Nearly 10 million blank journals are sold annually in stationery stores alone. Two million more go out of specialty shops. Over four million writers keep some kind of journal on a computer. Those too busy to do so in Japan phone in their journal entries and at the end of the month a company sends them a bound manuscript.

For those who aren't that hard-pressed or industrious, Alexandra Johnson delivers plenty of good advice on making the most of journal work. Her "The Hidden Writer: Diaries and the Creative Life" won the PEN/Jerard Fund Special Citation for nonfiction. She teaches memoir writing at Wellesley College and Harvard Extension School.

Journal keeping, for Johnson, is a catalyst to play, making connections, freedom, and meaning: "Today sitting for even five minutes with a journal offers a rare cease-fire in the battle of daily life, a time when we're not graded, not performing. It's a time when one attempts some truth, silencing those carping inner voices. At their core, journals are about sharpening consciousness, not stoking egotism."

The author zeroes in on very practical ways to harvest the material from daily gleanings for larger writing projects. She has many interesting things to say about paying close attention to the world going on around us and inside us, triggering memory, finding hidden patterns in life, writing about others, and delineating the significant moments in one's own life.