Journaling for Problem Solving

By Debra Eckerling, author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals (January 2020)

Whenever someone asks me for writing tips, I suggest keeping a journal. You already have the material – your life, your drama, your observations – so it’s perfect for polishing your writing skills, as well as developing your style and tone. But it’s so much more than that.

While journaling is traditionally used for jotting down what’s going on in your life – tracking your actions, activities, and emotions – one of my favorite ways to use a journal is for problem-solving. 

Challenges come in all shapes and sizes. Whether you’re exploring a plot point, pondering a career choice, or dealing with a personal matter, you may find yourself mulling it over constantly … and sometimes to no avail. However, when you take pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – in your quest to work something out, you are much more likely to come up with an effective solution.

Want to gain more clarity? Need to resolve something that’s bothering you? Try my Directed Journaling technique.

Directed Journaling

Directed journaling is stream-of-consciousness writing spurts, focused on a specific theme, issue, or problem. 

Here’s how it works:

In your calendar, schedule between three and five 15-minute sessions over a few days. Be sure to set a reminder.

When you get the alert for your appointment, set a timer for 15 minutes, and start writing.

Note: While there are numerous benefits to writing by hand, if you are more likely to complete the process by typing on a computer, go for it!

During each journaling session, focus on the challenge at hand. 

Answer questions, such as: 

  • What’s the problem? 
  • How can I resolve it? 
  • What are all the possible solutions? 

Think outside the box; be as logical and as extreme as possible. These notes are for your eyes only. And don’t worry about repeating yourself. The trick is to get everything out of your head and onto the page.

Here’s the trick. Do not read any of these journal entries until you have done the process several times.

Once you have exhausted your thoughts on the subject, then you may read the journal entries. 

As you go through them, note the ideas you repeat – those are what you are most drawn to. You may also come up with solutions that seem to come from left field. That’s what happens when you allow yourself to babble on paper. 

When you open yourself to all possibilities, and look at them objectively, you are more likely to come up with a successful plan.

Final Thoughts

Journaling is truly one of the best ways to gather and organize your thoughts. Use it to log ideas for writing projects, gather character quirks from people-watching, draft articles and outlines, track your life, or solve problems. The options are endless. 

Enjoy the process … and know that you can amp it up when you need to. It’s just another tool in your writers’ toolbox.


Debra Eckerling is the author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning, and Achieving Your Goals (Mango Publishing, January 2020), as well as the self-published Write On Blogging: 51 Tips to Create, Write & Promote Your Blog and Purple Pencil Adventures: Writing Prompts for Kids of All AgesA goal coach, project catalyst, and founder of The D*E*B Method, Debra works with individuals and businesses to set goals and manage their projects through one-on one coaching, workshops, and online support. Note: DEB stands for Determine Your Mission, Explore Your Options, Brainstorm Your Path. She is the founder of Write On Online, a live and online community for writers, creatives, and entrepreneurs, as well as host of the #GoalChat Twitter Chat (Sundays at 7pm PT) and the Guided Goals Podcast.

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