Posted by: Liz Massey | February 8, 2008

Clutter-busting with…one-sentence journaling

Today I’m introducing a regular feature that offers information about creative “clutter-busting” techniques. The kind of clutter I’m referring to is anything that gets in the way of creating on a regular basis, or achieving the level of creative satisfaction that you desire.
Perfectionism and over-scheduling are two enemies of creative expression, and one-sentence journaling has the advantage of tackling both of them head-on. To learn more about this technique, I interviewed Quinn McDonald, a life and creativity coach based in the Phoenix area, who runs live and online workshops related to one-sentence journals.

While writers may seem to benefit the most from keeping one-sentence journals, it is a handy tool for anyone who finds that recording their ideas on a regular basis leads to creative expression later.

How did you discover the one-sentence journaling technique? Did it originate with you?
Quinn: I did “morning pages,” (the creativity discovery method that Julia Cameron teaches) for a long while, but needed something more precise. I didn’t want to write a journal review of my whole day, either.

Because I was a newspaper editor, I began to write headlines for my days–just the most important thing was covered. While checking in on one of my favorite websites (DIY Planner), a woman mentioned that she would journal more if she could write just one sentence a day. That did it–I developed “One Sentence Journaling,” as a class.

What are the advantages of writing such short entries?
Quinn: You actually write every day if you only have to write one sentence. You think the sentence over carefully, choose the right words and work hard to get the emotions right. That’s the heart of good writing. So now you are writing every day And enjoying it.  These are entries you go back to and re-read with amazement.

How can one-sentence journal writers express emotionally or creatively with such short entries?
Quinn: Knowing you have just one sentence (or two, if you don’t mind cheating a little) makes you choose verbs over nouns, write with intensity and economy. You also write using all your senses. This is powerful stuff!

Is the role of choice emphasized in this process?

Quinn: Sure. You write about the most important thing about that one day. Tomorrow it might be different, but the experience that resonates with all your senses and is deeply emotional gets top billing. And it should.

Are the entries carefully thought out or spontaneous?
Quinn: They can be either. In the class I teach, we do both, blurting and planning. Everyone who keeps a regular journal has a style and a comfort zone. It’s good to get out of your comfort zone and play with style. So in one sentence you have emotion, experimentation and good writing. That makes for an exciting experience.

In what ways can using this technique free one to create?
Quinn: You might use your sentence to keep track of emotional highs or lows. That alone creates a whole new set of creative tools. In the one-sentence journal I created there is a check list of such influences as weather, mood, songs you are listening to and other influencers.

Keeping track of influencers lets you learn more about yourself, how you relate to the world, and how the world affects you. That knowledge is a big creativity boost. I’ve had people who use the journal have some incredible “Aha!” moments and capture that in a creative experience.

Do you see any parallels between this technique and timed sketching or other art-making techniques? What is the overarching lesson with such tools?
Quinn: I’m not very good at pointing to goals or lessons for others. I think people do better at deciding that for themselves.

In my case, I am focused on making meaning. I firmly believe that we don’t “find” meaning in life, we make meaning in life. For me, that’s what creativity is about–making meaning. That makes the pursuit of meaning experiential first and intellectual second.

That’s the style I bring to my coaching, too. The client makes all the decisions. I just provide the space and structure for them to dream in.

In one sentence, sum up who might benefit from starting a one-sentence journal.
Quinn: Anyone who is interested in writing and changing the focus of their lives from what they do to who they are would enjoy one-sentence journaling.


  1. […] in the morning made me think: perhaps Twitter/microblogs have use as practice in poetry? Haiku? One-sentence journaling? Such sites provide an exceptional challenge to pare your writing down to the bare essentials, […]

  2. This is a great idea and a good match to what I’m doing with my blog. Short is good!

  3. P.S. I’m reading a great book, The Red Leather Journal, which is based on a young woman’s diary found by a NY Times journalist from the flapper era in New York. Because of the format of the diary she was writing in she only had room for about one sentence or two per day. She wrote in it every day for five years and it’s amazing how a whole life unfolds from those very brief entries!

  4. […] our hit-by-a-paper-bomb desk so that we can write, sketch or do some beading, or by starting a one-sentence journal to document our creative process and gain some […]

  5. I like the idea of developing your sentence throughout the day… it seems very do-able!

  6. […] meaning in a form that will stick with you later. Early last year, I conducted an interesting interview on my creativity blog, Creative Liberty, with journaling instructor Quinn McDonald on this […]

  7. […] the full interview about one-sentence journaling on Creative Liberty and learn more about Liz Massey and Creative Liberty — the blog and the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: