Journaling Prompts

Random Free Writing Prompt
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These prompts first appeared in The Journal Newsletter.

Journaling/Writing Exercise: Imagine yourself in a place you like to be (not necessarily someplace you like to *go*). What do you like about it? What are the most intriguing/appealing aspects? In contrast, think of a place you do *not* like being. What makes you not like being there? Think how you can use this to develop ideas for writing.

Journaling/Writing Exercise: Pretend that you see yourself walking into a room. What’s your first impression of yourself? What stands out about you? Optionally extend this exercise by changing the “room” you are entering (the gym, the office, etc.). How does that change your impression?

Journal Exercise – Create a list of images that symbolize the following:

  1. toughness, cruelty
  2. toughness, strength

Journaling Exercise – Close your eyes for a minute and imagine you are skydiving. Write about the physical sensations and the thoughts you have.

Journaling Exercise – Sit yourself in a favorite spot, or imagine an ideal place and describe it as an expanding bubble or sphere. Start with the center which is you, how you feel, your thoughts. Slowly expand, taking note of subtle nuances around you. Expand the sphere beyond your field of vision.

Journaling Exercise – Hold your hands out in front of you, palms down. Imagine that you have a total of six strings tied around your fingers. Write about the objects that are dangling from the strings.

Journaling Exercise – By what do you measure your value as a person? What defines your worth?

Journaling Exercise – Describe the most important thing in your life. Describe the 2nd and 3rd most important things. Then the 4th and 5th most important things.

Journaling Exercise – What element of nature would you choose as an emblem for yourself as a writer. Is this a symbol that you use when writing? Does the tone match your writing? Write using it as a metaphor.

Journaling Exercise – What is the most influential thing in your life today?

Journaling Exercise – Consider the use of seeds as a metaphor for interpersonal relationships. Write down three instances of someone else giving you “positive” seeds. Then three instances of someone giving you “negative” seeds. Continue by writing about the result of the seeds.

Journaling Exercise – Creating lists can be a provocative way of assessing your creative internal thoughts and can spur insightful contemplation. When writing your lists, write what comes to mind, even if you feel it is a bit odd. List 15 things that change. List 15 things that do not change. (Hint don’t stop at ten, challenge yourself; go on to 15.) Continue by using your lists for journal entry subjects, fiction or non-fiction writing.

Journaling Exercise – List three things that you do not know how to do.


Example: Fix a leaky faucet.

Continue by explaining why you do not know how to do it.

Example: I have never tried to, or seen anyone fix a leak.

What steps could you take to learn how to do it?

Example: Watch another person as they explain the steps, or use a reference book to guide me through the process.

Then ask yourself if this is something you are capable of doing, or not capable of doing.

Example: I believe I would be capable of doing this.

Next, is this something you would or would not want to do? Explain why.

Example: I would not want to do this because it is too time consuming.

Is this something that you need to know, or something you would like to know how to do?

Example: This isn’t something that I need to know.

Would you benefit from learning how to do this thing? What is an immediate benefit, what would be a long term benefit?

Example: I would benefit from learning how to fix a leaky faucet because I could prevent the water spraying all over the sink. If I knew how to do this then I would not be relying on someone else to do it for me.

Is the benefit strong enough to encourage you to actually learn how to do this?

Example: No, not at this time, the faucet still works.

What would motivate you to learn how to do this thing?

Example: Frustration at the inefficiency, and specifically applying myself to get the job done.

Journaling Exercise – Much Obliged. We often interact with people based on how we feel about them. Relationships require obligation. We are obligated to our spouse, and other household family members. We are obligated to our co-workers. The nature and extent of a relationship can be looked at in terms of obligation. Contemplate your relationships with various people in your life and write about them in terms of obligations to those people. Note that obligation is not necessarily a negative concept. And, admitting that you are “obliged”, does not mean that the other person is trying to be manipulative. Continue the exercise by writing your response to want you have written about that relationship. A simple example: A co-worker picks up the donut order for the the office staff. Response: I need to volunteer to pick the donuts up next week, or need to thank the person for doing so.

