ppw writing tip 9

It’s finally time. Only took 9 posts for me to get to the subject that started it all for me – making my writing better by keeping a journal. Are you ready to hear this writer and bookbinder’s take? Of course you are.

Writing Tip #9 – Keeping A Writing Journal

Since May 15, 2013, I have written in a journal every day. And I mean every day. Travel, food poisoning, the flu–none of those things have stopped me yet. Even when I could barely stay awake for more than a few minutes I managed to get a few words out. Good words? Maybe not. But that’s hardly the point.

I have made writing every day, even if it’s just a line or two, part of my necessary routine. If I can hold a pen, I will write. I’m not breaking my streak for anything.

The majority of those thousands of entries aren’t accounts of my day-to-day life. No, I write about the day-to-day lives of my characters. I note the shorter stories that popped into my dreams. I wander around in the plots and details of my storylines until I have a sense of what’s going on.

It’s been more helpful to my writing than I ever could’ve imagined. All of those tips that say to write every day to improve? They aren’t kidding. I look back on my early entries and I can’t believe I wrote so poorly.

I mean, in my defense, I was 13 and mostly recording the surprisingly dramatic adventures of my toys, heavily featuring all the rubber ducks I had in the tub. The content was always going to be a little iffy. Still, there’s gold in there.

I can look at old entries and find character details buried in the action and words that I love and never would’ve been able to express back then. Even if I never use the characters again, it makes me wildly happy to read their old stories.

In more recent years, my journal has been a fantastic way to keep notes for later. A good chunk of the dialogue in the novel I wrote over the summer came almost directly from what I had written in my journal the year before.

My favorite part is always when I find something I wrote and go, “Wow, I totally forgot about that.” That’s how I know writing every night is worth it.

Why you should journal too

I’ll keep this simple. There’s a ton of reasons why you should journal, and not all of them are just regarding writing. Here’s a few:

  • Writing more = better writing (usually)
  • It’s a great way to keep writing if you have a day job that prevents you from having the time or energy to write.
  • It keeps a record of tiny details about your stories for you to find later – continuity is helpful, y’all.
  • The more you write the more you have to read a year or two down the line – reading my old journals is almost like reading a book, and it never fails to keep me entertained.
  • Someday some ancestor of yours will get to read your notebook and find out what you were like. This may or may not be a bad thing, that’s up to you.
  • When you’re famous and dead your family can sell your books for lots of money or make some literature scholars very happy.
  • Journalling, regardless of what you write, has massive potential for positive mental health benefits.

The Writer’s Journal, The Possum Paper Works Way

Step #1 – Find a notebook you can’t wait to write in.

my journals
Four years’ worth of my journals – including the first book I ever made!

Go into Barnes & Noble (or their website) and find the leather journal that makes you swoon. Hunt down 20 cent composition books during the back-to-school season of sales. Find a journal software or app you can jive with. If you’re feeling extra awesome, order a snazzy Possum Paper Works book or a custom journal from another bookbinder!

Your journal doesn’t have to be fancy. At all. My first one was a $10 Spider-man journal from Walmart, and I got similar style books for most of the first 6 or 7 journals I filled.

Now, I love the Barnes & Noble books. I had two that I got as gifts, and my current journal is another one from their line. I spent $35 for a journal that will last me over a year now that I don’t always write a full page. It’s basically the only thing I’m willing to buy from B&N.

I like lined paper books, because I tend to write linearly when I use pen and I sometimes write more when I use paper. You might be more of a blank-page bullet journalling type (see the end of this post for more resources about that!), or your journalling might be sporadic and on-the-go and need to stay on your phone. Find the book (or app) that sounds like it’ll fill your needs the best.

You can also always make your own book. Just be aware that if you do that…you might not ever want to stop making books…

Step #2 – Figure out what time of day you’re most likely to write during.

This is dependent on a couple of factors. Mostly, you want to figure out when you’ve got at least five or ten minutes of free time, and when you’re most motivated to sit down and focus for a little bit.

I’ve kind of given up on focusing most of the time. I write while scattering back and forth between the TV, my laptop, or whatever else has my attention that night. Sometimes I do actually want to write, and suddenly find myself wishing I had more than 1 page. But I make rules for myself. No more than one page, and these days, no more than 5 entries per 2 pages. It makes sure there’s something written, no matter how short.

A neighbor of mine always writes right after she wakes up. That’s when she’s at her peak. It might work best for you too, writing a few lines before you even get out of bed.

