Keeping a Creative Journal

I’m not much of a diarist, but I am a firm believer in creative journals. People who keep creative journals tend to be idea people, and idea people need a way to capture their thoughts—because they’re often random, interconnected and fleeting. In a journal, you can jot down ideas while they’re fresh, then go back and fine-tune them when you have more time to think through the details. If you’re stuck, a journal is an excellent place to brainstorm, record your frustrations and play around with new ideas. If you’re a list person, a journal is a great place to keep your lists—whether they are places you’d like to photograph, projects you’d like to tackle, other photographer’s work you’d like to study, or techniques you’d like to try. Speaking of techniques, a creative journal is the perfect location to record what you did, how it turned out, and what you might change next time.

If the mood strikes, sketch out your ideas. Paste or tape in article clippings, proof prints, samples or things that inspire you. That’s the nice thing about a creative journal: Anything goes. Just do what works. Write. Make lists. Draw things you see. No one is looking over your shoulder or proofreading your work with a red pencil.

Write about other photographers. What do you like about their work? What makes it unique? How have they approached the business of photography? What can you learn from them?

Take your journal to a museum. What do you see? What inspires you? What ideas did you have? Take it to a solo lunch or the coffee shop. Go sit on a park bench and write. Carry it on a trip to pass the time on a plane or to record your adventures and ideas.

Brainstorm. Pick a subject—maybe how many different ways you could photograph a tulip—and just start jotting down ideas. See how many different ways you can approach the subject. When you think you’re about done, keep on going and double the number of ideas on your list. It’s a terrific creative exercise.

Having trouble getting started? Just put your pen to the paper and write for 10 minutes. Whatever comes to mind. No matter how crazy or rambling or poorly written. Just go with the flow. Don’t lift the pen from the paper or stop moving until your time is up. It’s like loosening up your muscles before you exercise.

Journal style doesn’t matter. Select a journal that suits you and that you won’t be afraid to write in. (My beautiful, leather-bound journals sit on a shelf without a mark in them. But my little black Moleskine journals with thin-ruled lines are filled front and back, top to bottom.) It doesn’t matter if it’s hard cover or soft cover, whether you paid $2 or $20. Buy a favorite pen, whether it’s a cheap ballpoint or finely crafted fountain pen. It just needs to feel good in your hand and help compel you to write.

Now then, quit reading and start writing! Jot down whatever is on your mind today.