Journaling Exercise – Pretend you are dreaming. Write in detail about the dream you are having. You can use stream-of-consciousness, or plan it out. In this exercise you can have a lucid dream where you affect what is happening, or choose to have things happen without your control. ( It might help to first ask yourself what you want to dream about.)

Journaling Exercise – Who do you spend the most time talking to? Clients, customers, friends, spouse, telephone solicitors, television, parents? Make a list of who you actually talk to during the day and estimate the amount of time invested in each individual. Does the list reveal your priorities? Is it proportional to what is important to you? Continue the exercise by making note of what you talk about in your daily conversations.

Journaling Exercise – Take note of peculiar sights, things seen in peripheral, unusual colors and happenings. Have you done anything quirky recently? Break out of your rut and do something vibrant.

Journaling Exercise – Do you consider opportunity as something that comes to you, or something that you create for yourself? What are some opportunities that you can act upon? Try to come up with three opportunities that will correlate with your creative goals. Are there areas that you could create opportunity for someone else? It may be helpful to start the exercise with asking what you need, then brainstorming an opportunity list.

Journaling Exercise – List five wishes that you have. Continue the exercise by writing about the fulfillment of each wish.

Journaling Exercise – What do you do or can you do to build optimism in yourself and for those around you? Consider actions that you can use as a “restart button” to rejuvenate your outlook. Keep a log of things you consciously do to promote optimism.

Journaling Exercise – Is there something you are reluctant to say to someone? Pretend that you are telling a third party and summarize what you would like to say. Continue the exercise by considering what would happen if you actually told the person involved. How would you feel afterward?

Journaling Exercise – Make a list of things you are knowledgeable about, or are highly interested in. Think of ways that you can extend yourself as a resource to others on these topics. Consider writing articles, volunteering, collaborating, organizing a small group focused on the subject, participating in a “barter exchange”, etc. Evaluate your skill level and determine if you need more experience or exposure. What steps can you take to promote yourself?

Journaling Exercise – Do you consider yourself to live purposely? Write about specific choices you have made for yourself in the past. Think about the daily choices you make concerning the following areas: self, relationships, career, and health. For each write a goal that you have and three things that you can do to accomplish it.

Journaling Exercise – Look for similarities of events in your life. Have you ever felt like you have found yourself making the same decision with just a different set of circumstances? Think of events having a circular effect. What theme has come full circle for you? Do you believe that the same “test” comes up over and over again until you “pass”?

Journaling Exercise – Make a record of “acts of compassion” that you observe in your life and around you.

Journaling Exercise – What is buzzing in your brain? Spontaneously write down 10 creative ideas/ activities that you can do as an expression of who you are. These may be things you’ve never done before and could be as varied as volunteering at your local food pantry or cake decorating. If you come up short, browse for ideas that support your values. Select four items and write how you would feel about them, or would benefit from doing them. Are they practical and obtainable? If you say no to any of them, write why not.

Journaling Exercise – Consider the indulgences in your life. In what ways do you indulge yourself? List behaviors, attitudes, diet, routines, etc. Reflect on how you are affected, both benefits or detriments. Also, reflect on how others are affected, positively or negatively.

Journaling Exercise – Write about yourself as a friend, parent, child or other relationship role, focusing only on your positive qualities.

Journaling Exercise – List three things that are important to you. Continue the exercise by writing about what motivates, or prompts, you to push forward in different areas of your life.

Journaling Exercise – Write a list of things that “stress you out”. Then, next to each thing you have listed, write one thing that you can do to alleviate, or lighten the stress. When you know that you are heading into a stressful situation, use this as part of a plan of looking at the situation objectively.

Journaling Exercise – 1.) Write five personal short term goals 2.) Write down five things that you can do to help other people this week.

Journaling Exercise – Write about the people around you through out the week. Who is the most interesting person you know?

Journaling Exercise – If you had to leave the city you live in, what would you find hardest to leave behind? If you were to move to a new city, what would you do to connect with the community, or feel established in a new place.

Journaling Exercise – Track your self esteem. Note how it fluctuates, and try to pinpoint what affects it positively or negatively. Include things such as amount of sleep, nutrition, stress, goal setting, recreational activities. Continue the exercise by writing about what keeps you in balance.

