The Zen of New Ideas

Zen of ideasIwrite full time. Ghostwriting, blog posts, comments, emails, tweets. You name it and my fingers might have made it happen. When I first started to write, I had no aspirations for a writing career. Weaving words was merely salve to sooth an aching heart, dulled by my daughter leaving the nest for Kindergarten.

I spent afternoons filling pages for a novel I was shocked to be writing. I wrote every day until four months had passed and I found myself with a finished book and quickly evolving identity.

Those days of discovery have passed, new exploration has taken their place and my love for the art of writing has moved from playful hobby to serious career. The days of verbal doodling have taken a necessary reprieve, but I know there is much I can do to keep the embers hot. Since my heart first began to beat with the blood of a writer, I have longed to bloom words into worlds. Conversation with my muse has never been difficult, it is the time I need to fully engage her when faced with the necessary jobs that see me writing SEO copy about auto insurance, lawnmowers and little league.

Though I have kept a journal intermittently throughout my life, it was only after suffering the loss of unbridled daily creativity when I knew I had to do something to satiate the desire to deposit my ideas. Now I am neither novice or veteran, but I’m quite sure there is no ritual better for a writer than daily pages. A few hundred syllables or a few hundred words, it is the routine that is necessary.

My schedule over the last six months has been haphazard at best; swollen with constant transition. I can’t pretend I’ve kept to my routine with religion, or written words in my journal without fail. I do solemnly swear however, that those times when I’ve ignored my daily pages are also those days when my writing starts to suffer. Even when my pages are filled with nothing but scribbles or rants and ramblings, they are a vessel to harbor the engagement in my mind.

Every river must eventually spill into a sea.

Daily Pages are an excellent avenue for the pent up emotions of a well worn life, those things that bog you down like an iron ball snaked around your ankles. If you maintain your daily drain, then those moments when it’s just you and the bright white of an empty page will be more likely to find you in the throws of a passionate affair with your muse, rather than the cold silence of a slowly dying love.

Methods do not matter. Everyone journals differently. I happen to use whatever is on hand. Sometimes it’s a ten cent notebook or the back of an envelope I transfer to the hard drive later. My favorite place to store my thoughts is in a little desktop app called MacJournal. This journal allows me to stash anything I want and in any format. This is golden for a writer, as we are all pack rats of thought. Whether I birth an idea for a post, a letter for my wife, an poem for my children, or the full outline for a future best seller, I can stuff the journal and feel a creator’s high knowing my muse has been fed and is lying in wait.

Sometimes paradox begets productivity. By emptying your mind into your pages, you are also refilling the well of ideas. Creativity is rarely born in the clutter of one’s mind, though film and legend might try to convince us othewise. Images, scents and sounds will coalesce to burn new ideas into your mind’s eye. Getting truly lost in your pages, even if it’s only for a moment, might be all you need to thicken your thoughts.

This is tired advice, but only because it has had to work so hard. To be your best writer, you must write. I cannot count the number of words I’ve written in the last year, but it’s somewhere well over a million. Some were born from a freelance job where I tried to turn bullet points to brilliance. Others came from deep inside me and are like portraits lining my hallway wall. The common denominator has been my pages, the daily record of who I was, who I am, and who I will someday be.

We can never know for sure where life has taken us, but it is an amazing thing to keep a record of where we’ve been before.

Collective Inkwell Community Question: Do you keep a journal or write daily pages? Could you see the value in doing so?


45 responses to The Zen of New Ideas

  1. Vered - MomGrind

    I don’t keep a journal. I used to, as a child, as a teen and then when my kids were babies and toddlers. I guess I’ll go back to it if I feel the need? Right now I don’t.

    “To be your best writer, you must write.” This, however, is very true. But you can achieve that with daily writing that’s not personal.

    Vered – MomGrind’s last blog post..Frosted Cupcakes

    • Sean

      Mostly, I think daily pages are the perfect place to vent and to keep a record of who we were and how we assembled our thoughts at that particular place and time. Blogging helps immeasurably with the one, but I don’t vent on my blogs (at least not yet) so it’s helpful for me to have a place to brain drain frustrations and great ideas alike.

  2. Bamboo Forest - PunIntended

    Interesting that you take your notes and transfer them to computer.

    Me? I sit around in a pool of notepads having no idea what’s in them. This is much of why, I usually blog on something I’ve jotted down recently. If I have recorded it a ways back, it’s sleeping in a land fill of notebooks somewhere.

    That said… I’m not overly concerned. Because it really doesn’t matter where I pull my ideas from as long as they are good ones.

    Nevertheless, I think it probably is superior to transfer notes to computer so that you can more easily organize them and thus be able to search specific ideas with ease. That would be a more professional approach, for sure.