You could write whenever, but I definitely recommend sticking to a set time whenever possible. Making it a daily routine, as regular as your cup of coffee or brushing your teeth, will help you stay with it longer, and thus write more.

Step #3 – Get to it!

Don’t sit there staring at your blank notebook. I know you don’t want to mess up the nice paper or the lovely blank screen. I get that. But come on, dude. You want to write? You’re gonna have to write.

Don’t look at me like that.

This took me nearly a week to write, okay? I get it. Writing sucks. Still. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but…to write, you…have to write.

But it doesn’t have to be all that awful.

Journal to improve your writing – but let yourself write about anything you want.

Write about stories and character ideas. Write tiny sections of dialogue, worldbuilding, that stupid little scene where your characters make a bunch of terrible cow puns.

But write other things too. If you had a crappy day and you can’t think of anything other than whatever drama’s on your mind, write it out. If you need to work through something going on in your life, let your journal be your therapist. There’s a reason journalling is touted for its positive effects on mental health.

Plus, it’s actually a lot of fun to keep a normal “diary” journal too, even if all you write for it is one line at the start of every writing entry like I do. It can show you how far you’ve come as a person and not just as a writer.

If rules help you meet your writing goals, set rules. But don’t be afraid to break them.

Don’t get discouraged if you miss a day.

That’s okay. I promise. You’re not me. I am a dangerously stubborn being. Not everyone works at their best under pressure.

A few years ago, I had to force myself to break my own “one page a day” rule. My mental health was in the toilet, and most nights writing a full page made me feel worse with the stress of trying to come up with enough to fill a page.

One night, I decided I was done. I wrote a few lines, and stopped. I didn’t write again until the next night.

Not once have I regretted it.

Let yourself take breaks. It’s as important in journalling as in everything else in the world. Not every novel has to be a masterpiece, and not every journal entry has to be something you’ll ever look at again. That’s fine.

I promise.

"A writer’s journal must not be judged by the standards of a diary. The notebooks of a writer have a very special function: in them he builds up, piece by piece, the identity of a writer to himself." - Susan Sontag

Have fun with it.

Use your favorite pens. I started with Uniballs I had lying around, then got more as I found out how much I adored them. I used a red pen every fourth night to switch things up.That was the extent of the “fun” of the journal, other than the joy of writing.

About when writing started getting hard, I started using a different kind of Uniball, with a bunch of their colored Signos brightening up my collection. It made a huge difference. One night more recently I was feeling lackluster again and I used a Papermate Flair pen that I’d just gotten. I doodled all over my margins, and while my writing wasn’t as hot, the emotion was there, and I actually managed to get a bit done.

It makes a difference, if you can have a little fun with your journal. It really does. 

Just remember, if it’s hurting you more than helping, stop and re-evaluate. Writing itself isn’t always fun. That doesn’t mean you have to make yourself feel worse by doing it.

Finally, it’s never a bad idea to tag your entries.

Man, I wish I had started doing this as soon as I started writing.

What I mean by tag is have some kind of short word or acronym you can use to show what you wrote about on any given day.

I have dozens and dozens of stories. The shorter ones don’t tend to get tagged, but if it’s taking up more than three nights of writing, I try to always put a little note up by the date of the entry that tells me what the story or universe I’m writing about is.

If that tag’s not there, and I’m trying to find a specific bit of information, I’ll fly right by the page and never find it. When you’re dealing with hundreds of entries, that’s not ideal. At all. Trust me on that.

my journal
A set of recent pages from my journal. Note the lines up top with the one word tags! And the way I just kinda gave up on the red entry…

Need more inspiration?

Not enough guidelines? Not the type of journalling you’re interested in? Don’t despair!

My own Pinterest board of journal inspirations has tons of images and how-to guides sure to inspire your own notebooks, so be sure to check it out!

Here’s a couple of writers with their own tips on keeping a journal:

Cole Smith Writes

This post looks at a more traditional style of keeping a writer’s journal – and has free journalling resources.

Nicole C. W.

A collection of 7 categories of things to put in your journal.

TCK Publishing

How to use bullet journalling methods for writing!

Megan Rutell at Page Flutter

A super in-depth look at Megan’s personal writing journal, filled with tips and tricks for you to borrow.

Happy writing!

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Other writing tips can be found here.

Need a place to put your writing? Check out my line of notebooks on Etsy!

