How many times have you been given a writing assignment by your English teacher that turns out to be the most boring topic anyone could ever write about?
I have used English textbooks in a class and even I have had to stifle a groan as I read out the writing exercise. Who thinks of these things?
A Day in the Life of a whale
Norwegian Oil Industry
Ten Things to Do in Toronto
And those are some of the better ones.
Why are so many English writing assignments so dull?
What you need is to write about something that sparks your interest. An assignment that makes you get a little excited and gives you a real desire to get home and write something immediately.
The writing needs to be personal. About you.
Let me welcome you to the exciting and magical world of journaling.
What is Journaling?
Journaling is a journal or diary (although the word diary has gone out of fashion recently) where a person writes down anything they want. Often their private thoughts, dreams, desires, fears or goals.
In a journal, you can write about anything. There are no rules because it is your journal. And maybe you show it to other people, maybe you don’t. You can keep it a complete secret. Or you can tell the world.
You can write in your journal every day, ten times a day or only once a week. It is all up to you. No one can tell you what to write in your journal or how often.
That is what makes it so perfect for English students who wish to improve their English writing.
And if you start a journal, you are in good company. Many people have written journals and published their innermost thoughts.
For example, Samuel Pepys, Anne Frank, Virginia Woolfe and Franz Kafka.
What are the benefits for English students writing a journal?
This is where a regular writing practice can really pay off.
As long as you maintain a routine of writing in your journal, you will see the positive results you are looking for.
Let’s go through all the benefits one by one.
Every time you write something you improve your vocabulary. It may just be a little but there will be a slight improvement.
As you write you will need new words to help you express what you are trying to say. No doubt you have a dictionary and as you use it when writing your journal your vocabulary will expand.
You will also use words where you only have a vague sense of their meaning. But you will still use them. Words you half-remember from something you read. Or maybe something your English teacher told you in class.
Gradually all of these words will have a much clearer meaning in your mind.
The more you write the more new words you will learn and remember.
Also, you are using all of this vocabulary in context. Many English students try to learn vocabulary by going over great lists of words.
In your writing, you are using the vocabulary in relation to the sentence and the other words in the sentence. This is the best way to build your vocabulary.
And of course, as you build your word power by regular journaling your spelling will improve too.
There will be a natural increase in your ability to spell words without the need for a dictionary every time.
The more you write the more you will pay attention to the tiny details of what you write.
So you will use much better grammar. You will notice small grammatical errors and adjust them. If you accompany your love for journaling with reading you will remember verb tenses, the use of conditionals and articles.
You may not notice immediately but there will be a definite improvement in your English grammar.
Better Sentence Structure
As you write you will want to be more adventurous in your writing style. You will no longer be happy to write simple sentences in a linear style.
Your sentences will become more complex as you challenge yourself.
The more you write the better your sentence structure will become.
A Desire for More Reading
Another benefit of writing every day is that your reading will improve.
As you build your own journal, you will become curious to read other people’s online journals. You will want to read blogs and that will lead to other reading material. You will read novels, biographies and history—all in English.
Writing leads to reading, which leads to more reading and more writing.
What should I use for journaling?
There are two main choices of medium for journaling.
If you are more of the traditional journal writer, try a simple notebook and pen. The good thing about this is that you can carry it around with you at all times as they are so small and light.
Moleskine make some great notebooks for journaling. With hard leather covers, it makes your journals have a much higher value and quality about them.
But there are many other notebook brands you can try.
If you use a notebook, it need not be expensive. It could be a very simple and cheap notebook you can buy in your local supermarket. What you write inside your journal holds the true value.
There are also many online journal platforms.
Penzu is one of the most popular online journals around. It has an easy-to-use interface, and it is also simple to navigate around the site. For the basic membership, you can only use one kind of design. But if you upgrade, you can have all kinds of designs for your journal along with other added features.
There are also these journaling apps and sites:
If you prefer to type rather than write with a pen and paper, you could journal on your computer.
Write your journal using Word and create a folder of all your innermost thoughts there.
What should I write about?
Well, you write whatever you want. That is the whole point.
But people that first start journaling often have no idea how to start. You stare at the blank page and you are overwhelmed by the vast expanse of whiteness.
Let me give you a few ideas on how to get started.
If you are a beginner in English writing, or a beginner in journaling, then you need to start somewhere simple. It’s no use trying to write a novel at this stage.
So I suggest you start with lists. You can write lists of things you need to do on one particular day. It’s a good starting point.
It could look something like this:
- Do my reading homework
- Buy some milk
- Take my dog for a walk
- Help my friend with his maths homework
Often a lot of these things are things you do every day. This is great because soon you will write these things without even thinking. You will just write it in your journal automatically.
You can also write lists of things you have eaten or things you have done for the day. Write these lists at the end of the day.
- I had an egg and an apple for breakfast and a cup of coffee
- I ate chicken wings and rice for lunch
- I had vegetables and fried pork for dinner
- I also ate some potato chips as a snack
- I did some exercise this morning
- I had a test in the morning
- We did a role play in our English class in the afternoon
- I watched the news in the evening
Many of these things you eat or do every day too. Also good practice for writing. You will use the same vocabulary for food or verbs for doing things — writing these things down, again and again, will help you remember them easily.
One Sentence Journal
Just write one sentence. This is a great way to start a writing habit. Just tell yourself that you only have to write one sentence.
It could be about what you did that day or something you ate or a conversation you had with your friend.
In school today, I talked to my friend about the new Marvel movie.
If you stick to the habit of just writing one sentence, you will find that you will soon write two sentences, then three, four, five. This will progress until you are writing an entire paragraph, two paragraphs and then an entire page.
Start small. Do not rush. But maintain the habit of writing something every day.
Really Cool Writing Prompts
Writing prompts are little ideas to help writers come up with an entire story. Professional writers use these and so can you.
Try some of the ideas below.
How is your day so far? Is it a good or bad day? Why?
Write about your favourite colour. Why is it your favourite colour? Write about all the things that have this colour and how it makes you feel.
What kinds of things do you like to do? Why do you like doing them?
What would you like to change about yourself? Why?
What makes you angry? Why does it make you angry?
If you were given a million dollars what would you do with it? Think of at least three things you would do and explain why you would do those things.
Where in the world would you like to go? Why would you like to go there?
What are you scared of? Why does it scare you?
The key thing to do is to JUST WRITE.
If you want to get better at something, then you have to make it into a regular habit. And that definitely applies to writing in English.
Two other things I would add — writing should be fun. You should enjoy writing. If it is a chore or you feel it is just like doing homework — you’re doing it wrong.
Have fun with what you write.
And when you write, try to be yourself. You may never show what you write to others so there is no harm in being completely honest with yourself. You need to write in your own voice. Don’t try to be someone you are not.
Finally, look at the journal links I provided and the links to the journaling prompts. Plenty of ideas there to inspire you.
Good luck with your writing and let me know your thoughts in the comments below.