decorative imageA personal journal is a good, ongoing way to record your observations and thoughts–your personal responses to your world–and thus develop ideas for writing. A personal journal is more than just a record of what happens in your life (it’s more than just “on Monday I went to the library; on Tuesday I stayed late at work”). A personal journal is a record of your observations, feelings, and reflections on your experience. You may want to write about an incident you observed, a person, a place, an important childhood experience, different reactions to a situation, a current issue, a goal, an ethical problem, or any other subject that has attracted your attention and occupied your thoughts. Consider yourself an investigator and ask why something is the way it is, why people respond in certain ways to a particular situation, what a person’s or place’s or item’s special characteristics are, or how something happened. In other words, think about what you observe and write those thoughts in your journal entries. Think of Jim Gaffigan’s commentaries as a prototype for journal entries; he often starts with an interesting observation or question, which then leads to a series of thoughts.

Sample Journal Entry

The people on my street had an impromptu meeting outside today as a result of an upsetting article in the local newspaper. The township intends to take over some land, not on our street, but on the street perpendicular to ours, in order to widen the two-lane highway there. That means that the two people on the end of the street would lose the buffer of land between their houses and the road and have the road almost up to their doorsteps–and their property values would go down. There’s not that much traffic, not enough to necessitate another lane in the road, and the speed limit has to remain the same, as it’s a residential area. So there’s a lot of resentment at this unexpected situation. It’s all occurring now because the town got a grant and has to use the money by a certain date or lose it. Even though we were all upset, we all handled the situation differently. A number of people were just plain angry and so upset that they couldn’t do much more than yell about it. A few others tried to talk about tactics that we could take as a group, ways in which we could stop or at least delay the town’s action. One person, who seems to be emerging as the group’s leader, talked about specific channels that we could tap into and knew names of persons to contact. She started to get the group organized into smaller sub-groups to do different tasks. It amazes me that people who haven’t done much more than say hello in passing this past year were able to get together this quickly to start to fight for a cause.

Through this journal entry, the writer has identified a number of ideas that may be fruitful for broader development in an essay, ideas related to how people function in groups, community organization, different responses to adverse situations, and the workings of local governments.

(this page’s text © Empire State College)