Journaling is Not Dead

For Christmas tjournalhis year, I was gifted a book about writing by a dear friend. The number one takeaway was one I tell my students and anyone else wondering how to be better at writing: write more, write always.

The funny thing is, I had not been taking my own advice. I vowed to write more. Not necessarily to publish more blog posts, but to physically write more. I realized that if I wanted to write with freedom of not thinking about an audience, and therefore not censoring or editing myself, I needed to write by hand more. I needed a journal.

I didn’t have the time or money to go buy a pretty one, so I just grabbed a composition book from my classroom and started jotting and writing. While very little of that translated into anything here, it felt good to be writing every day again.

Then I was offered the opportunity to use (and review) a “gratitude journal.” I wasn’t exactly sure what this meant, but I did know that I just had a tiny new human in my life and I was super grateful, so it seemed a good fit.  The Grace of Gratitude Journal  is a perfect journal for a beginner or a veteran writer looking for a way to get ideas and thoughts down quickly. Author Deborah Perdue beautifully weaves examples of gratitude throughout the pages and Tara Thelen provides gorgeous illustrations to inspire the writer.

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What sold me on this journal was that it has lined pages and a spiral binding. It fits just right in my diaper bag or purse so I can take it with me so that I can jot thoughts of gratitude wherever I am.

As you can see, the lines are wide-spaced and somewhat short. I would not use this journal for free-writing; it’s much better for listing. I currently use it to list ten things I am grateful for each day. I already love looking back at what I’ve written for previous days–especially those days that felt like they totally sucked because each day I have no problem coming up with ten things to say a silent “thank you” for to the man upstairs.

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The Grace of Gratitude Journal is reasonably priced at $14.99 on Amazon. It’s a hardcover journal, so no bending of the cover or wrinkling of pages, which is awesome because if your purse/bag looks anything like mine, it’s a miracle if anything comes out in tact.

Journaling every day has not just reignited my writing habit, but it puts me into an immediate better mood because I am thinking only positive thoughts. Because I am at risk for a postpartum depression/anxiety flair up, anything that puts me into a sunny place mentally is good. I feel like this has been another branch of my self-care along with therapy and meds. It helps me focus on the good at the end of each day rather than what I would otherwise obsessively worry about.

Plus it’s been an idea-generator for blog posts! Win!

Really the only drawback to this journal that I can think of is that it’s for only forty days. I would love a thicker one that covers six months or a year. A year of gratitude would be awesome to have and look back on when you need a reminder of how blessed you are.

Do you write by hand, or is everything you do on a computer or device?


Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I was sent a copy of The Grace of Gratitude Journal for review. No further compensation was provided. All opinions are my own.

Daily Writing

I’ve now written and posted for 7 days in a row.  After all the lack of posts in the past few months (ahem, pregnancy), this is sort of a big thing. I posted on November 1st and then realized that National Blog Post Month (NaBloPoMo) is this month, so I thought, “what the heck? I’ll give it a try.”

I’m not sure what I thought would happen. Would the flood gates open and I would just start writing the best stuff ever? I mean, I had let the words pile up in there, surely words are like wine…getting better with age, right?

Yeah, no. Those words have gotten dusty and fat. They tumbled out all out of shape and clumsy. They are grubby and unpracticed. They are awkward and lame.

But they are coming out.

I was afraid I wouldn’t have something to say every day.

I was wrong.  In fact, I find myself looking at the world as a writer again. Everything is a potential story to tell. My writer lens is sort of scratched from being tossed aside for a few months, but it still fits. In fact, to my surprise, it’s quite comfy.

I find myself composing in my head on my commute to and from school. I’m jotting down ideas again.  And because I have committed to posting something every single day, I don’t even worry that I am not writing the next amazing masterpiece. I feel like there is so much dang pressure out there lately to write only polished, wonderful pieces…and then also submit them elsewhere, that it feels kind of good to know that I can just come here and write some stuff and post it and not feel the pressure on myself to be more amazing than the last link you clicked on.

I’m just being me here in this space.

What I am right now is a writer finding her way back, dusting off the words, and putting them down. One post at a time.

