7 Reasons Handwriting in a Journal is Invaluable for Writers

A few months ago, I was depressed and dealing with several addictions. An old friend reconnected and recommended I start a new hobby. That’s when I discovered why handwriting in a journal was an invaluable tool for writers.

When I say ‘journaling’, I mean literally writing on a notebook with a pen or pencil. Several visionaries today from Oprah to Richard Branson either write on a journal or consistently handwrite. It’s not a coincidence.

I highly recommend it even if you’re not a writer. Typing on a computer can have its benefits too but to get the full effect, you’ll need to go old school.

It wasn’t easy, to begin with.

Like any millennial, I barely handwrite. Thanks to smartphones, I don’t even write down phone numbers or people’s names anymore. I write slowly and illegibly.

But that’s why I kept it simple and stuck to a tiny little notepad that fit in my pocket. I made sure to limit myself to two pages (back and forth) so I would write as succinctly as possible.

Every day I would write about a variety of things:

  • Something to be thankful for
  • A new thing I did or tried
  • My feelings

I journaled at the end of each day or at the start of the next day.

It’s best to do it on one of these two times.

If you miss a day, you can still go back and write but your memory may not be as fresh.

It didn’t feel like it did anything for me at first. But I immediately felt more at peace every day I stopped for five to ten minutes just to write. And don’t just take my word for it. I did some research.

Here are seven reasons how handwriting in a journal can be a powerful tool for writers:

1. Great way to warm up

The mind is almost like a muscle. Before exercising, it is recommended to do some stretching and some warm-ups to optimize performance and minimize injuries. The same can be said for writing.

Handwriting in a journal when I wake up helps me get into the writing groove and helps me expel some of the “mental diarrhoea” in my head so I can be sharper for my more serious projects. The hardest part about writing is getting started and when you’re journaling, you make this process a whole lot easier.

One does not simply sit down and get into a “flow state”. Like exercising, pushing out words for the sake of can be a helpful exercise to get into it. Trying writing exercises is one thing. But something as simple as writing down on a notepad can help “wake you up”.

2. Creates new article ideas and improves creativity

I didn’t start handwriting in a journal because I wanted new ideas but that’s what they naturally evolved to. It’s like a stream of consciousness and you blurt out whatever comes to mind, and you’ll eventually find something worth sharing with people.

Since I started journaling 47 days ago, about 25 of these became article ideas including this one. Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages advocates this very process. She emphasizes keeping things simple and just letting things flow.

As writers, we can fall into the habit of overthinking and overcomplicating our content ideas. Who can blame us? We need to constantly produce content and it can be tough. But sometimes the best ideas come from the simplest things including your daily life.

Journaling helps us focus on the daily things we take for granted and gives us a fresh perspective worthy of turning into a 500 or 1000-word piece to share.

3. Stress relief

This one is obvious and is scientifically proven; we all need some form of relief, from all our thoughts and pains. I started journaling to get over my porn addiction, among other things. Sometimes putting things out frees stuff from your head and allows you to think more clearly.

A study published in the journal Psychological Science found that during a social experiment, students were able to improve their self-esteem through journal writing. Those who wrote positive thoughts on their body image remembered it while those who threw away their notes after writing negative admissions were at peace.

Another study suggested that students turn to handwriting in a journal to de-stress. Being a college student is one of the most turbulent moments in our development and handwriting in a diary, amidst all the smartphones and social media can still be a viable method of coping.

4. Set-up goals and accomplish them

I usually keep track of my goals on a weekly basis. I used to keep a more detailed “productivity chart” but I’m taking a break from it for now as maintaining it can be a task. Having a journal is like a less detailed but more organic way to keep me motivated.

There are many ways to stay updated on your goals. Keeping a journal is one of them. While in the middle of a project, writing it down in a journal will give you a set of notes you can turn back to. You can go track your development or go back to a reference point.

It’s also a useful way to find trends and patterns not just on your goals but on your life (depending on how long you’ve been journaling).