    I also don’t necessarily write every day. I’m kinda resistant to writing just to write. Usually, when I write, it’s serious. I don’t engage in casual writing, but that may be quite the mistake if in fact it can enhance ones skills readily.

    Though… If you count blog comments, and e-mails then I do write every day.

    Bamboo Forest – PunIntended’s last blog post..Why You Must Step Up to the Plate Regardless of Your Skill

    • Sean

      I write everywhere, including the car, but I have one repository on the desktop that harbors all the ideas. If I didn’t, the majority would be lost. I feel like some ideas at the very least deserve to be revisited. You’re right though, if you add up all the blog comments and emails, you probably write as much as some non internet writers anyway.

  3. Trina

    I have started to write in a micro way each day, for me it’s not due to any need to get my thoughts out per se. I do owe my current thoughts about what I put down, to tid bits I have garnered from you.
    As I have read your thoughts on the topic during your journey, these are the two nuggets I have held on to: we are all writers, and the importance of word choice. They both make me think more about how I say what I say…

    • Sean

      That’s really kind, Trina. The MOST important thing is just to do it. You want stronger arms, do push ups. A slimmer frame, eat less. Better writing, write as much as you can. The more you write, the quicker you can find clarity in your word choice. I’m glad you’re along for the journey.

  4. Bonnie/JustPeachyBabyBlog

    “By emptying your mind into your pages, you are also refilling the well of ideas.”

    I really love that line. Touches something in me as a writer. How many times have I said to myself, “That is a REALLY good thought. Remember that.” And I find myself scratching my head with a pen in my hand that night.

    I have always kept a journal. Ever since I received one as a gift when I was a little girl. Even now, I always pack my journal along with my toiletries whenever I go anywhere.

    My problem is trying to find the time. With a newborn and a toddler around me, I usually squeeze an hour a day (two on the weekends), if I’m lucky. If I’m working on a blog post, that time is gone. And that day’s journal entry is lost, along with the thoughts for the day.

    I also find I’m stuck in between wanting to type my journal entries (Thanks the pointer to MacJournal.. will look into taht) and write it the old school style, by hand. The result. Scattered journal entries here and there.

    Loved your post. It’s gonna be my impetus to keep my journal entries in one place. And to write daily.

    I’m a newbie in blogging, but have been a writer forever. I hope to forge a new path to write as a career. Then passion would align with a job. That would be a dream come true.

    Great post – Thank you!

    • Sean

      It is really hard to find the time where you are right now, I’m sure. If I had tried to start writing with a newborn, I probably would have fallen off the wagon straight off. It is SO helpful to have a single source to harbor your thoughts. The Mac has a lot of them. MacJournal just happens to be my favorite. It has a really simple interface, but it can hold ANYTHING – including quick audio notes if you just have something to quickly say.

      Thank you for the compliments. I went to check out your site, but the URL wasn’t working. If you leave me the address, I would love to check it out!

  5. Avital

    I do keep a journal but do not tend to it daily, which is a big mistake… My ideas are being mistreated and as a result running away from me to a more nurturing environment.

    As a child I used to have an extraordinary memory. I was one of those kids who would wow everyone with their photographic memory. I never had to go through my notes to prepare for exams, I just remembered everything after the first time (hearing it at class or reading it as an homework assignment. I became accustomed to not having to write down anything. Sometime along the way I have lost that ability, but still cannot develop the habit of “draining” my ideas into the pages of a journal (or a napkin).

    Perhaps some appreciation would get my mind going again… I should give it a try 🙂

    Avital’s last blog post..Inspiration Prompt – Love Is Like A Precious Plant

    • Sean

      “I do keep a journal but do not tend to it daily, which is a big mistake… My ideas are being mistreated and as a result running away from me to a more nurturing environment.”

      Hi Avital, I love that quote. It’s true. If our thoughts are our children and we mishandle them, they will leave home the first chance they get.

  6. Paisley (Paisley Thoughts)

    Regular writing is a must. Be aware of the standard you set for yourself. I also write a lot of boring stuff but I still try to make it interesting for the reader. Because of this I have little time for creative writing but when it rises it overflows.

    Make sure you keep all your creative writing. There will come a day when it calls you.

    I agree, simplicity always works.

    Paisley (Paisley Thoughts)’s last blog post..Brave Iranian Woman

    • Sean

      That might be my single favorite thing about writing on the computer. I love the speed for sure, but I LOVE that I never have to throw anything away and simple keyword searches make it relatively easy to find old thoughts. What a wonderful, wonderful gift.

  7. Michael

    I’ve made numerous attempts at keeping a daily journal, sparked by the Morning Notes exercise in Julie Cameron’s The Artist Way. It always bored me after about three days, and I could never coax myself to return to those dreadful pages and read that aimless wandering.

    Writing daily is something that I think is important, though. It’s like practicing a musical instrument or a sport. The discipline alone helps to improve one’s game. My blog has a daily feature that keeps me on track, most of the time anyway!


    Michael’s last blog post..Picture This: Day 18. Poison Ivy: A Love Story.

    • Sean

      Having a blog takes care of the need for writing daily pages. In fact, I have one site that serves only that purpose. As far as actual pages go, you don’t ever have to return to the aimless wonderings. It isn’t in the end result that pages have their value, it is in the action itself. You are removing something from your brain and transferring it to another venue. This gives new levity to your mind. Sometimes you will write something that will surprise you and you can take it and spin it into something golden. But even if they’re filled with seemingly aimless wanderings, they are likely not nearly as aimless as you imagine.

  8. Marylin

    The closest thing to journaling I’ve done is the odd ‘diary’ when I was younger (usually lasted maybe a month, max!) and then my personal blog which was started in Nov 07.

    I have spent the past year or so with a little notebook in my bag, but only in the last month or so have I finally started writing down my ideas/thoughts in there. I find I really do have to sit down and push myself to write though. Whether that’s because I’m not really much of a writer, or just that I don’t have enough energy after running around after a 4yr old and a 1yr old plus the house-hold chores on top, I don’t know.

    I do know I own too many Moleskines and need to start using them already… 😉

    Marylin’s last blog post..Note to self…

    • Sean

      That sounds exactly like me a year and a half ago. The only thing that made a difference for me was having a file to keep a running record on my desktop – well, and the fact that I now write for a living, so my words have increased in value and I know I am obligated to treat them with sterling respect. It can be extremely difficult to write through exhaustion, which is likely what you’re faced with at the end of every day with two children added together who barely hit 5. Don’t worry, the clouds will thin and life will get a little easier and you’ll find the pen calling. Just be read to answer when it happens.

  9. Lori Hoeck

    Journaling and the Morning Pages from Julie Cameron’s The Artist Way were more for healing than for improving my writing. Most of what I write now seems to flow without notes, probably because my self defense blog is a download of 28 years of martial arts knowledge.

    Lori Hoeck’s last blog post..Self defense and kids — how-to for parents

    • Sean

      Think Like a Black Belt is the PERFECT venue for you, Lori. When you can write with automaticity, not only are you going to shine with your best work, but you are going to touch your audience on a far more profound level. You have your most authentic you speaking to the audience and that makes it unbelievably easy for your audience to be receptive to your message.

      “A download of 28 years…” I like that.

  10. Marelisa

    Hi Sean: There are times when I get a nagging feeling that there’s something wrong but I can’t quite put my finger on what it might be. Then I start writing in my journal and suddenly the problem begins to show its face, slowly revealing more and more of itself, until I can see it clearly. Other times I feel overwhelmed and writing things down helps me to get the thoughts out of my head and onto the paper, liberating head space for other, more productive endeavors. I agree that keeping a journal has many positive benefits.

    • Sean

      Exactly! The whole point of pages isn’t to impress anyone with our writing. It’s like having a conversation with ourselves that may illuminate something we never would have glimpsed without taking the time to sit and do them. Yes, they can at times feel mundane, but almost everything can feel like a chore at least once upon an occasion. With journaling, I believe, the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.

  11. Frank

    I do keep a journal and TRY to write in it daily, although sometimes it’s hard to after the 9-5. The brain is just too deflated. But it is a great tool I’ve found. Sometimes I need to “clear away” some of the more daily-life thoughts before I can become fully creative in my writing, if that makes any sense at all.

    Frank’s last blog post..The Code of the Brotherhood

    • Sean

      Yeah, journaling as a brain dump works really well for me too. Sometimes, especially if I want to write fiction, it helps to get my pages out of the first. I find that it helps to empty my brain of the bordinary thoughts that will rise to distract me so I can focus on the story at hand.

    • Sean

      Do you centralize everything in a single location, or do you have lots of notebooks and files? I used to have all kinds of notebooks and files. I still do, but now I also try to maintain a central file as well.

  12. janice

    I’ve discovered that my blog posts, my comments in other people’s blogs, my replies to comments in my own blog and email exchanges actually take up much more time than my daily pages ever used to. There are some gems for posts in among those, but my first book got written in notebooks, as a result of daily journaling and doing daily pages. I also scared away the spectre of low grade chronic depression through treating those moments with my journal like precious time spent with a friend who loves me unconditionally, never interrupts and doesn’t mind that I talk too much.

