The (Very Real) Benefits of Keeping a ‘Book Journal’

How this one habit revived my long-dead daily journal when nothing else worked

Shawn Forno
May 22 · 5 min read

For the past month, I’ve written in my journal every single day. I know. Big deal, right? Well, if you’re anything like me, sticking with a journal for more than thirty minutes is a huge win.

So let me share how I finally—and kind of accidentally—started a daily journaling habit that has fueled a surprising amount of writing over the past month.

If you’ve ever struggled to build a daily writing habit, read on.

How to keep a daily journal

I don’t keep a bullet journal, productivity tracker, to-do list, gratitude journal, idea notebook, diary, or any other fancy journal. Instead, I started something called a “book journal.” And even though it’s super simple, this little journal has single-handedly changed how I write. Here’s how it works.

  1. Carry a small spiral notebook and a pencil with the book you’re reading
  2. Copy down any lines that you like, word for word
  3. Note the page or chapter where the quote comes from

That’s it.

No thoughts. No opinions. No notes. Just record your favorite lines and passages from whatever book you’re reading (right now that’s Roald Dahl’s Boy), and get back to reading. Rinse and repeat as needed.

I’ve recently started underlining certain words in the journal, but that’s just so I can find certain passages later (the pages are getting crowded!). Basically, a book journal is the opposite of marginalia.

And that’s the best part of keeping a book journal—it’s easy. I don’t need to “summon my muse” or follow inane writing prompts to get words on the page or feel productive. If a line or phrase makes me say, “Huh,” I take out my pencil, open the journal, and copy it down.

Keeping this ridiculous excuse for a journal has become my absolute favorite way to start the day.

And that’s the best part of keeping a book journal — it’s easy.

Writing fuels more writing

Surprised? Underwhelmed? A little mad that I consider this blatant elementary school level of plagiarism “journaling?”

I was too.

But after a few days of jotting down my favorite parts from books like Frankenstein, Childhood’s End, Love in the Time of Cholera, and Catcher in the Rye (they’re all still fantastic, by the way), a funny thing happened.

I started writing more. And not just in the journal. New ideas went from drafts to published stories in a single day. Articles I’d been struggling with for weeks finally clicked. Even some of my most tedious client work and emails went more smoothly. Heck, I’ve written over a dozen poems in the past few weeks.

Yup.

I’m not just writing in my journal every day. I’ve had enough extra time, energy, focus, and inspiration to write friggin poetry in addition to my other articles. It’s been a weird couple of weeks, guys.

But that’s the thing about simple, daily, low-stakes, progress — it often creates a feedback loop of positive results that breeds even more progress. And if you’re lucky, you might end up with a brand new habit.

How to get addicted to writing

Like many of you, I’ve always struggled to keep a daily journal even though I know it’s something I’m “supposed” to do. I mean, I’m a writer. It should be easy to write every day, right? But I’ve just never been able to stick with it for very long.

And believe me — I’ve tried.

I’ve downloaded journaling apps and wasted (way too much) money on bullet journals, gratitude notebooks, and limited edition Moleskines that litter the drawers around my house. Most of them are still empty.

I’ve even watched journaling tutorials on YouTube and tried to adopt the systems and styles of writers and creators I admire to kickstart my journaling habit. And I still failed. Usually after just a few days.

But over the past month, my silly little “book journaling” habit has filled pages of a previously empty notebook. I actually didn’t even realize that my book journal was a journal until I noticed that I was running out of room after using it every day. Trust me, that’s never happened before. Heck, I had to refill the lead in my mechanical pencil last week. It took longer than I’m proud of.

Your journal can be about anything

I lucked out. All it took for me to start writing every day was a good book, a rocking chair, a cup of coffee, and a pencil and a spiral notebook. It was easy to enhance my morning routine with a book journal because I love to read, and I have tons of time on my hand right now.

But my method might not work for you. And that’s fine.

The key to your perfect daily writing routine is out there. All you need is a journal and something to write about. And it doesn’t even have to be your writing.

Austin Kleon’s “Blackout Poems” are incredible, and he doesn’t “write” a single word of them. He just needs a sharpie and a copy of The New York Times and he’s off, creating beautiful poetry that sparks some of his best articles.

Maybe you can doodle the lyrics to your favorite songs, or you keep a dream journal by your bed. You might try to sketch Every Person in New York or try to record every animal you see on your morning walk.

There are no rules for daily journaling.

The important thing is to find a way to enjoy writing and creating every day. Because if you can show up every day, you’ll do a lot more than hitting your daily word count.

How to write every day

My silly little “book journal” has allowed me to write every day without friction. It’s easy. It’s even kind of fun.

I don’t have to think about what I’m going to write about because my favorite writers have already taken care of that part. I just have to show up with a pencil, a notebook, a cup of coffee, and something I want to read.

Ditch the pressure, dread, guilt, or obligation to write in another empty, abandoned journal. Find a way to write about your favorite things and you’ll be surprised by the tidal wave of creativity you unleash.

Shawn Forno is a freelance copywriter, content manager, travel writer, and blogger with over twelve years of experience. He loves to talk about himself in the third-person. You can check out his writing portfolio or his super-duper helpful travel articles for more helpful tips and tricks for writers and travelers.

Travel, work, and life in your own roundabout way.

Shawn Forno

Written by

A very left-handed writer | The Startup, Writer’s Cooperative, PS I Love You, Better Marketing | newsletter: aroundist.substack.com | aroundist.com

Aroundabout

Travel, work, and life in your own roundabout way.

Shawn Forno

Written by

A very left-handed writer | The Startup, Writer’s Cooperative, PS I Love You, Better Marketing | newsletter: aroundist.substack.com | aroundist.com

Aroundabout

Travel, work, and life in your own roundabout way.

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