Writing is My Process

I was recently invited to participate in an “Author Tour” about my writing process by the lovely Angela Amman. Being considered an “author” made me swoon, so I said yes. Of course.

I met Angela a few years (YEARS???) ago when I was linking up and then helping run The Red Dress Club. I quickly fell in love with her writing and the fact that she is also an inhabitant of the Mitten State. I knew her writing would take her far, and it has/is. She shared her writing process last week.

Ok, so the idea here is that I share with you a peek into my writing process. I’ve written before about writing being a process and not just a product, but I never really shared my own process. I hope this does not stifle any of the magic about me for you. Heh.

1. What Am I Working On?


My blog when I have time?

In all seriousness, I have some lofty goals for this year. I am trying to submit my writing to different places both online and print. I have been rejected and accepted a few times so I guess I am breaking even in the jubilation/sorrow department.

I guess right now a big area I have been working on is my Teaching & Writing post category. I try to post something about writing or teaching/education every Wednesday, but it doesn’t always work out because I get busy with, you guessed it, teaching. I’m reading, going to trainings, and reflecting on a LOT in that area, so there are lots of started drafts in the works.

I’m also always working on drafting childhood memories and writing out my good and hard times.

What my work space generally looks like. I know what you're thinking...jealousy.

What my work space generally looks like. I know what you’re thinking…jealousy.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre.

I have two different writerly voices: my story-telling voice and my teacher voice.

I think what makes me stand out in my story-telling is that I am very honest, but I am also very positive. I think it’s easy to get pulled down by the hard stuff and lose the joy. I try to balance the difficult with the joy I believe is always always there.

My teacher voice–a more academic tone–is one I don’t see as much in the bloggerly world.

3. Why do I write what I do?

This is easy: it’s important to me.

I tell stories because I wish more people in my family had told their stories. Shoot, I would love to tell their stories for them, if they would let me. (not that anyone won’t let me; I haven’t really asked).

I write about teacher stuff because I am deeply passionate about finding the best way to teach kids. I also think too many people are misinformed about the processes and issues that public school teachers face.

4. How does my writing process work?

So here comes the “do as I say, and not as I do” part of the show.

In a perfect world, every writer–nay everyONE–would carve out an hour or so of time to just write. Every single day there would be an uninterrupted time of thoughtful “flow”.

I advocate for this.

I give my students time to do this (not a whole hour, but still).

My advice to new writers is always WRITE! And if you’re not writing, READ!

do write daily, but this is how my process goes:

  • think of an idea or twelve
  • don’t write them down, but mull them over during commute to work, while making dinner, while showering, etc.
  • plan to write about one (or three) during planning hour at school
  • realize that tons of grading and copies need to be done and then a student comes in
  • get no writing done on planning hour, revise to work after school, but before going home
  • 2:30pm comes and four students come in to work/get help.
  • After students leave, tie up loose ends to be ready for next day.
  • Realize that I have tons of grading, but open a blog post or new doc anyway
  • stare
  • remember a promise made to a student about a letter of rec.
  • Do that instead
  • Check Facebook
  • Follow links.
  • Realize it’s my turn to pick up the boys, vow to write at bedtime.
  • Mull over a new idea during commute
  • Feel passionately about this new post and almost completely write it in my head
  • Get boys, get home, make dinner, clean up dinner, clean boys, watch Curious George.
  • Realize it’s my turn to put Eddie to bed. Vow to not be too tired to write when I get done with bedtime
  • Fall asleep reading books with Eddie.
  • Wake up at 8:45pm and haul myself upstairs.
  • Sit on the couch and stare.
  • Get my computer
  • Check Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
  • Work on homework for about a minute and a half
  • Open a new blog post or doc and write a bit of nonsense.
  • Yawn.
  • Brush teeth while mulling that great idea that now seems dead.
  • Go to bed vowing to write MORE tomorrow

Clearly at some point some of those ideas become reality on the page/screen.  This mostly happens on weekends (during Charlie’s nap) or during the rare time after school when I don’t have tons to do (or it’s procrastinate-able) or in the evenings when Cort handles Eddie’s bedtime routine.

Right now I fit it in while I can.

The time I spend is greater over breaks, so I am looking forward to spring break in three weeks.