For your pinning pleasure:

writing tip 9 journal summary

writing prompt literary list graphic

Howdy! Here we have a new list of writing prompts for your perusal, featuring fantasy-based works. And apparently most of the fantasy and sci-fi books I have hard copies of are by cis white guys… 🙁

We can make it work.

Writing Prompts – White Cis Guys Fantasy Edition

Okay. I do read fantasy and sci-fi written by people other than cis white guys, I promise, I just haven’t bought new books in a while. I don’t have easily accessible copies of the Charlaine Harris, Seanan McGuire , and Kim Harrison books that I’ve enjoyed in the last year, nor can I include Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, having lent my copy to a friend.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t like the books that I selected from. Quite the opposite – the 7 selections here all come from books and authors I love. And one TV show. I have a massive book with all the Firefly scripts.

Although, whenever I read H.G. Wells I can pretend that I’m reading a book by a bad-ass bisexual lady, thanks Warehouse 13. And look, The Invisible Man is just a deliciously creepy book with a strangely sympathetic monster. I do love a good monster.

Anyways, as always, change things up and don’t be a plagiarist.

Actually, that’s your mission for this assignment – mix these prompts up into something new! Fantasy and sci-fi needs more diversity, and it starts with the stories being told. I can’t do it alone, friends.

Alright, so let’s delve into my unfortunately white guys heavy collection of science fiction and fantasy, and use these prompts to make it better. Honestly my brain has started writing a story already just from the prompts I’ve found. I hope they inspire you too.

7 Fantastical Writing Prompts

“Why come to me? Why not a private investigator?”

“Because you know about…” She gestured, fitfully.

“About magic,” I said.

Storm Front, Jim Butcher

“But it gets dark.”


“Aren’t you afraid?”

“Of what?”

“The dark.”

“Why should I be?”

– “Pillar of Fire,” Ray Bradbury

“What happens to the soul of a man who dies between the stars, far from his native world?”

– “The Haunted Space Suit,” Arthur C. Clarke

“The girl is a witch!”

“Yeah. But she’s our witch.”

Firefly Ep. 5, “Safe,” Drew Z. Greenberg

“There have been no wizards since [him], and you would never in this world  have beaten him. But I tell you this – he would never in this world have beaten you.”

“I am ready then.”

The Princess Bride, William Goldman

“I could have swore I heard a voice.”

“Of course you did.”

“It’s there again”

“Don’t be a fool. You think I’m just imagination? Just imagination?”

“What else can you be?”

The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells

“Where is she?”

“Gone. The darkness took her.”

Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman

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Other writing tips and prompts can be found here.

Need a place to put your writing? Check out my line of notebooks on Etsy!

For your pinning pleasure:

white guys writing prompts pin

Hey there! It’s officially University Season, so between that and the upkeep of my business, I highly doubt I’ll have much time to post. That said, I have a new writing tip! It’s one I found very helpful recently – having a daily word count goal.

Writing Tip #7 – Daily Word Count Goals

Last week, I finished writing a book. Okay, it was a rough draft of a book. A very rough draft. It still has many issues to fix before anyone besides friends and family even can know about it.

But I finished, dammit. I wrote a book.

And I’m not saying that to brag (much). I’m proud, but I also want you to have to tools you need to do the same.

If you’re here, you want to know how to write better (I hope). I totally get that. I didn’t find it in me to write a real book until after I’d read dozens of other author’s works, online and in print, on how to tell a story.

All of those things helped me get to the point I am today. I learned many lessons from all–on plot, characters, form, whatever.

That said, the tools for helping with the act of writing did little for me. For whatever reasons, certain tips that other authors swear by did nothing to motivate me.  I had to find my own limits and skills.

The tool that worked the best for me? Making myself write no less than a certain number of words every day.

Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day; it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised. - John Steinbeck

How I Wrote A Book

Early this summer, right after my spring classes ended, I told myself that I would try to write a book. I had no real plans to speak of for the summer, so I made a daily schedule for myself–write in the morning, read in the afternoon, do tasks for this blog and my business in the evening.

Based on the total word count I expected, and a rough estimate of the number of days I had, I knew I’d have to write more than 500 words every day if I wanted to finish before classes started.

It wasn’t the first time I gave myself that task for the summer. Two years in a row, I wrote at least 500 words a day on a vague comic book script (still not even halfway done). Sure, it was vague. The rules changed as I felt like it. Not writing on the weekends? Sure, why not. On vacation? That’s fine.