Handwriting also sends signals to the brain conditioning us to take what we write more seriously as opposed to texting on a phone or typing on a computer. We become more aware of opportunities tied to our goals.

Jotting down a to-do list on a stick-it note, or journal could prove to be a more effective tool than having a digital checklist.

5. It can help motivate you

I’ve felt inspired simply handwriting in a journal. Whether I was writing down my goals, being thankful for my blessings, or a combination of both, I felt a bit more uplifted. It gave me a sense of accomplishment, especially if I journal at the start of the day.

In fact, handwriting is scientifically proven to help make us happier, healthier, and more productive. It is therapeutic and helps develop intrapersonal communication: the thoughts we have in our heads. For writers, this is an essential skill to develop.

Studies have also found a link between handwriting personal goals and motivation. While I still have my tasks and schedule online, I make it a habit to write about what I’m doing all of this for in my personal journal. It not only enlightens me and helps me seem them in a new light, but also inspires me to take action.

6. Helps with short-term memory

A critical part of journaling is keeping track of your days; while I do “cheat” and skip journaling from time to time, I need to focus on remembering what happened on the days I am journaling about. This helps me improve my memory and keep track of what’s going on with my life.

Martin Conway and Sue Gathercole proved in a series of experiments at Lancaster University that handwriting helps with memory. And according to Agnes Szollosi, a professor at the University of Technology and Economics in Budapest, the best time to do so is during bedtime.

Handwriting in a journal just before bedtime is the most optimal way to sharpen memories. Just the effort you put into remembering the events of the day helps you be more mindful. And on the days you forget to journal, you’ll learn to develop this skill even further.

7. Develops Empathy and Humility

Nothing humbles me more than realizing I am a big screw up every day; maybe this is a bit harsh but since I’ve lost my full-time job and began writing “full-time”, I’ve been on a tight budget and have been spending so much time by myself I learn to better deal with my emotions.

When I write about them and think them through, I gain a bit more understanding of myself. While I still haven’t figured it out entirely, I’ve learned more about myself than since before I started journaling.

There are many creative ways to do journaling too. I mainly focused on just writing about my day and about my feelings. But here are a few exercises (designed for children but still applicable for adults) that can help brighten days, reduce stress, and help us understand ourselves.

Oprah’s Gratitude Journal is another great journaling tool to help you appreciate all the small good things in your life. I undertook this for a week and helped put me in a great mood just before getting a good night’s rest.

Handwriting in a Journal Will Make You A Better Writer

Writing on a journal daily is almost like having a therapist. While I won’t recommend substituting it for therapy, it can help you become a better person by helping you understand yourself and self-heal. It can help you expel your negative thoughts and makes you happier.

And a healthier, happier, and more focused writer is a better writer. Ditch the keyboard and monitor for a pen and paper and start handwriting in a journal again. You’ll be thankful you did.

Pros and Cons of Turning Your Writing Passion into a Profession

Turning your writing passion into a profession sounds like a dream come true. But once you take off the rose-tinted shades, you’ll come to realize it isn’t as idyllic as you envisioned. There are plenty of pros and cons that come with the process.

It was late one night when I had another argument with my mom. She kept telling me to pursue my writing to which I yelled at her, “I hate that God chose to give me such a useless talent.”

But I wasn’t angry at her or God. I was angry at myself.

I looked to the people I knew who had more “practical skills”. My brother was gifted with computers, my friend fixed cars, and my uncles were doctors and financial gurus.

And here I was. A “writer”.

I was born in the wrong era, I thought. As a creative writer, my ideas had already been written.

My prose was nothing extraordinary. And people today are too obsessed with their YouTube and Facebook videos to give a damn about opening a book much less read one.

Most of the articles online are either clickbait trash or dumbed down lists for people with the attention span of a goldfish.

The world of freelance writing, like most industries with an art base, is oversaturated. Too many writers peddle their services for free or write for peanuts (reasons why you shouldn't).

