Daydreaming on Paper
January 2002
A Fresh Start

So, you've got a new journal. Maybe you received it as a gift, or maybe you bought it yourself. No matter what circumstances brought this book to you, you are excited as you sit down and crack it open for the first time and breathe in that fresh, new paper smell. And then you stare down at that crisp, blank page and wonder what on earth to write.

There is something about starting a new journal that can be fairly intimidating. Everything seems to hang on that first page (it doesn't really, but that's often what we tell ourselves), and we want to get it right. If you are new to the art of the personal notebook, maybe you are overwhelmed and need some ideas to help you get started. If you are a journal writing veteran, maybe you are looking for some new techniques to try. Either way, the following list of "starter prompts" is sure to contain something to get your pen, pencil, marker, or paintbrush moving.

25 Things You Can Do With the First Page of a Journal

  1. Skip it. There's no law that says you have to start at the beginning and work your way to the end. Starting a few pages back in the book may help to dissolve your writer's block.

  2. Mess it up. I have a theory that the more beautiful the journal, the more loathe we are to make a "mistake" in it. This fear of "messing up" can cause us to put off journal writing completely. Don't let that happen! Take a crayon (choose a color you hate for extra good measure), pencil, or paintbrush and scribble all over that first page. Mess it up completely. Once that fear is out of your system, you will be better able to go on with your writing.

  3. Write about how the journal came into your possession. Was it a gift? Who gave it to you and why? Did you choose it yourself? Why? Why did you select this particular book?

  4. Draw a self portrait or paste in a photo or yourself.

  5. Write down your "vital statistics" - your name, age, occupation, height, weight, etc. You might also want to do this again when you finish the journal. It may be interesting to see which things changed and which stayed the same. This data will also give future generations some good information about you.

  6. Write down your thoughts about why you want to keep a diary or journal. What do you want to get out of it? (When you finish your journal, you may want to re-read this to see whether or not you accomplished your goals.)

  7. Describe your "cast of characters" - the people in your life who are probably going to be mentioned on the pages of your journal. Tell who they are (use pseudonyms if you like), their relationship to you, and any other info you want to add. For fun, draw miniature portraits of each person or include a snapshot or I-zone picture.

  8. By the same token, describe the places that factor heavily in your journal writing. Describe your home, where you work, your church, the grocery store that you frequent - any place you like. Include a hand-drawn map just for fun.

  9. Choose a one-word theme for the journal and write it there. Include the dictionary's or your own definition, and write about what the word means to you and how it will apply to your writing.

  10. Copy a favorite poem, quote, or excerpt onto the page.

  11. If you want to get practical, list all of your online usernames and passwords (or something that will help you remember the passwords) here. Most people hide their personal journals, so this would be a good place to put this kind of information.

  12. Start an ongoing collage of ticket stubs, fruit labels, photos, candy wrappers, or whatever. Add things to this collage as you work through the journal.

  13. Use the first page as an index page. As you write in your book, make a note of recurring themes and topics, as well as the page numbers where they occur.

  14. Create a list of things that you hope will happen by the time you finish the journal.

  15. Write out or list your belief system - the various truths that you believe in and run your life by. Do this again on the last page of your journal when you finish it.

  16. Pretend that you are teaching someone else how to keep a journal. Write any rules or guidance that you would give them.

  17. Instead of focusing on the first page, go through the entire book and randomly write quotes, sayings, words, prompts, or draw pictures on the pages. That way, you'll have inspiration for any future creative blocks.

  18. Take a cue from published books and write a dedication on your first page.

  19. If you use symbols, codes (other than ones used for privacy), or color coordination in your journal, put a legend on the first page. This can be your backup in case you forget what the turquoise highlights are for.

  20. Draw your branch of the family tree. Do only your immediate family or add as many members as will fit on the page.

  21. Keep a monthly or yearly calendar here. It can be one with enough space for you to write down your appointments, or it can be a simple numerical one on which you highlight or circle the days that correspond to journal entries. (This would give you a quick reference point to see how much you are writing or to see patterns in when you write).

  22. If you are using the journal for something that lends itself to tracking, keep a chart here on the first page. That way, you'll see the information as soon as you open the book.

  23. List your favorites. Create your own survey like the ones that float around via e-mail from time to time. Choose any combination of the following, and list your favorite:
    • color
    • scent(s)
    • shape(s)
    • motif(s)
    • theme(s)
    • obsession(s)
    • junk food(s)
    • comfort food(s)
    • ways to waste time
    • number(s)
    • offbeat books/music/movies
    • pop culture icon(s)
    • distraction(s)
    • pet peeve(s)
    • flavor(s)
    • animal(s)
    • flower(s)
    • tree(s)

  24. List all of the different shades and hues of your favorite color.

  25. Write your name and its variations in as many different languages as you can find. (Inspired by Purple Ink member Txilar.)

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© 2002 Dawn R. Vinson. All Rights Reserved.