I wrote. Lots of words hit the page. It worked well, and got some of my story out.

This time, I wasn’t nearly as lenient.


The Rules

500 words had to happen. Each day. Every day. No exceptions.

It’s a weekend? 500 words.

Stressed out and tired? 500 words.

Only an hour to write? 500 words.

On vacation? 500 words. Or more.

Sometimes I could barely reach that number. Sometimes I blew way past. Writing dialogue? Suddenly 1,000+ new words are on the page. Writing a bit of plot that totally lost me? Exactly 501 words written, finished at 1:30 PM.

When I started working on the project, that barely happened. I’d finish before noon each day, often with at least 600 words. After two months of straight writing, it got a whole lot harder.

Should I have taken breaks? Probably. Did I have time to? Nope.

More importantly, was I gonna break my 500 per day streak just because I had a bad day? Hell no.


Going Over the Count is Okay!

In the last month or so of writing, I realized I needed to do 750 a day to get to the total count I expected the book to finish at. But I didn’t reset my count calculators to help. So I kept writing 500. Sometimes I’d get to 750, sometimes 1,000.

It wasn’t enough.

Last week I wrote 1,500+ words for 5 days in a row.

I’m still coming off of the exhausting high of finishing my book.

But I finished.

If you’ve got the muse or the determination, don’t stop. Get it out.


Don’t Beat Yourself Up If You Miss the Goal

Okay, I have to be honest–at least with this last session, I would’ve beat myself up for not getting to 500. No matter what I say, my brain still thinks of 500 words as generously low.

It’s not.

Getting up and writing ANYTHING, be it a sentence or thirty pages, is so much more than most people will ever do.


I probably should’ve taken some breaks to clear my head. I didn’t. But I also had the luxury of not having many commitments while I was writing.

If I missed my goal right now, with all my other deadlines, I wouldn’t get too stressed about it. Remember, writing should have an element of love and passion, not just numerical goals all the time.

Or, to be blunt, unless you’re lucky enough to have a publisher/agent, you’re the only one who cares if you miss your goal.


Word Count Varies Per Person

The advice I see all the time is to just write. To put all the words on the page. Don’t think about it. Just do it.

That has never worked for me.  I am a perfectionist. Every word must be perfect. The sentence lengths must vary. The word choice must make sense for the given character. Words and phrases can’t repeat in the same section. So on and so forth.

I can’t turn my need for perfection off, but I don’t mind anymore. I just have to work around the slow pace that results.

That means that, for the most part, the 1,667 words a day or 10,000 per weekend or whatever that NaNoWriMo requires? Not possible for me. Especially not if I do anything other than write during the day or want sleep.

And I want sleep. That much I refuse to give up for anything, good grades and writing included.

So, 500 words is my magic daily word count.


Famous Authors and their Daily Word Counts

Years ago, I found this great article and chart at Writers Write that shares the approximate daily word counts of 39 different authors, plus quotes about writing from each of them. It’s worth a look.

But with caution.

I love Ray Bradbury. Ray Bradbury wrote 1,000 words a day.  I am not Ray Bradbury.

The thing is, the bulk of Bradbury’s words, especially in the early days? Those words paid him directly, thanks to the golden age of fast-paced pulp fiction where more words meant more money.

He had much more financial motivation to write more than me. The same goes for the 2,000 words Stephen King writes. No one pays me to write. I only have my own passion to drive me. Passion is great–but sometimes it needs a kick in the ass to keep up.

If you’re not a professional writer, you can’t expect yourself to meet the daily word counts of one. Especially not if you have a full time job or education that has nothing to do with writing.

Right now, the words I have time to write are limited to lab reports, blog posts, and my nightly journal entry. I simply don’t have the time or energy to write fiction. And that’s okay.

When I have the motivation to write again, I will. No matter my surroundings.

If you have the motivation to write, what are you still doing here? Go write!


What’s Your Magic Daily Word Count?

How do you know how many words you can write in a day?

Trial and error, my friend. That’s it.

See what you write when you’re feeling driven, when you can devote all your attention to your writing. See how much you write when you want to throw your computer across the room. The sweet spot for most days is probably in the middle.

As I mentioned, 500 is mine. I found out early on in writing that 2,000+ words a day? It ain’t happening. As far as I can recall, I’ve done that once. Last week. When I was pushing all of my energy into finishing by a deadline.