I didn’t have an optimistic view of a career in writing. But I pursued my passion anyhow. I decided to give it a shot.

What it Felt Like Going from Hobbyist to Pro: The Good and Bad

After doing some content writing for free for small websites, I managed to land a few gigs that paid well enough for me to be self-employed.

It didn’t last long, and I took a non-writing side job just to supplement my income. On the plus side, it felt good to have consistent human interaction again.

They always tell you to “do what you love”. So, I did.

I’m not as stupid as I once was.

I didn’t think it would be easy. In fact, I didn’t think of anything. I would just write.

It was depressing, painful, eye-opening, discouraging, head-banging-on-wall, and screaming into a pillow kind of frustrating all rolled into one.

The moment you take something you enjoy and try to make money out of it a little bit of joy comes out.

Writing Volume

I had to work under deadlines. This meant writing when I didn’t feel like it and writing to the point I got tired of it. I couldn’t take all the time in the world to polish my writing either. I had to get it done.

It was about volume more than quality. And it took me a while to learn (hacks to write faster). But I needed to get used to constantly writing.

Sometimes it’s quantity that matters more than quality especially if you write for content mills and pay-by-the-article clients.

As a beginning freelancer, I wrote for several content mills. These are sites that pay you per article and depending on the site, require you to produce an exact number of articles per day or week.

Since the pay isn’t that great, I wrote for up to three content mills simultaneously. I was doing over 3,000 words a day easily and this isn’t even counting writing for fun on the side (if I had the time).

The topics I covered ranged anywhere from general business to lifestyle to sports. And I had no problem pounding the keyboard. At the beginning.

About three months in, fatigue sunk in.

There were days where I would dread writing or even think about it. At some point, I didn’t even bother writing for fun because I started getting headaches. I felt burnt out.

But once I landed better-paying gigs, it left me with more breathing room.

I stopped writing for several clients because the pay just didn’t justify what I was putting out. Which brings me to the next point.

Making Money as a Writer

You don’t have to be a “starving artist” as a writer though you’ll often hear several freelancers, not just writers, struggle to keep the lights on in their basement apartments.

Being a freelance writer can be lucrative depending on what you do but writing in content mills is not one of them. Even if you wrote like a machine and put out six 500-word articles per day at $20 apiece, that’s $120. If you write six times a week, that’s $720.

That’s just under $2,880 a month and under $35,000 per annum.

And that’s only if you’re able to consistently do that many articles at that rate. Some clients pay a lot less than that if they pay at all.

It all depends on what industry you write in (top-paying writing jobs). It helps to have a background in finance, business, or STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math). If you do, you’ll kill it, easily.

But unfortunately, I didn’t. I was underqualified to do the high-paying writing gigs like technical writing or copywriting.

Some more growth and personal development were needed. I had to evolve.

Mentorship and Personal Growth

Growing in your career is entirely up to you. But certain industries make seeking out mentors and growth opportunities more easily accessible.

Working in a big box retail, everything gets lost in the shuffle. But I could still talk to superiors personally, network with them, and directly show and tell them I want to move up the ladder.

That’s not how it works in a lot of writing especially as a freelancer.

Content mills are among the worst to help you grow as a writer. It’s a mill for a reason: they’re in the business of producing content like a factory. You’re putting articles out on a conveyor belt then off to the next one.

You can look to move up for better-paying positions like being an editor, or in my case, a social media coordinator, which is professional growth. But if you want to grow your writing skills, look for it elsewhere.

If you develop a great relationship with your editors, which I did to an extent, you can spot better writing opportunities and even use them as awesome references.

There are plenty of growth opportunities as a freelance writer, but you’ll have to work for them. And a lot of these opportunities may not be so much writing-related.

Growing and Picking up New Skills

One of the biggest growths I’ve had writing professionally is learning about all the non-writing matters that come with the territory.