Next week, the tour pushes on with a couple of writers who are incredibly inspiring to me.

Jessica Smock writes the blog School of Smock, but she is also one of the women behind the HerStories Project. She is not just a writer, but a former educator. In fact, she is DR. Jessica Smock. She and I share a lot of the same philosophies about education and her work is an inspiration to me.

Pauline Campos write the blog Aspiring Mama, but she is also a columnist for the Latina Magazine. She is also a champion of the fight for girls to have a better body image. She is a gorgeous writer, but she is even more of a gorgeous soul. Her dedication to her writing and causes makes me want to be a better me.

Five Strategies for Writing

One of my objectives as a teacher is to have my students write every single day.

It’s also one of my goals as a writer. Even if I don’t hit publish on it, I sometimes need to “empty out the trash” in my head to get to the story “behind my eyes.”

Over the years I have used a bunch of things to generate content–including prompts–but I have found giving students (and myself) a strategy instead of a topic opens up the gates for MORE content and better content because it’s self-generated. This means that whatever it is that gets written about is something that the writer wants to write about and is personal.

Below are five strategies* I use often with my students…and for myself.



Write from a List

Many of us do this, right? Some of us keep little notebooks or scraps of paper or we use our drafts folder, but we have a list somewhere of possible blogging topics. Sometimes I just sit down and make Top Five Lists: five best experiences of my life, five worst experiences of my life, five things that surprise me, five things I love about my husband, five things I’ve done lately, five places I’ve been, etc.

After making a list I choose something to just freewrite about. You should see my draft folder. It’s a hot mess. There are started posts, there are posts that have lists in them with freewriting with them. I go to those posts and read around for something that inspires me and I often cut/paste stuff into a new post and boom! Something to hit publish on!

Writing off Literature

This is one I use with my students a lot and have recently found works well for me too. Writers are readers…at least they should be. I think it was Stephen King who said that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write; his point being that you can’t be a good writer without reading.  Writers live and breathe via words both taken in and written out.

“Good readers are thinking while they read,” and not just about the plot, but about the ideas. “Stories inspire stories.” Ideas inspire ideas.

You could even expand this to be Writing Off Lyrics or Poetry or Articles.  I get inspired by speeches and sermons and news clips.

Again I have quotes from these sources in draft–some with freewriting, some not–just waiting to be fleshed out.

Writing from a Word

This one is fairly simple: you pick a word, write it down and freewrite about it. I give my students a part of speech to pick like, “choose a verb, write it at the top of your paper.  Now write.”  It sounds so elementary, but when I do it myself (usually I pick a FEEEEELING word, but sometimes I choose something a students said, or a word I read, or something one of the boys said, whatever), I find I can get some of my best writing.  I’ve even written some not too shabby poetry that way.

Lifting a Line

This is one I have already alluded to in previous strategies. The idea is to go back through your writing (could be published or not) and “lift a line” that jumps out at you. Take that line and write it at the top of your entry. I’ve had students (and myself) do two things with this. Either write from that line as inspiration OR use that line exactly somewhere in a new piece.

I’ve also used this in class (and on my own) in conjunction with Writing off Literature. Pick a line from a text and either use it as inspiration or quote it in your piece.

Three by Threes

Choose a noun and give yourself three minutes to write as many three-word phrases about that noun as you can.  For example “School” could be the noun and a three-word phrase would be “seven period days”. The idea is to focus on the subject. It narrows down broad subjects.

Sometimes as writers we know we want to write about a big topic, but if we just start writing, soon we have 1,00+ word posts that no one will want to read! If you want to write about pregnancy, maybe give yourself three minutes to come up with as many three-word phrases about pregnancy as you can.  This will help you find a more focused subject for a post.


Hopefully you will find that these strategies help you if you get stuck. I have great success with them producing better writing from my students than just handing them a generic prompt that they may or may not care about.  All of these strategies start from personal choice and head into personal writing.

Have you used any of these strategies before? How do you come up with your blogging/writing content?

*Names for strategies and quotes come from the book Notebook Know How by Aimee Buckner (not an affiliate link). I have used all of these strategies myself and with my students.