    As a writer, I agree; write often, write anything. As a life coach, I’d beg people to write daily pages if I could. They help create miracles. I’ve never seen it fail. The trick is to NOT write them like a writer. No-one should ever see them. They’re not for getting inspiration, they’re for getting things out, clearing the channel, communing with your inner self, your soul, your deepest instincts. They still work, even if you shred them daily.

    janice’s last blog post..Birds, Bees and Blogging

  13. Sean

    LOL, no doubt there. I used to spend up to an hour on daily pages. Now I slot in ten minutes. I don’t feel this is a loss in any way however. As you said, comments and emails serve much of the same purpose as my pages used to.

    I do diverge from your thoughts in one area. Though I do believe that pages are primarily for getting things out, I do find that I often cull inspiration from them as well. I highly agree that they are for no one but me, however. I would die if the world were to ever find out how boring I truly am. : > )

  14. Michael

    After reading all these comments about the benefits of daily writing in journals as a way to drain the brain and/or cultivate new ideas, I’m willing to give it another try. But I like your idea, Sean, of only spending ten minutes per day at it. I too, was guilty of spending an hour (or more) on my daily pages. Ten minutes seems more reasonable, especially since I do a lot of other writing each day.


    Michael’s last blog post..Picture This: Day 19. Who are you calling a “bundle of sticks”?

  15. Kolammal Shankar

    After reading this, I’m inspired to start journaling. Though I have done it here and there, it has been more of the therapeutic kind (the kind that you do to cut off that iron ball from your ankles) and never of the daily drain type. Think I should give daily recording a try. Sure, it would be a great piece to read after 10 years (say, when I’m 35).

    Sean, you write EXCEPTIONALLY well. I love every word of this blog post. You’re truly in a robust love affair with your Muse 🙂

  16. Marc

    @Sean You’re absolutely right (write :P) Another great analogy there as well “pushups with a pencil”. Just like other forms of exercise some of us don’t stick to it.

    Marc’s last blog post..SEO 101: An Overview

    • Sean

      I’ve actually been good about my push-ups for the first time in my life – 8 weeks and I haven’t missed a day. Some days I hate every one and curse on both the down and up stroke, but I do them anyway. I can do more this week then I could last week and more last week than the week before. A lot like writing. : > )

      Sean’s last blog post..The Car Doctor

  17. Davina

    Hi Sean. I have noticed how my writing suffers when I go though a busy period and can’t seem to find the time to write. I miss it. I don’t keep a journal regularly, but when inspiration lands I grab the first piece of paper I can find to scrawl down the words. I carry a small notepad in my purse, but it’s oh so delicious and artsy-fartsy to scrawl a message on an old envelope or a scrap piece of paper.

    Davina’s last blog post..Heads Up — Beware of Crows!

  18. Friday Links |

    […] The Zen of New Ideas – Sean Platt of Collective Inkwell discusses the value of keeping a journal or writing daily pages. […]

  19. Tracy

    I haven’t kept a journal for a long time, life gets in the way. Have you ever heard of/done “The Artists Way”? I’m thinking of dragging it back out and giving it another try. A big part of her method is what she calls “morning pages” which is very similar to daily pages, only less flexible about the time.

    Tracy’s last blog post..Letters to my life coach

  20. Cath Lawson

    Hi Sean – This is great advice. I was barely writing due to illness and I’m struggling to get back into it. I used to do daily pages on wakening & you have reminded me that I need to begin doing it again.

  21. Patricia

    writing and breathing are both vital to my existence – to fully live I must do both.
    I just took a big step and destroyed my oldest journals….I vent and think there…I did not want my children to read my lifetime of self conversations or be burdened by their existence.
    I am freer since I took this action…

    Patricia’s last blog post..Thinking About My Dad

  22. Carla

    I do have a journal, but I don’t write daily. I did for a while then I kind of fell off the writing wagon. It was definitely healing to get all of my thoughts, fears, gratidude, etc down on paper. Than you for that reminder!

    Carla’s last blog post..Father’s Day: A moment of reflection

  23. sue

    I also have stacks of notebooks, I am trying to keep my thoughts to one journal but very often it is whatever’s at the top of the pile. I use a moleskin 18month diary to keep track of life and writing work and occasionally I also find myself dumping other thoughts on the note page.

    I certainly agree with you that dumping all the stuff helps to clear the mind so as to focus better when you do start other writing.

    sue’s last blog post..Writing to Glastonbury

  24. At Long Last, Link Love

    […] Barista. She credited two posts at Collective Inkwell (The Reality of the Tortured Writer and The Zen of New Ideas) with helping strengthen her convictions to follow her heart. We have always been about creativity […]

  25. Jennigma » Blog Archive » New city, new year.

    […] spirit of the new year and cultivating new habits and a new life, I have decided to write public daily pages. I want to write, and to be read. Many of you know this is an act of bravery for me, and my writing […]

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