How to Use Journal Writing to Complete Your Projects

When I finally get around to working on long range projects, my journal becomes my counselor for working through my procrastination and frustrations, a coach for keeping me motivated, and a light bulb of ideas for completing projects.

I know for certain I would have not finished my first now outdated book if I had not kept a journal. I currently using my journal as I work to develop an online course, and for last the two years I have kept separate journals about personal finance and health goals. Though these goals are not necessarily projects, my journals help me work through and achieve my goals.

There’s not much written about the concept of project journals, but the script writer and movie director, Spike Lee, published four of his personal journals based on his first four popular films that wrote, directed, and produced in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

Spike Lee’s Gotta Have It

Of all his published journals, Lee’s Spike Lee’s Gotta Have It: Inside Guerrilla Filmmaking, based on his first major film, She’s Gotta Have It, best represents a project journal.

Lee’s first published journal is a great read for someone who’s a filmmaker, a novelist, app developer, painter, non-fiction writer, presenter, sales person —anyone who works creatively on projects.

Lee’s project journal consists of the following:

April 5, 1985

I need to sit down with Ben Hill soon, he’s an exec at HBO. I mean a serious two-or three-hour strategy session where we plan out the everything we need to do on this project.

Excerpt form Spike Lee’s Journal
  • Diary entries chronicling the development of the film.
  • Ideas for the script and the production of the film.
  • Bits of dialogue for the characters.
  • Reflections on film techniques.
  • Notes about what he needs to work on next.
  • Conversations he has with others about the project.
  • Lists of character names, locations for settings, and more ideas.
  • Photos of the film production.

Idea

Nola Darling should be a very political person. She doesn’t have to talk about it, but we’ll see it by the books she read, her buttons, posters on her walls.

As far as I know, not too many artists publish their journals especially while they’re still alive. Lee’s journal, which was published shortly after the film it is based on was released, and it reveals an artist’s thoughts as he constructs his characters, their personality, and how he wants his audiences to view the film.

As you read the book, you hear a young excited artist who knows he’s producing something important, and he plans to finish the project no matter what it takes.

I was still in college when Lee started producing films, and as an avid journal keeper back then, I was deeply motivated by how Spike Lee used his journals, and I started use similar writing techniques in my own journal writing.

Keeping Project Journal

I have so many things going on in my head about the book. I need to calm down. Lol. I’ve been browsing iBooks Author themes, checking out tutorial videos on how to get chapters from Pages to iBooks Author, and I’m thinking about how I can stay focused on this project and actually get it done.

Excerpt from my journal

I imagine back in 80s and 90s, Spike Lee kept his journal in several paper notebooks, and later had them transcribed for publication.

I on the other hand keep digital journal which makes it easy to jot down my thoughts and ideas as I work through a project.

I use a separate digital notebook and digital outliner for notes, ideas, research, and the like.

My project journals are not necessarily notebooks of ideas. I instead mainly use journaling to keep me motivated to work on projects, which often get sidetracked by other more pressing job related tasks and frustrations about what I need to do next.

I would say my project journals are part diary entries and part reflections on the progress I’m making toward reaching my project goals.

Project Journal Prompts

There’s no one way to keep a project journal. What you choose to write about in your journal will be based on your needs and goals. But here’s a list of prompts that might be useful for journal writing as you work through your project:

  • What are the goals for your project?
  • What motivated you to start the project?
  • What do you need to get started with the project?
  • Who are the people who can help you with the project?
  • What obstacles are you facing to keep you from getting started?
  • Write daily diary entries of the progress you’re making.
  • Create lists of ideas for the project.
  • Write about your small accomplishments.
  • Include emails, letters, and text messages associated with the project.

For a creative approach to project journals, check out this post by Heather Nichols in which she describes the type of paper, stamps, and other items she uses.

Your Feedback

If you think project journals are useful, I would love to hear from you about the project journals you have kept or plan to start.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may earn some money if you click on one.

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Bakari Chavanu

is the creator of NaJoWriMo, and is the author of the interactive iBook, Starting From Day One: Using the Day One Journaling App to Record and Enrich Your Life