How to Keep a Writing Journal

In today’s busy world, it can be challenging to step back and take stock.  More and more people are turning to journaling as a way of taking back control and really reflecting on life.  A journal can be used for many reasons, such as recording daily events, making plans and tracking progress.

Below are some useful tips on how to use your journal.

Record Daily Events

Carry your personal diary with you, so that you always have it there.  Whenever the mood strikes, write down what has happened during the day for future reference.  This can include events that you deem important, as well as anything that has amused you or surprised you in some way.

This sort of journal should be a reference point, something for you to read in the future and remember certain events.  You can also use it to remember how certain events made you feel, how you overcame problems and what positivity you gained from your experiences.

Write To-Do Lists

In today’s hectic rush, our minds are full of ‘stuff’.  It can be easy to forget things and we find it hard to focus.  You may think of something important you need to do, only to be distracted by a text alert, an email or a meeting (usually about other meetings).

Writing things down as you think of them enables you to remember them later.  It also lets you clear them from your mind, relieving the feeling of stress as you try to remember what it was you had to remember!  If you keep a to-do list, you will find that you are more organised and reliable, less stressed and far more productive.

A great way to keep a to-do list is to use a Bullet Journal.  This is a way of keeping a very quick record of what you have done, what you need to do and what is important to you.

You can make one yourself by writing down the monthly calendar in list form on the left-hand page, then writing a to-do list on the right-hand page.  Include a tick box next to each task, so that you can tick each one off as you complete it.  This will not only help you stay organized, but it will also allow you to mark your progress and celebrate your productivity and success.

When you get to the next month, transfer all outstanding items onto the next page and start over again.  This way, nothing gets forgotten about and if a certain task becomes recurring, it will allow you to see what you are putting off and think about why.

The real benefit of bullet journaling is the short amount of time needed in order to do it.  We are busy people and the thought of using a journal can seem daunting.  This system allows you to do that very thing in no time at all, helping you to feel positive and stay focused.

You have great flexibility in how to use the symbols in the bullet journal. These are the little pictures that tell you what each item means — task, even, note, etc.

See Many More Key Ideas here.


Another great method of keeping daily to-do lists is the GSD approach.  This simply stands for ‘Getting Sh*t Done’ and really is as simple and quick as it sounds.

Its creator, Bill Westerman, wanted a way to get things done properly, with no wishy-washy over-thinking and procrastinating.  Quite simply, you write down tasks that you need to do, by saying how you will do them.

For example, rather than noting ‘send party invites’ you would instead note down a list such as:

  1. Buy invites
  2. Write a list of people to invite
  3. Write invites
  4. Post invites

Like the bullet journaling system, you can migrate tasks onto the next day’s list, ensuring nothing is forgotten about and allowing you to prioritize with each new day.

Dash Plus

If you really want to bring about some order in your to-do lists, you can use the dash/plus system.  This simple key allows you to see what you need to do, what is outstanding and what you can’t complete right now.

Created by author Patrick Rhone, this simple design is quick to use and suits anyone who doesn’t have the desire to keep lengthy journals or create monthly checklists, etc.

Let it Go

Before you start breaking out into a chorus from the film Frozen, just think about what this means for a moment.  By writing down your negative thoughts and emotions, things that have upset you or caused you pain, you can quite simply let it go.

The process of keeping a writing journal can allow you to strip your mind of these anxieties and overcome them.  Quite often when reading these thoughts back, you will find that you are better able to deal with them and they seem less frightening.

It is a good idea to keep this sort of diary on your bedside table, in order for you to clear your mind before sleep.  You will have a much more restful night, if you aren’t tossing and turning due to having too much on your mind.

Make Goals

Using a journal to really focus on what you want out of life can be extremely rewarding.  Write down goals of all shapes and sizes, from the holiday you want to go on, to your dream home.  Once you have written them down, then go about writing down how you can achieve them in small, achievable steps.

As you reach each milestone, write down how you did it and tick it off the list.  You will literally see yourself reaching and smashing goals.

This makes it easier to get what you want out of life, giving you something tangible to focus on.  Don’t be afraid to change things along the way, as your life changes and different things become important to you.

Make Lists

We all have things we want to do, things we want to see, read or watch, places we want to visit.  Getting round to doing it all can be impossible but you stand a much better chance if you keep a list.  The next time you are shopping for a new book, you can refer to your list to see what books you actually want to read.  If somebody mentions a film they have enjoyed over coffee, write it down and go back to it at a later date.

This can apply to all sorts of things and you can adapt it to work best for you.  It goes back to the theme of not having enough space inside your head for everything, so keeping a reference point will allow you to enjoy life more fully by experiencing more.  Using a lined journal is the best way of keeping an orderly list.

We are all different, coming in different shapes and sizes, as well as being different in the way we think and react to things.  How you work best will differ from how your friend, colleague or loved one does.  Bear this in mind when deciding how to use a journal, for it will matter greatly.

If you are someone who likes words, who has time to craft pages and pages of thoughts and feelings and use them to self-help, then a personal diary would work great for you.  However, if you find yourself constantly on the go, stressed and missing deadlines, then a bullet journal or something similar would be best.

Consistency is the key to success.  Make sure you stick to writing in your journal regularly, daily if you can, and use the same methods.  Chopping and changing won’t allow you to chart your progress, whether that is in material ways or emotionally, and could even cause you confusion.

Have Fun

Remember to have fun with it.  Journaling can help you in many ways but benefits disappear if you dread doing it. This makes choosing your style even more important.  If you start with one system and don’t like it, or you feel you aren’t gaining anything from it, then move on to something else.  Life is too short to waste time on non-essential things that you don’t enjoy, or are not helping you in some way.

Famous Writing Journal Users


One of the most intimate things we can do is to keep a journal.  It provides us with an outlet for all of our most innermost and private thoughts, along with our hopes and dreams.  It provides stress relief and depression management for many and the chance to impart knowledge and wisdom to others.  Some use a writing journal to discover their creative talents and the most famous diaries in the world have entertained millions of people over the years.

Reading the intimate thoughts of someone is fascinating and it can provide us with a mental picture of that person’s life, including their experiences and surroundings.  When that person is a well-known figure, this can generate a huge amount of interest and some diaries have sold millions of copies worldwide.

Hidden Teen Girl

An absolute favorite is that of Anne Frank, the teenage Jew that hid in a secret annex behind a bookcase for over two years of her short life.  It has sold over 30 million copies and has been translated into 67 languages.  So why is this diary so popular?  After all, Anne was unknown at the time and yet her work stands out from any other teenage girl’s diary.

Anne kept her journal as a way of keeping her mind busy and to get her creative juices flowing.  She was an aspiring young author and the way she wrote her memoirs was informative, detailed and at times humorous.  She gave readers an insight into life as a Jew at the time of the Holocaust and it delivers an incredibly powerful message to anyone who reads it.  It is incredibly expressive and readers can almost feel the mixture of despair, courage and hope that emanates from the pages.

Cuban Author

Another well-known diary is that of Anais Nin.  She was an author who was born to Cuban parents in France, but lived most of her life in the United States of America.  Her personal journals spanned over six decades and provide a remarkable insight into not only her own life and relationships, but also those of various male celebrities.  What fun!

She described her own personal diary as her “kief, hashish and opium pipe (and her) drug and vice” and believed that it is “the moments of emotional crisis that human beings reveal themselves most accurately.”  This is a telling description of the way she lived her life and the tales of narcissism are fascinating.

She describes the world of the Bohemian artist in Paris and her ability to describe relationships and personality is simply stunning.  She was inspired by the influential author D.H.Lawrence and has in turn inspired many more writers to embark on their own creative and reflective journeys.

