don’t worry! I have created and offer a plethora of journaling prompts on many topics on this blog and books on journaling, including Week by Week: A Year’s Worth of Journaling Prompts & Meditations — so you can always take your writing prompts with you.