Journaling Exercise – 1. Write down notes about the people and setting of an actual shop, bookstore, or while in transit from one place to another. Note how people are dressed and their demeanor.

2. Extract an overall tone from the experience to characterize the location. Write a few paragraphs based on your observation.

Journaling Exercise – Write about what you wish you had time for, or had more time to do. Keep a log during the next two weeks of how you spend your time. Make note of what you consider to be “free” time and non-negotiable activities. Record the amount of time you spend in each activity. Review your log entries. Is there time that you can reappropriate towards what you want to accomplish? Create a schedule guide for yourself to help you shift towards doing more of what you want to do.

Journaling Exercise – 1. List the books that you have been reading. Write your opinions, and if you would recommend it to someone else to read.

2. What is something that you do for solely for yourself as a reward or just to celebrate who you are?

Journaling Exercise – 1. Transitionals write about the things that are between other things. (Sidewalk seams, breaths, silence, relationships.)

2. Write a list of spoofs. Choose a title of a movie, book, or a genre such as self help and write several spoofs of that title. For instance. “Dr. Strangelove, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the bomb” becomes “Triple Espresso, or How I Learned to Drink Coffee and Embrace the Latte”. These work well if you develop a theme for your variations.

Journaling Exercise – Write about one thing in society that you really feel is not properly managed, or you feel outraged about when you think of it. Do you feel that there is any hope of an improved solution?

Journaling Exercise – Throughout the day take note of three things that you see in front of you. For example , going to work: 1. traffic light, rear view mirror, dented fender. 2. elevator button, gold watch, worn carpet. Use these snippets as inspiration for writing.

Journaling Exercise – Write about things people collect, or accumulate. Consider how the collection can be referenced as a person’s history.

Journaling Exercise – Start an entry that devotes one day to writing about the events that you see happening around you. The next day, record the images that you see, taking particular note of specific items. In the next entry, write about sounds and aromas and colors, textures in a more abstract manner.

Journaling Exercise – Write about who you are.

Journaling Exercise – Write about your passion for writing.

Journaling Exercise – Have you been more demanding on yourself lately? Or less? Why? And do you think it’s a good trend?

Journaling Exercise – Do you interpret your father, and his actions and emotions (or inaction and lack of display) differently now than you did when you were a child? Do you see your father in yourself?

Journaling Exercise – Are you aware of your emotional dependencies? Describe who (or what) they are, and how your emotional state depends on them.

Journaling Exercise – Write about some of your family relationships. Who is the person that most influences family connectivity?

Journaling Exercise – Make a list of things that would make up your artistic “survival kit”, things you would not want to be without as an artist.

Journaling Exercise – For the next few days, generate lists of opposites. Example: “Things that are sharp: ____, Things that are dull:____.”

Journaling Exercise – Write about your spending budget. What do you find yourself spending your discretionary funds on? Are these things that are meaningful to you?

Journaling Exercise – Practice your descriptive skills. Write descriptions of people, buildings, decor, etc. For each category you choose write at least two separate descriptions.

Journaling Exercise – 1. Practice writing sensory images. Make it a habit to list the five senses each day and write at least three strong sensory images.

2. Define objects in the vein of or similar to Gertrude Stein. Read Tender Buttons, Objects:

“Stein’s innovative writing emphasizes the sounds and rhythms rather than the sense of words. By departing from conventional meaning, grammar and syntax, she attempted to capture “moments of consciousness,” independent of time and memory.”

Journaling Exercise – Write a list of “pleasant curses” that are career specific. For example, a pleasant curse for the plumber might be: “May all your dreams be pipe dreams”.

Journaling Exercise – Make a calendar list of your very own custom created holidays and celebrations. It’s fair to use “Friendship Day”, etc. but put them on the day you want them to be on. How about a “Goodbye Sally Mae Day” for the day you paid off or will pay off your school loans?

Journaling Exercise – Write 4 or more non-fiction character sketches.

Character Sketches: Putting People on the Page
Journaling Exercise – Describe the last time you volunteered to do something for someone or for an organization. What prompted you to volunteer? Did you follow through? Would you volunteer again?