Most of the time? 500 is the max of what I can do in a reasonable period.

You might be able to drop 2,000 words a day like it’s nothing. More power to you. Maybe 500 is too much for you. That’s cool too.

Whatever you do, get the words out there.

"If you write 10k [words] a day, you will end up with a book. If you write 1k a day, you will end up with a book. If you write 500 words every Tuesday, you will end up with a book. If you write 100 words before bed, or 50 whenever you can, you will end up with a book. The only way you won't end up with a book is if you quit." - VE Schwab

The Main Point

Find a way to get yourself to write. Some writing is better than none. If you take nothing else away from this, remember that. If you want to be a writer, you have to write.

Having a daily word count goal can make that easier.

I’m not particularly goal-driven, but if I start something, good luck getting me to stop. I’ve written in my journal every single day since May 2013. I’m stubborn. Word count streaks work for me better than anything else.

Maybe they won’t work for you. That’s fine. I hope you’re able to find the method that does motivate you. Some people do well with timed sessions. That’s not for me, but I might write a tip on that someday in the future, since it seems to help others.

The big thing is to not give up. If one way of writing doesn’t work, find another. The internet is filled with helpful hints for your perusal.


Tools to Use

If you write non-linearly like I do, find yourself an app with word count tracking built in–as in, you can see exactly how many new words you’ve written.

I use Highland 2, which lets you make a “goal” of total words, total pages, new words, or new pages, and shows you the progress as you write. I love it and hate it. It makes it easy to check how I’m doing–but also how much I have left.

NaNoWriMohas tracking tools during the month of November, and possibly year round? Like I said–writing 50,000 words in a month is not for me. Worth

A quick web search for “word counter” will also reveal dozens of free tools for counting your total word number, and there’s a couple of free apps as well for tracking.

If all else fails, make a spreadsheet! Most word processors also have ways to display your total word count. You can make a note of the count when you start, or use the total count to make milestones. Start at 213? Aim for 750, or 1,000. 

Some authors track page count as an alternative. This is also great! Two double-spaced pages is usually a little more than 500 words. Most word processors can also track that.

As always, find what works for you.

About 1750 words in 2 days, in case you were wondering about this article. 😉

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Other writing tips can be found here.

Need a place to put your writing? Check out my line of notebooks on Etsy!

For your pinning pleasure:

writing tip 7 word count summary

writing prompt literary list graphic

Welcome to the literary list #2 writing prompt extravaganza! Today I’ve got 7 fresh prompts to share, all of which come from dialogue in books, plays, and comics.  For no particular reason, all prompts also appear on pages 37, 38, or 39 of my copy.

Writing Prompts – Literary List #2

Let’s be real, you’re not here to hear me talk about the list. You want the prompts, and I don’t blame you! These 7 are great fun, and since they all started as chunks of dialogue, you should find inspiration quickly for your own dialogue, poetry, or whatever.

I just need to say, that last one reads way more dieselpunk than it should, given the actual subject of the book. And I love it.

Remember to mix things up a bit if you’re planning on publishing the resulting work. I make an effort to find generic but interesting sentences, but don’t take chances. Change the wording, pronouns, whatever. Don’t plagiarize, people.

Good luck, and enjoy!

Prompts #8-14

“You made me look ridiculous in there.”

“I looked just as ridiculous as you did.”

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard


“I found another bone!…Boy, this is a weird one.”

Weirdos From Another Planet, A Calvin & Hobbes Collection, Bill Watterson


“Are you running away from anything?”

“No. I’m not running away from anything. Not in the way you mean.”

Shane, Jack Schaefer

“I don’t need anything.”

“You’ll need your nightgown.”

“I’ll sleep naked.” 

“The Next In Line” in The October Country, Ray Bradbury


“You can do what you want to do.”

“I’ll go back with you. I’m on my way down there.”

The Piano Lesson, August Wilson


“And if anyone comes–“

“Who might come? Will it be soldiers? Like the ones on the corners?”

“I really don’t think anyone will.”

– Number the Stars, Lois Lowry


“His ancestors have probably lived in that alley for generations.”

“So he’s one of us.”

“I suppose so.” 

Dewey the Library Cat, Vicki Myron (w/Bret Witter)

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Other writing tips can be found here.

Need a place to put your writing? Check out my line of notebooks on Etsy!

For your pinning pleasure:

dialogue prompts pinterest graphic