World Explorer

Another well-known journal writer who went on an incredible journey of his own, is Captain Robert Scott.  He was a British explorer, best known for his expedition to the South Pole in November 1911.  Due to horrendous weather conditions and a lack of support for dogs to help pull the sleds, the four members of the team died one by one of exhaustion and severe frostbite.

Scott’s diary tells the stories of polar explorers, including their voyage, scientific work and sledging expeditions.  This gives us a fascinating insight into a brave new world and his last entries are among some of the most powerful and rousing words in literary history:

“We are weak, writing is difficult, but for my own sake I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another, and meet death with as great a fortitude as ever in the past.”

This is such an important diary, for it tells us so much about the human spirit in desperate times.  It is also a lasting testament to a brave group of men, who made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of science.

Infamous Nazi

A controversial figure in history wrote diaries, which gave us a valuable insight into the Nazi Party in the Second World War.  Josef Goebbels was Adolf Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda for 12 years and his diary entries tell us how he was enchanted by Hitler and Nazi ideology.  He wrote of Hitler as a sort of father figure and even went so far as to say he loved him, showing us just how much he admired and almost worshiped him.

It is perhaps quite surprising that a man so intent in spreading evil wrote down his thoughts and experiences, for this is real evidence of the horrors that the Nazi Party imposed.  The secrecy which surrounded their missions was enormous, yet his personal diary gives us incredible insight into Hitler’s thoughts and deeds.

Keeping a personal journal was almost therapeutic for him and his candid entries are one of the most remarkable pieces of literary history regarding the Second World War.

Russian Tsar

Another momentous journal that was kept to record thoughts, fears and problems was that kept by the fated Tsar Nicholas II.  It offers the reader a picture of daily life in the Alexander Palace and beyond.  Millions of people have had a long love affair with the tale of the Tsar and his family and his diary entries feed that lust for knowledge.  Many of the entries are very simple and describe activities such as eating breakfast together or bathing the children.  However they are simply fascinating, as the life of the last Tsar and his family has become a bit of a mystical story.  His method of describing the weather fits so perfectly with the despair he was feeling at the time.

Russia was a turbulent place during his reign, with uprisings and mass poverty causing much unrest.  The Tsar’s diary gives us an insight into how this privileged, yet severely stressed, man viewed the world around him.  It tells us of his views, his experiences and the innocent shock he felt when the people turned against him.

For anyone who loves history, his own journal, together with the love letters between him and his wife, are a pure literary and cultural delight.  They heighten the romance of the reign and fill in the gaps of what they wanted for the Russian people.

British Journalist

Another well-known journal writer that recorded important events that transformed political landscapes, is Alastair Campbell.  The British journalist and political aide was Tony Blair’s press secretary and trusted confidant.  Among his diaries was the hugely important book ‘The Blair Years’, in which he captured the rise of New Labour in Britain.

This compelling diary gives readers an insight into the changing face of British politics, from a source as close as you could get to Tony Blair, the man leading the way.  It portrays huge events such as Lady Diana’s death, the troubles in Iraq and the Hutton Inquiry in 2003.  What better way to know the mind of one of the most important men in modern British politics, than to read the diary of someone so close to him?

It is so important to record events, including the reasons and consequences, from a personal viewpoint as this offers an insight like no other.  Some journals are too important to never be read.

Fictional Journals

There have been many famous journal writers over the years, some for their own benefit and some to serve a wider purpose.  There have also been fictional diaries, such as that in the Sue Townsend novel The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾.  While the book offers us a fun insight into the mind of a teenage boy, it also refers to historic world events.

The Falklands War and the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana are described in such a fun and interesting way, with the author’s humour really shining through and providing an excellent read.  Writing a fictional diary is a great way to inject some warmth and humour into historical facts, making them seem more personal and relatable to the reader.

The journals of famous writers have long provided us with a glimpse into a world many of us will never know and they will continue to entertain us long into the future.  The more serious among them give us important facts and thoughts, with the more light-hearted journals providing some relief from daily stresses.