If you haven’t learned about search engine optimization (SEO), learn about it immediately. Most, if not all writing positions require you to have at least basic knowledge of it.

Watch YouTube videos on it. Or take cheap courses online like Udemy.

Other skills I picked up or learned about were:

  • Social media marketing
  • Image design
  • Analytics (social media and Google)
  • Google Adwords

Again, you can find courses for any of these all over the Internet along with these other skills that will come in handy:

  • Coding
  • Web Design
  • Video production
  • Advanced research skills
  • Verbal communication
  • Networking

If it were up to me, I’d just write.

That’s what I’m here for. To turn thoughts into words. To put words on paper.

But we live in an age where the Internet controls everything. You must adapt, or you’ll be left behind dangerously fast.

I’m still a beginner in most of the skills I put but now dedicate at least 40 per cent of my time to growing these skills and using them.

I use social media marketing to promote my works and my brand as a writer, SEO to figure out what people online are interested in, and image design because they make or break articles.

They are all non-writing skills, but they are writing-related. And if you happen to become great at one of them, you can even land a side gig or a full-time job doing it.

But this part is the fun part when it comes to non-writing stuff. There are still a lot of other things I had to deal with.

Dealing with “Adult Stuff” and Non-Writing Matters

I might eventually master the art of writing for a living, but I’ll never master the art of “adulting”.

As a freelance writer, I’ve had to deal with finances a lot more than when I worked a regular office job (budgeting as a freelancer).

With an office job, I could expect a paycheque every two weeks. But as a freelancer, getting paid was different.

I had to personally do invoices and hand them in just before the deadline or I’d have to wait until the next payment period. Depending on where I wrote, payment came every two weeks, every month, or when the clients felt like it.

Budgeting became a bigger part of my life. I had to be thriftier. I couldn’t splurge as often. The prospect of losing a paycheque or more every month also stressed me out.

At any moment, a client or two could simply stop giving work. Or they’ll “restructure” and change the pay structure.

I wrote for a content mill where we went from being paid $25 per 500 words plus royalties to $40 per 1,000 words, flat.

Then there comes self-management: the biggest bane of my existence.

As a freelancer, managing yourself is half the battle (tips for effective self-management). If you can master going to bed and waking up a certain time, you’re already ahead more than half your peers.

The flexibility of being a freelance writer is great but the price for self-management is steep.

I turned into a night owl because I’d wake up late and work all the way past 2:00 AM. That can’t be good for my health or my networking opportunities.

And of course, there’s the everyday stuff like eating, exercising, socializing etc.

All these things don’t seem important but trust me. If you neglect them, you will suffer a slow horrible descent into madness.

Killing Your Darlings: Lessons in Turning Writing from Hobby to Business

Writing is art. It’s self-expression.

You can get as wacky with your prose as you want and add the f-bomb before every adjective. It's like baking a cake and throwing in all kinds of decoration and toppings that challenge your sanity.

But writing is also a business. It’s for a purpose.

You can add a carnival of colours in your cake all you want but if nobody eats it or even finds it appealing, all that work, despite being fun was all for nought.

As much as I’d like to just sit down and write and let my mind go without worrying about consequence, readership, or practicality, I can’t.

There needs to be a purpose to what I write. And that’s what the professional side of writing has taught me.

The artist part of me weeps going through the articles I’ve written with my plain prose and lack of voice. But they were what got me paid and got me jobs.

I could pursue a career in creative writing, producing short fiction or novels. But I haven’t. And it’s because I value it too much. I don’t want to turn this into business. Not yet.

Writing isn’t always fun. I don’t always love it. I will never be the best at it and God knows how much longer I can do it.

But I know one thing: this is the only thing I want to do. Whether I’m writing for money, writing for others, or writing for the hell of it, I’ll keep doing it.

Embrace writing as both an art form and a profession. If you’re an amateur and you love writing, turn it into a profession. Make money out of it. But don’t be afraid to change or “kill your darlings”.