Call it what you will: your diary, morning pages—whatever … as long as you write something. Even if you don’t aspire to be an author, doing this helps you track where you’ve been and where you’re going. It reminds you to focus on what’s important. But, as a writer, my journal is indispensable.
First of all, if I’m not currently working on a specific writing project, I sit down to make a brief note about the previous day. That note often morphs into a description of how I feel about what happened and what I observed around me, and, if time allows, into some of the infinite offshoots and implications. Even if I don’t have time to elaborate further, the notes are there for later review. Since story ideas can come as flashes at any time, I also carry a tiny note pad, where I jot them down. The next morning I add those to my journal notes. If I don’t write them down, later, when I have time to write seriously, a nagging feeling might tell me that I had something, some spark of an idea. But it’s gone. Don’t let your creative ideas vanish. Write them down, even if at the moment you don’t have time to deal with them. Immortal Venus, began as imagery for one scene. I used the imagery in a short story, which, over time, evolved into the full-fledged novel.
I kept a separate dream journal for years; now I do everything in one place, as a single journal. Dreams have always been a source of inspiration for me. I love the struggle to interpret them—always keeping in mind that everything in the dream reflects some part of me—but interpretation isn’t necessary. The theme of the dream, or just one specific image from the dream, may be enough to inspire a story far-removed from anything I could consciously devise. Or it may be just what’s needed to add a unique twist to what I’m currently working on. But I think the main importance of a journal is the act itself—the writing. The more you write, the better your writing becomes.