Modern Journalers

There are many people who find writing a daily journal therapeutic, writing down their thoughts to clear their head and make sense of it all.  The 5 minute journal is a lovely concept that was created in 2013, with one of the creators having a background in behavioral science.

The diary has sold thousands of copies and uses a beautiful, simple design.  The pages include inspirational quotes and weekly challenges, as well as places to write down what would make your day great and what you feel grateful for.  It oozes positivity and one well-known advocate is author Tim Ferriss.

Tim uses the 5 minute journal every day, as a “therapeutic intervention…that allows me to not only get more done during the day but to also feel better throughout the entire say, to be a happier person, to be a more content person.”

By writing down his thoughts and problems, it clears his head to focus on the things that really matter to him.  This calming daily habit has helped him to move forward in life and it can do the same for so many others.

A journal can be a place for exploring one’s self and the creativity of some really sets them apart.  Whatever the reason for a famous person keeping a diary, it is sure to be popular among readers who are hungry for a glimpse into the world of the celebrity.  Famous historical diary writers keep their memories alive through the power of words and their work will be around for years to come.

Photo credit: gbSk via / CC BY


9 Fantastic Reasons to Keep a Journal

There are many benefits of journaling, an age-old tradition dating back to 10th Century Japan. Many people keep a diary, recording daily events and personal thoughts. There have been numerous famous journal writers over time, such as Anne Frank, Virginia Woolf and Samuel Pepys to name but a few. Various successful figures have kept journals, providing a fascinating insight into their world, including Oscar Wilde who said, 

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read on the train.”

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is the moving, thought-provoking work of a young Jewish girl, who was forced to hide during the Second World War. Along with her family, she hid behind a bookcase in a small secret annexe for more than 2 years. While there, without much sunlight, food or entertainment, she kept a handwritten journal. She wrote down her thoughts and telling observations, giving the reader an excellent insight into the life of a Jew in Germany at this time. Although she wrote the diary for personal reasons, it was later published with the help of her surviving father.

For Anne, keeping a personal diary gave her a release from the daily fears she felt and an outlet for her teenage frustrations. This is one of the most popular reasons for keeping a journal.

There are many ways to keep a diary, including the use of a writing journal, recording on an audio device or typing up notes on a computer. Reasons for keeping a journal vary and a handwritten diary in particular has many benefits, such as those explored below.

Stress Reduction

Writing a journal, especially by hand, helps you to sort out your thoughts and emotions. By writing them down, it is possible to release pent-up tension and let go of negativity. When you later read the words, you will find that you can rationalise your thoughts and feelings better and feel a lot more positive about events that have occurred.

Writing down your thoughts can lead to a calmer outlook on life and many therapists prescribe journal writing as a stress-reducing tool. The art of writing brings joy to so many in life, and keeping a journal is a good way of doing that for anyone struggling for creative ideas.

Manage Depression

By writing down your problems and concerns, you can prioritize them and start to work on solutions. Things may not seem so bad once you read them back, but if they do you have something to work from. Anne Frank found her diary to be a huge help during her difficult experience, writing,

“When I write, I can shake off all my cares”.

Writing your thoughts down by hand can be incredibly therapeutic to sufferers of depression, as well as stress and anxiety. If you start to notice triggers from reading the words you write, you can work hard on controlling them. It may be that time spent with a particular person, relationship troubles, or even an illness brings on a bout of depression.

Many people may feel more comfortable with this method, rather than telling every innermost thought to a complete stranger in therapy. A diary is a private affair and you can be completely honest in it.

Know Yourself

Recording your thoughts and feelings in a personal diary can lead to an increase in self-confidence and self-knowledge. You can identify your own values and reveal hidden depths. The best part of all, is that you can do this without facing judgement from anyone else. Writing down what you really think, rather than what you think you ought to think, can be a great way to know (and come to terms with) who you really are.