Journaling Prompt – List the people that you trust. Write about your list. What are the boundaries of trust?

Journaling Prompt – Write about any incongruent actions. i.e. You want a certain outcome but in some way work against it happening. What type of story could you write in which the main character works against himself?

Journaling Prompt – Write a series of creative entries based on newspaper headlines.

Journaling Prompt – It’s easy to forget how much we’ve accomplished. Make a detailed list of all of your accomplishments, big and small, for last year. In the New Year, consider how you can keep better track of what you’ve done.

Journaling Prompt – What do you like more than chocolate?

Journaling Prompt – Put the most recent week (or month, or year) of your life “on trial”. Start out with opening statements from both the “prosecution” and the “defense”, and proceed with imaginary witnesses to bolster the cases for both sides. Feel free to have the prosecution and defense interrupt up each other with objections. If you’re really getting into it, write up the jury deliberations too. Make an effort to keep the judge in the case impartial, but also try to make his “verdict” and, if necessary, his “sentence”, positive and constructive.

Journaling Prompt – Have you ever justified yourself with that old saying (and 1970’s disco lyric): “You gotta be cruel to be kind”? Were you rationalizing then? Are you rationalizing now? Do you have that song stuck in your now (like I do)?

Journaling Prompt – What do you know that you could (and/or *should*) teach to others? “Others” could mean your children, other people’s children, the parents of those other children, or anyone or any group. And, of course, what you teach and how you teach it is up to you. How would test your students to make sure they learned what you were teaching?

Journaling Prompt – Do you have any outstanding/unfinished “seasonal projects”? What are you doing to complete those projects?

Journaling Prompt – In what ways does the political party you most identify with not represent you at all? And, conversely, in what ways does the political party you consider furthest from your personal ideology represent you best?

Journaling Prompt – Holiday family gatherings bring their own particular breed of stress–even if you *like* your family. How do you feel about your various family (and extended family) members? How would you like to feel? Or are you’re planning to stay home this year?

Journaling Prompt – Write a “post mortem” for the year, as described in the article below.

Journaling Prompt – Are your favorite drinks your favorite because you enjoy drinking them? Or is there something more sinister at work? When was the last time you tried a new type or flavor of drink?

Journaling Prompt – What can you do to nurture your important relationships?

Journaling Prompt – What is your obsession?

Journaling Prompt – Write about how you expose yourself to outside ideas, interests and viewpoints. Or write about how you protect yourself from the same.

Journaling Prompt – Describe the various ways you seek external validation and approval. Do you have a friend or family member you can always count on to appreciate you or your efforts? Who do you wish you could count on? Do you know who counts on you?

Journaling Prompt – What are your comfort foods? Comfort books? Comfort TV shows/movies? Comfort music? Comfort activities? Is there a common theme in how you seek comfort?

Journaling Prompt – Consider yourself from your neighbors’s perspectives. How do you think they see you? What do you think your neighbors might know about you (right or wrong) that you don’t suspect?

Journaling Prompt – Have the “close calls” of your life prompted you to learn new skills or adjusted your attitude about anything? In what ways? Or does it take an actual accident or brush with bad luck to get your attention?

Journaling Prompt – How does the changing of the seasons affect you? Do you find yourself looking backward? Forwards? Elsewhere? Which seasons affect you the most? Why?

Journaling Prompt – Do you have unquestioned beliefs? What are they? What has caused–or could cause–you to question them?

Journaling Prompt – How hard (or easy) do you make it for other people to help you? Do your friends and family know when you do (or don’t) want (or need) help? Are you too independent (or too needy)? How much do you project your own attitudes towards asking and receiving help onto the people closest to you?

Journaling Prompt – Have you added any new hobbies lately? Did the new hobby or hobbies displace any existing hobbies? What attracted you to the new hobby or hobbies? What keeps you involved?

Journaling Prompt – What toys have you kept (or recovered) from your childhood? What toys did you have that you wish you still had (and not just so you can sell them on eBay)?

Journaling Prompt – How many people live within a few doors of you that you’ve never met? How would you go about meeting them?

Journaling Prompt – Describe “the perfect job” for you. How does that compare to your current job? What would you have to do to find (or create) that perfect job?

