Journal prompts: How I start writing each day

Last week, a friend of mine, Alexander Mason, asked me a good question, one I’d never considered:

When you’re journaling, what do you use as a prompt?

At the time, I told him something about writing more about what I feel than what I do each day. I made that shift back when I was around 12 or 13 years old. I call it the switch from keeping a diary to keeping a journal, and it made a big difference.

But now that I’m thinking about his question again, a few more ideas come to mind.

  • What do I like?
  • What bothers me?
  • What did I hear (especially things friends say) that I still remember vividly?
  • What story could I tell?
  • What am I interested in?
  • What would I like to read about?
  • What do I want to remember?

Those questions usually get me started. From there, I branch off a bit more, digging deeper:

  • Why do I like it?
  • Is it good that it bothers me?
  • Why do I remember it? Why does it matter to me?
  • How did I do it?
  • What got me interested in it?
  • How do I think of this differently than most people?
  • What can I learn from it? What else should I try?

Of course, those are all pretty self-oriented questions. If I take it even further, I start thinking about how stuff applies to other people:

  • Who else would care about this?
  • Should I help them care about this?
  • What’s the benefit for other people, not the features, the benefit?
  • How could someone else learn from this experience?
  • Would they be interested for the same reasons I am?
  • How could someone else’s perspective on this improve my own?
  • What do I know enough about to be able to teach to others?

These are all pretty abstract questions. But even if you scan through my blog archives, you might be able to pick out how almost every post is a response to one of these kinds of questions, including this post. And if I let you read my journals, you’d see the same… just in a more personal but less coherent format.

Two other things I’ll mention now that find their way into my journals:

  • Quotes: I’ll jot down quotes I like and maybe a little about why I like them, answering the question, “What did they say that means something to me?”
  • Goals: These are really just things I want, whether I’m seeing them three years or three hours down the road. “What do I want to have, do, or be?”

I have a couple other “tricks,” but I’ll save those for a future post. 🙂

Last suggestion, though. Try a couple questions. Write out some answers. Try other questions, and write out answers for those. Continue to experiment this way to see which questions prompt the responses you like best.

For me, answering “What did I do today?” grew old really quickly. But perhaps it’ll work better for you. The key is to keep trying different questions, paying attention to which produce the results you want. From there, it’s just a matter of milking the good questions to death.