10 Commonplace Journal Ideas

Journaling is something that heals. Writing lets you remember and lets you forget. Remember fading memories and forget old hurts by writing them down and letting them go. It’s not always easy to keep a journal, so why do it? Who cares? Who will ever look at all that writing? The answer is simple: this is your life. You are keeping track of it. Your journals are not for your children to admire, your friends to share, and strangers to copy.

A personal favorite: create a calendar page with interesting things you did. For blank days, erase the pencil lines (haven't done that yet). For others, ink them in.

A personal favorite: create a calendar page with interesting things you did. For blank days, erase the pencil lines (haven’t done that yet). Ink borders around others for variety. Notice the lack of “art appeal.” This is an idea book, not an art show to be shared.

The journal you keep is to document your life. To prove you were alive. To write history the way you experienced it. Many of us don’t watch news because we are overwhelmed. Our own lives overwhelm us. Journaling puts you in control. Write about what happened at work, how you reacted, what you really thought. Putting it down helps us look at our reactions, our emotions, at arm’s length.

What else can you put in a journal? I’m a big fan of a Commonplace Journal--a journal that connects closely to what happens to you every day. Here are some ideas of what to put in a journal that will make it interesting to you:

1. Weather. Rain, sunshine, wind changes how we see the world and how we feel about it. A bright crisp day brings on different thoughts than low clouds and rain. Write down the temperature, the kind of day it was, and how you felt.

2. Movies. Glue the ticket stub into your journal and write a few sentences about the content and your level of enjoyment. You can do the same for movies you watch at home. Was it a good plot? Were the characters believable? Did you like a character or hate another one?

3. Food. I’m not talking about a food diary. What did you eat that was

Pieces from a business trip to Dallas. The bag has "Inspiration" printed on it, and I've put fortunes from fortune cookies into it.  Also on the desk: a feather and a butterfly that ended his journey in my pool.

Pieces from a business trip to Dallas. The bag has “Inspiration” printed on it, and I’ve put fortunes from fortune cookies into it. Also on the desk: a feather and a butterfly that ended his journey in my pool.

delicious? Do you remember what you had for breakfast? Is food an enjoyable experiences or just something to get over with? What was your favorite snack today? What would you like to remember to cook more often?

4. Music. What did you listen to that made you feel like dancing or singing? Do you have a favorite singer or performer? If you could create a soundtrack to your life, what five songs would you include? Maybe you don’t listen to music or even like it much. What’s the background noise to your life?

5. What’s the cost? How much did you pay for a tank of gas? How much for milk? Eggs? Liptstick? The price of the small chunks of life rises and falls, but it also creates a sort of set point in your life.  Compare the price to a gallon of milk to a gallon of gas and think about what you get from each. As you get older, you will think things are different than they used to be. Now you’ll be able to check.

6. Titles. Create a whole page of titles you like. Book titles, song titles, the names of restaurants, hair salons, or any other name or title that makes you smile or think. You fill it as you go along. Keeping it all on one page gives you a fascinating look at your sense of humor.

7. Maps and diagrams. Where did you go? What route did you take? Do you always take the same road to work? To the store? What other route could you take, even if it is longer or slower? Is speed the most important part of travel? What does that mean about your sense of time or necessity?

8. Quotes. Not just famous quotes you come across, although that’s handy to write down. What people in your life said that made sense, was funny, was ridiculous. What you said in return. Keeping track of dialogue makes you a better listener, a smarter speaker, and a wiser soul.

9. What catches your eye? Ads, headlines, photos, good designs. Cut them out of magazines, or photograph them and print them out.  I photograph the wallpaper in hotels. I’m amazed at how many of them are interesting abstract designs.

10. Spend time in your journal. Look back over old journals. Has your taste changed? Your ideas? The music you like? Your life is a mosaic and you can decide on the shape and color you want it to take. Watching it change over time is part of growth.

Keeping a journal doesn’t require daily deep soul-searching. It’s a way to keep track of the tiny grit that you turn into the pearls of your life.

Here’s an article on the difference between a visual journal and a commonplace journal.

–Quinn McDonald is a journaler and a creativity coach.

13 thoughts on “10 Commonplace Journal Ideas

  1. This is just to keep the naming clear

    JOURNAL (or a diary, travelogue etc.) is a place where one keeps their personal experiences, things one did, things that happened, introspective thoughts etc. As you said, it’s a way to document one’s life. They are chronological.

    COMMONPLACE BOOK is a way to compile knowledge. It has nothing to do with one’s experiences or memories. It’s just a single place to write down quotes, facts, things one has learned, recipes, definitions etc. Anything one has learned, or wishes to learn or remember. They are not chronological.

    For example, if one was interested in filmmaking, one could write down in their commonplace book about a film: who directed it, the cast, which camera was used, etc.

    If one wrote how a movie made them feel, who they saw it with, how they liked it, that’s a journal, even if they added some facts in there.

    Wikipedia says”Commonplace books, it must be stressed, are not journals, which are chronological and introspective.” I think it’s an important distinction to keep to avoid confusion.

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  3. This sounds a bit like the daily diary I keep where I paste things in. I also have a private journal which is in a nice notebook which I don’t share.

    The calendar pages are interesting. I keep my appointments in my phone and Google calendar but was thinking of keeping a wall calendar and pasting each month into my diary. When I kept appointment diaries on paper I kept them and its still interesting to look back on them but the phone calendar is too convenient when out and about so maybe both would work or would that be duplicating information?

  4. I agree! It is difficult to maintain a journal, but the Commonplace idea is perfect for capturing important bits. I have done this for a couple years and used the pages in my blog posts. They are great images to go back to.

    • Images, ideas, memories from pieces of receipts, or even photos (see the comment from gysumoon) of hotel wall paper) can me an excellent idea resource. If you write fiction or poetry, those details can also add realism and interest to your creative work.

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  7. Bravo Quinn! 10 great ideas but #6 the Soundtrack of Your Life fascinates me. I will have to work on that one! and # 10 is great too. I just went on a journaling “journey” as I was looking for a certain journal page to use in a new collage and had forgotten which journal it was in. I started out looking, and ending up perusing about 10 journals just for the joy of it!

  8. I will confess that I’m not always good at keeping ONE journal (I use my smartphone and email to collect thoughts as well if my journal isn’t handy), but it’s still a valuable collection of the things I’m thinking about, and eventually I will add the things from my phone and email to it.
    As you say, journals don’t have to be shared, so they can be very private and sometimes more valuable in that sense. My thoughts, though, should you decide to share your journal – don’t pretty it up. If it’s messy, leave it messy. If it’s a conglomerated collection of thoughts, don’t straighten it out. Leave it uniquely yours.

  9. Quinn, thank you. I really love this post. I’ve been exploring all sorts of different journals and getting myself overwhelmed in the process. The One Journal. That’s it! And great ideas to put in it.

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