Keep a Journal – Preserve a Life

Richard HavengaIf you’ve always wanted to keep a journal, all you need to do is START! Once you start, it’s easier to keep going.

Just like the scroll-down bar as you keep filling the box with text, it keeps giving you more space to write. The more you put into it, the more room you’re given. So pour your life into a container that’s ever-expanding: a journal. Your Journal. With a capital J.

Since I have had a long and deep love for the land, my Journal contains that love. Of course love of my God, and love of my family are absolutely in there; with deep intensity. But here, I mainly want to write about Nature Journals.

To ”Keep a Journal”, the writer must obviously keep writing. After four to six weeks of intermittent entries, you may enter a crucial time. You may not have time, or may not feel like writing for days at a time. It’s important not to slack off now. Do not coast. Do not stop writing. You must pass “GO” and keep going. Take another lap.

Persist. You need to reach that point where you say to yourself, “I didn’t write today, but I do have something to say. I need to write. I want to write. I will write today.

Once you are writing again, you become engaged. The mere act of writing will bring things into perception that you didn’t see coming. Then it will flow better, and you can ride the current; follow the stream where it takes you.

Getting Started – Some Basics

Pay attention.          Slow down.          Be still.          Become aware.

Four, simple, two-word thoughts. Simple ideas that can generate good journal content.

Try to notice something new each day and every day. Observe and note the details. A weed may become a soft blue wildflower unfolding. An insect may be a darting dragonfly snatching up mosquitoes.

Get up earlier. Before you get into your car, step outside. Check the sky, notice the clouds. Enjoy the sunrise. Appreciate your garden. Take an early morning walk.

Leave early for your destination so you can have time to stop if you see a doe with her fawn; a stunning display of lightning; a turtle by the side of the road; be alert for a possible rainbow.

Look for colors; how many shades of green? Notice how light plays with shadows or plays on the water. Watch the wind patterns on the surface of a lake. Listen. What bird is that? Poplar (Aspen) leaves are trembling in a light breeze. Inhale the fragrance of Common Milkweed flowers. Feel the atmosphere around you. Be alert and apply the gifts of your senses.

Thoughts on Composition

Make an effort to find words that mean something. Words that will shape a sensory image.

Be specific. Don’t settle for the ordinary. Fight through the barrier of commonly-used words. Search with patience for exactly what you need to bring your experience to life.

Seek verbs that strengthen your sentences. Provide power to your prose with active verbs.

Isolate fragments of time. Focusing intently could amplify a common event into a vivid memory.

Thoughts on Material

To provide material for daily entries and future ideas to write about, I always carry a pen in my pants front pocket and small (3″ X 3″) pieces of scrap paper in my back pocket. I jot down notes about something I want to remember. At my age this is necessary. At any age, it is helpful.

I use them in the car, on a walk, in church, at the library, at a friend’s house, while doing yard work, when I have an idea in the middle of the night, listening to song lyrics, at an art show, at the theatre, after an engaging conversation, and definitely while reading a book.

When you realize an event or incident is worthy of your Journal, take notes or begin writing soon after it occurs. This will help you record sharp details with clarity, and get down the vibrant verbs immediately.

Thoughts on Observation

Try to achieve completeness in your observations. Stay longer. Examine carefully. Question. Investigate. Wonder.

Employ all your senses: Look. Listen. Smell. Feel. Taste.

I’ve noticed on my walks outdoors, that if I have my camera along, I see more, notice more. I have focused attention. Plus, the camera brings my eye closer, especially with a macro lens.

Let your eyes linger longer. Try different viewpoints. Circle around, see from different angles — sun behind, into the sun, side view, above your subject, below (if possible), on the ground. Squint.

Walk at different times of the day. Especially early morning and late evening, when the sunlight streams in at low angles. Dawn and dusk create special moods, and it’s usually quieter.

Don’t forget to get out under the night sky. Be aware of the moon’s phases, its place in the sky. Learn to recognize a few constellations, their locations, where the planets should be this time of year.

Become a skywatcher during the day. Clouds form patterns, drift, build, diminish, sweep, swirl, thicken, stretch, twist, roll, gather, evaporate, pile, bulge, droop, dangle, and threaten. Clouds scatter, filter, dull, mask, diffuse, radiate, and color the light.

Thoughts on Consistency

Keep your Journal up to date.

Keep it active and fresh.

Keep it with you.

Keep it going.

Keep it.

Final Thoughts

Pour everything you have into your Journal. There will always be room for more. Don’t save something for a later time. Spend it all. Spend it now. Someday it will give back to you in unexpected ways, in memories saved, a life preserved.

Decades from today you can reread your Journal. Share it with your grandchildren, if you are blessed to have them.

When you are very old, your grown children may need to read it back to you. Then your old words will wash over you with a renewed and gentle grace.

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Richard Havenga retired from Teaching in 2008. He combined his love of the outdoors, with his experience as a Naturalist, Nature Photographer, and Writer to produce his blog: “Walk With Father Nature”. Richard has been a Birder for 35 years, a runner for 33 years, a husband for 42 years, and has kept a daily Journal (one page a day, every day) for 38 years. Richard and his wife have two children. He enjoys hiking, biking, swimming, playing tennis, fitness, camping, and traveling throughout the United States. As a Writer, his earlier work focused on Creative Non-fiction. Recently, he has written mostly Haiku and Poetry.
  1. Jean Hall says:

    Wonderful details, Richard. Thanks for posting here on Write2Ignite!

    I really need the “don’t slow down, don’t quit” part.

    May I add one thing? Even if you’re not a professional photographer photos of your discoveries in nature can add a lot to your journal – plus give you more ideas for future postings.

    Thanks, again!

  2. Anna Labno says:

    Thank you for a great post.

  3. Kathy Rupff says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Richard! I really appreciate all your well thought-out suggestions and advice. It’s clear your passionate about this, and you provide a great example to follow. God bless!

    • Kathy:

      This is my second reply to you. The first one apparently didn’t stick to this site.

      I AM passionate about Journal writing, and I encourage everyone at “W2I” to get into the habit of writing daily entries.

      In God’s magnificent creation, I am blessed to discover an infinite supply of material.

      During the first week of January, every year, I read to my wife (of 42 years) the highlights of the previous year’s Journal.

      Thank you for your kind words.



  4. Richard Havenga says:


    Thank you very much for your help in publishing my post from WWFN. My daughter started her Journal at age 8. She is now 40 ! I encourage children of all ages to begin their Journal writing… today!



  5. This is a great article, Richard. I especially like the part about looking at nature from different viewpoints and angles. That’s a great point to remember when writing for children!

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