You’ve decided to keep a reading journal. You have a lovely new notebook. But now you’re just staring at the page. You don’t know how to start.
Perhaps you’re wondering how writing in a reading journal might be different to the notes you’ve already taken on your reading. This journal surely isn’t meant to be another place where you write summaries. Where you do the same all over again.
You’re right, it’s not.
A reading journal isn’t for making notes and summaries. A reading journal is sometimes where you write down key ideas and themes from your reading. More often it’s where you record any random thoughts, quotes you want to think about, potential links between texts.
A reading journal is a place to let your creative juices flow. It’s where you use your reading to stimulate your own thinking and imagining. A reading journal is where you try out interpretations and potential new lines of thinking.
A reading journal is just for you – you are it’s primary reader. You don’t have to show your journal to anyone else. It’s your private conversations with the books and papers that you read.
But still, here you are with the brand new notebook, a load of good intentions – and stuck. Never fear, patter is here to help.
Here’s a few possible starters you might like to try out. Just pick the one that seems to call to you right now and write one sentence. One sentence only. One sentence to start with.
Once you’ve written your sentence, you might be moved to write a bit more. Or you might want to move on to another sentence. Or you might want to just close your notebook and come back to it another time.
Whatever you decide is OK. You no longer have a blank page. You have a thought. You’ve made a start. And as Stephen King often says, this is how you write. One word and one sentence at a time.
20 prompts to try out
What was the last thing that you read on your topic? Write the title down. Then answer one of these questions:
- What’s the first thing you remember about this text? Write a sentence.
- What was something that puzzled you about it? Write a sentence.
- Was there something you disagreed with? What? Why? Write a sentence.
- Was there something that linked to your work? What? How? Write a sentence.
- Did the text give you an idea? Write a sentence.
Think of a book or paper you’ve read on your topic that stays with you. Write the title down. Then answer one of these questions:
- What was the most memorable thing about the text? Write a sentence.
- How are you going to work with the text? Write a sentence.
- What did the text make you think about? Write a sentence.
- Does this book or paper connect with something else that you’ve read? Write a sentence.
- What do you need to read more about now? Why? Write a sentence.
- Who would you really like to read this text? Why? What would reading it make them say/see/do? Write a sentence.
- What question would you like to ask the author? Write a sentence.
Think of something you’ve read that was written really well. Write the title down. Then answer one of these questions:
- What do you most admire about the writing? Write a sentence.
- How does this writing differ from other things you’ve read? Write a sentence.
- What would you have to do to make your writing more like this? Write a sentence.
- What are you afraid might stop you being able to write this well? Write a sentence.
Have you recently read or watched anything on media – newspaper, television, social media, films – that speaks to your research? Write the title or topic down. Then answer one of these questions:
- How did the way the topic was presented compare with what you are reading? Write a sentence.
- What would you say to the writer of the media clip if you could meet them? Write a sentence.
- What other text immediately came to mind when you encountered this media text? Write a sentence.
- What media text would you write to answer back to this one? Write a sentence.
(I’ve written more about reading journals here.)