Journal writing assignments are both the hardest kind of writing and the easiest: Easiest because almost always when instructors ask you to write something in journal form, they are not looking for "polished" writing--error-free, finished, or completely developed. They are looking for rambling, "messy" thinking--your process--as you study what it is they've asked you to study. Often the journal assignments are very open-ended. That's why they're sometimes the hardest kind of writing: sometimes you don't get much direction.

If you're having trouble getting started, just start writing, fast. If your inner voice is saying "I can't do this. I can't. I can't." write "I can't do this. I can't. I can't." And keep recording what that voice is saying, write, write, write. Don't worry about punctuation, spelling, whether or not what you're saying makes sense. Don't stop. Don't go back and look at what you just wrote. (That voice--the editorial voice--is forbidden in free writing.) Keep writing and keep refocusing on the subject assigned. More and more ideas will come out onto the page.

Usually instructors are really looking for two things:

  • Try out the methods or approaches or vocabulary of their discipline in your own thinking---really think through what you're studying, joining your voice, your terms and vocabulary to the voice, the terms, the vocabulary of the material you are studying.
    • Some useful questions are:
      • What was this really about?
      • What does it make me think of?
      • What examples from my own life support or disprove what is being said-- in class? --in what I'm reading?
      • What questions do I have?
      • What seems strange? unclear?
    • That should get you started on using the vocabulary of the course.
  • Reflect on your own learning. In academic discourse lingo that's called "meta-cognition"--thinking about thinking, getting outside of what you've written, outside the process you've just been through so you can think about it, evaluate it in a different voice.
    • Try the "double-entry" technique. After you have a lot of non-stop writing, read back over everything you have written... and on the facing page in your journal--or in the margin if you've written on both sides of the paper-- write comments about your own writing, right next to it. Make as many observations about what you find as you can, role-playing as various readers--as your teacher, a parent, friend, radio commentator, psychoanalyst, whoever you'd like to imagine commenting. And, of course, read as yourself, or as one of your selves, noting what seems interesting about what you've written.

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