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How Creatives Can Instantly Benefit from Journaling

The Emotion Diary highlights the happiness experienced from making art.

Key points

  • Creativity can help people cultivate a positive mood.
  • Journaling provides the maker with feedback by reflecting, recording, and revisiting creative sessions.
  • The Emotion Diary calculates a range of positive and negative feelings and quantifies emotions, which allows for comparison.
Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash
Journal before and after doing your art to realize how being creative can elevate your mood.
Source: Photo by lilartsy on Unsplash

Two Truths and a Lie

  • I have kept a detailed journal every day for the past 20 years.

  • I have sewed prototypes for the military, including a portable patient transport litter, an inflatable decontamination chamber, and rebreathing apparatus for coal miners.

  • I always have a two-week stock of malted milk balls in the pantry.

Most people would look at the options above and choose the sewing or the treat supply as possible lies, but in truth, I am not a traditional journaler, and I have never been, and I don’t think I ever will.

And yet, I believe that directed journaling enhances creativity.

I also believe that every creative can reap the benefits of reflective journaling on the first day they try it.

Journaling provides three primary benefits for the creative/maker/artist: reflecting on process, recording events and thoughts, and revisiting successes and failures.

Reflecting on Process

I earn a majority of my income from teaching first-year students how to write essays and conduct proper research. I always require my students to keep a journal. Some students are diligent in reflecting on every class. “Today, in class, we ….” Their notes serve as a roadmap for them, and me, as to what we did.

But a true reflection does much more than document the facts of what happened. A true reflection includes the emotional response to what happened.

  • How did you feel when you did this?
  • How did you feel when you witnessed that?
  • How did you feel when you learned this or tried that?

Suppose what happened makes you feel sad or depressed. Acknowledging that truth could be a first step in preventing a repeat in the future. For example, if I write about feeling down because I didn’t spend enough time practicing my clarinet for my lesson this week; therefore, my teacher seemed frustrated, then next week—knowing this correlation—I am motivated to schedule more practice time each day. Maybe next week, when I reflect on my lesson, I will note that the extra time allowed me to work out a tricky fingering, and now I can play that phrase with ease. My teacher seemed pleased. And that makes me feel happy.

Reflection can be an ‘if/then statement,’ prompting positive behaviors that elicit elevated emotions.

Recording Events and Thoughts

Perhaps the most famous journaler in history was Samuel Pepys. This 26-year-old Londoner recorded his daily goings-on from 1660 to 1669. His diary serves as a window into life in London with a lens unlike any other. For example, Pepys expressed his disappointment in Midsummer’s Night’s Dream, writing, “which I had never seen before, nor shall ever again, for it is the most insipid ridiculous play that ever I saw in my life” What a fantastic record for historians, theatergoers, and English teachers, to be able to look back on today.

Records don’t have to be quite so historic or astounding. Edwin, my husband’s grandfather, who was born in 1897, regularly wrote notes in a journal recording the weather, the number and kind of birds at his feeders, and the progress of his daughter’s gardening. In the spring, he wrote about prepping the seedling packs. In the summer, he wrote about the raccoons mowing down the corn stalks. In the fall, he wrote about the abundant harvest and the canning of tomatoes and pickles. When we read those accounts today, it’s as if he’s with us, offering the simple record of his day.

Revisiting Successes and Failures

Because I am not a big journaler, I have very few records to look back on and revisit the day. Even now, when I find random notes from a podcast or a webinar, I wonder how long ago I scribbled those remarks. Indeed, I have started writing the date—including the year—at the top of every yellow pad and Post-it note that I pen.

But the benefits of this process can be reaped on the first day that you begin your directed journal. And here’s how.

Whatever your art form, take just ten minutes before you start and write. Write about your ideas, your methods, your plans. Write about your supplies—what you have and what you wish you had. Write about your life. Write about your job, your house, your apartment, your room.

Include the date, the day of the week, and the time of the day.

Then, account for your emotions.

Below, I’ve listed ten emotions—four positive and six negative. For each emotion, quickly note how you feel on a scale of 0 – 10. A zero score means you have NO feeling whatsoever regarding that emotion. And 10 represents the strongest you have ever felt that emotion.

  1. Happiness
  2. Frustration
  3. Sadness
  4. Pride
  5. Anger/irritation
  6. Embarrassment
  7. Enthusiasm
  8. Anxiety
  9. Disgust
  10. Wonder

Then, do your art. Go about your creative work.

After your art session, journal again. What worked well? What might you have done differently? What do you plan to do in your next session?

And again, note your ten emotions.

My emotion diary is inspired by Bellocchi and Ritchie (2015), who adapted their emotion diaries from Zembylas (2002).

B. Morey Stockwell, PhD
Emotion Diary and scores
Source: B. Morey Stockwell, PhD

It’s pretty easy to see the range in positive emotions, but negative emotions must be reversely coded, giving an overall percentile score. I’ve provided a calculator on my website that instantly provides your overall score.

Yesterday, my before-art emotion score was 75, and after just ninety minutes of creative writing, my score jumped to 92.

If you’re a casual hobbyist, you might realize that doing art makes you happy. Can you add a bit more art time to your day? If you’re a working professional, you might discover that your art benefits from long uninterrupted sessions. Or you might realize that your emotions are elevated when you create with frequent breaks and shorter, more intense sessions.

Regardless of the outcome, journaling serves as a place to reflect on your artistic efforts and record your day. The emotion diary allows creatives to interpret their art sessions in a new way.

Now excuse me while I deplete my stock of malted milk balls. I no longer sew for the military, but I do find joy in doing my art.


(n.d.). Retrieved from

Bellocchi, A., & Ritchie, S. M. (2015). “I Was Proud of Myself That I Didn’t Give up and I Did It”: Experiences of Pride and Triumph in Learning Science. Science Education, 99(4), 638–668.

Zembylas, M. (2002). Constructing genealogies of teachers' emotions in science teaching. Journal Of Research In Science Teaching, 39(1), 79-103.

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