Journaling Prompt – What type of art or culture moves you–or inspires you–the most? What is it about that type of art that draws you in?

Journaling Prompt – What do you think are your blind spots about yourself (or about anything)? What do you think other people think are your blind spots? What do other people tell you are your blind spots?

Journaling Prompt – Have you planned (or fantasized about) your funeral? How do you want it go? Do you want a religious funeral? Sombre or festive?

Journaling Prompt – When was the last time you met someone who became a friend? How did the friendship grow?

Journaling Prompt – Pick a decision you’ve been considering (or putting off). Describe the worst possible outcome you can imagine. Now describe the best possible outcome you can imagine. Which outcome did you give the most detail? Which outcome seemed the most improbable?

Journaling Prompt – Do you know your “hot buttons”? The ones that anyone can press and set you off? (If you’re not sure, just ask your friends. They know.)

Journaling Prompt – Write about honesty as a virtue. Now write about honesty as a vice.

Journaling Prompt – What is the worst thing about your day? What are you doing to get rid of it?

Journaling Prompt – Close your eyes for a minute and imagine you are a constellation in the night sky. Write about the physical sensations and the thoughts you have.

Journaling Prompt – How much do you plan for (or worry about) posterity reading your journal? How (if at all) does this affect what you record?

Journaling Prompt – How often do you review your old journals? All the time? Almost never?

Journaling Prompt – Go back to a journal entry you made a year or more ago where you were struggling with a question or a choice. What would you tell yourself now? What advice do you wish you could have given your younger self?

Journaling Prompt – When was the last time you took your own advice? How’d it go? What would you tell yourself now? Assuming you would listen.

Journaling Prompt – Does autumn hold any special significance for you? Or do you have another favorite season? What is that makes the season your favorite?

Journaling Prompt – What new tidbits of personality, relationship, or gossip have you learned at recent family gatherings?

Journaling Prompt – Back in 1997, after the too-soon passing of actor/comedian Chris Farley, a colleague of mine commented that Farley’s death had had a big impact on her teenage sons. Farley was the first celebrity whose death they actually felt, because they had liked his movies and roles on TV. He was one of their generation (in a manner of speaking), and he wasn’t supposed to die yet. Write about the popular culture figures whose passings have touched your life.

Journaling Prompt – Thursdays have been sneaking up on me lately. I know every week has a Thursday, and it comes right after Wednesday–every time!–but it seems that each week Thursday morning dawns as a bit of a surprise. Sometimes it’s an ambush. How has your experience of the seven-day week changed over the years? Does any day catch you off guard? Or are you more in tune with the months, or the seasons, as they pass?

Journaling Prompt – Are you old enough–or lucky enough–to have childhood memories of fresh-baked bread? Home-made lasagna? Hand-cranked ice cream? What do you remember? What do you miss? What have you tried to bring back?

Journaling Prompt – Why does it rain on Sundays? Or did we just pick the wrong name for the day?

Journaling Prompt – Do you light a candle? Or do you curse the darkness? I’m not saying either one is the right or correct choice (because sometimes the darkness has it coming, and some candles really stink), but every so often we need to pause and consider how we’re handling life’s little ups and downs. Maybe, with a bit of review, we can do better next time.

Journaling Prompt – How much control do you need? How much are you willing to give up?

Journaling Prompt – How safe have the safe choices you’ve made actually proven to be?

Journaling Prompt – How does thunder make you feel? Does thunder at night help you snuggle under the covers? Or make you want to hide under the bed? Does lightning make thunder better or worse? Do you count (or dread) the seconds from the flash to the rumble?

Journaling Prompt – Let yourself miss someone (or something) lost. Can be anyone or anything.

Journaling Prompt – Did you screw up? Or did you make the best decision you could at the time?


Writing Exercises

These Writing Exercises are a collection of prompts originally published in The Journal Newsletter. The prompts include journaling prompts, prose prompts, poetry prompts, free writing prompts, and memoir prompts.

Or jump to the complete list of exercises you would like to see:

The exercises are updated each month, after the newsletter is published.

Unless otherwise specified, all prompts Copyright © by Susan Michael and David Michael.