Why You Should Keep a Sensory Journal

I’m angry. I’m so angry that my feet are hurting because I’m stomping so hard against the pavement. I’m short but my steps are long, traveling as fast as I can without breaking into a run. The rain layering the pavement is soaking into my shoes. And I’m aware of what I’m doing; that I’m hurting myself, that I’m gritting my teeth, that I am, indeed, overreacting. A month before, I wouldn’t have registered anything besides anger, my perceived injustice, and possibly any cars that threaten my welfare. But that was before the sensory journal.


It was homework for acting class. For a month, I was to carry around a journal and note, every day, things, people, or conversations that I noticed. I was especially supposed to note my own gestures, reactions, and movements which I could then draw upon to recreate a realistic experience into whatever character I was playing onstage.

The day of the angry walk in the rain was ten years ago, but it’s melded into my mind. That was the day that I realized I was angry and by observing my anger, I felt it dissipate. The journal was lost in successive moves, but its ideas and unexpected benefits stayed with me. Now as a writer, I keep a sensory journal that I can carry in my purse.

Sensory Journals Teach Observation


Whether you scribbled down scenes, ideas, and even textures and tastes at will, or have your journal sectioned into tabs so you can easily find ideas to infuse into the scene you are writing, a sensory journal teaches you to pay attention to details. In our face-paced world where we spend so much time looking at screens, it’s easy to miss and under-appreciate the world around it. When you slow down enough to notice the building you’re in, the facial expressions of people around you, or the body langue of groups whose conversation you can’t hear, you are living in the present. You are creating details about places that can appear in your book, finding new expressions to avoid cliche and tired writing, and noticing tiny details you can slip in to enhance a character’s feelings, imply their motives, or breath realism into their mannerisms.

Sensory Journals Teach Description


It’s easy enough to watch an actor on a screen or people at the wall, but how do you effectively describe what you see to a friend on the phone? As a writer, it is vital that you develop the skills to accurately transform pictures into words, and create a scene that can be pulled from the page and replayed in the mind of your reader. Keeping a sensory journal will help strengthen the association in your mind between abstract pictures and words. It will strengthen your storytelling, create vivid settings and accurately paint action scenes that will keep your reader engaged.

Sensory Journals Create a Treasury of Inspiration


Sometimes no matter how quickly the story is playing out in your head, words fail you. Other days the page is as blank as your mind. But you’re a writer, so you write every day, regardless of the ebb and flow of inspiration. Read where you got stuck, imagine the place and characters as vividly as you can. Your journal can help with this too, reminding your mind of details you wanted to capture, sparking an idea, or helping you revise and embellish an existing scene from a sketch to a realistic feeling. If you need help describing the moment in your story, you can draw upon your notes – especially if your journal has been organized into sections that make it easy to grab exactly what you’re looking for.

Sensory Journals Creates Control


When you begin keeping a sensory journal, you connect more deeply with your own emotions, your body, and your mind. You sooner recognize and identify moods that effect your life and people around you. Because you know how you respond when you feel great, you can sooner diffuse a difficult situation, check yourself when your emotions are getting out of hand, or give yourself permission to safely feel and work through the emotions as they come. Because you learn to notice them, you can learn to control them. This makes you, not only a better writer but a better parent, spouse, and person.

Sensory Journals Create Empathy


I began keeping a sensory journal as an actress so I could transform my own emotions into the version of myself that portrayed a character. I found that transformation carried into my writing. Because I’ve learned to pay attention, I can feel what my character is feeling. I can analyze their logic, read their thoughts, and channel their emotions. Writing from the mindset of your character creates writing entirely different than observing their responses and actions as a writer standing apart. Keeping a sensory journal will help you bridge the bond between writer and character and enable you to experience the world in your imagination almost as vividly as the world you live in.


How to Make Your Own Journal