Sometimes writing helps you identify your own thoughts on a matter. Joan Didion reflected this by saying, 

“I don’t know what I think until I write it down."

There are many different styles of writing a journal, including treating it as a dear friend, as Anne Frank did. She called her diary Kitty and ‘told’ it of all her most confidential thoughts. This offers the writer an important relationship that may be missing in their life, which can fill a void and provide comfort in the loneliest of times.

Personal Growth

You can express yourself freely and explore your innermost desires. Writing down what you really want out of life can help you to go out there and get it. By writing these wishes down, you can really clarify what is important to you.

Seeing your hopes and dreams in writing makes them seem more real, meaning you can then work towards achieving them. You can use your writing journal to aid in the planning of this, even setting ideal deadlines and jotting down milestones that you hit along the way. This structured approach to life will provide more focus and give you a great sense of achievement when you reach those goals.

Some people use a personal journal to explore their spirituality, writing down their thoughts and beliefs in private. In today’s society, many people do not wish to share these innermost thoughts and so a diary can provide the perfect audience.

Whether it is your career, spirituality or even your family goals, a personal journal can give you the means to identify and achieve what it is you really want. As Susan Sontag, an American writer and political activist said, 

“In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.”

Stimulate Creativity

Writing of any kind can help to unlock your creative juices, with journal writing being an excellent way of keeping your mind stimulated. Writing down events can help you discover your own writing style, as well as mastering the art of storytelling.

Where better to practice your skills than in private? This can help to boost your self-confidence in your own abilities, as well as providing an insight into how your mind actually works.

Some of the most popular and important works of literature are journals, either factual or fictitious. Frankenstein is a beautiful book, written by Mary Shelley and based on a ghost story she told at a social gathering one night. The novel is written in the style of letters and journal entries from various characters, giving their most innermost thoughts and fears, as well as describing events. This type of book is known as an epistolary novel and can be a very powerful way to tell a story.

Write Your Life Story

Many people simply choose to use a writing journal as a means of capturing their life stories, whether this is for themselves only or a wider audience. Numerous mature people decide to write their memoirs, ensuring that a piece of them is left behind for loved ones to cherish when they are gone. This can provide some comfort to those left behind, for in the words of Jean Costeau, a French writer and playwright, 

“After the writer’s death, reading his journal is like receiving a long letter.”

Life story diaries can be absolutely fascinating and the diary of Samuel Pepys is one that illustrates British life in the 1600s so well. He was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament, with his extraordinary diary being celebrated as one of the best of all time. Historians have used his dairy as a valuable source of information about London life at that time, including important events such as the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. It also gives a great insight into the minds of men at that time.

Whether your diary provides only insight into your own life, or also into society in general, you can be sure that it will make an interesting read for someone.


This is the practice of training the mind or inducing a mode of consciousness, to realize either a benefit or a feeling of contentment. Many people visualize sitting with your eyes closed in complete silence but this need not be the case. Writing your thoughts down can help you to focus your mind and reach a level of contentment in your own life.

Exploring the mind through writing is known as proprioceptive writing and can be a very powerful tool. It can focus awareness, unburden the mind and allow you to connect more deeply with your spiritual self. Some writers use this method to unlock their closed mind, when faced with writer’s block.

Boost Your Memory

Writing a diary has been proven to improve your memory, due to the presence of a special relationship between the hand and brain. Writing down your thoughts gives them a more tangible presence, which in turn strengthens past-thoughts and encourages a better memory.

The physical process of having to write down what you think, makes your brain work harder, thus exercising it. Doing this regularly provides an excellent cognitive workout, which in turn leads to a greater memory.


A learning diary is one that is kept over a period of time, with the main purpose of teaching something. For example, keeping a diary of your experiences may provide an insight for future generations to learn from.

A student may also use one of these to reflect upon what he/she has learned. The diary will summarize, analyse and comment on course content. The best way to do this is to use your own voice, rather than copy down what the lecturer has dictated. This can lead to a greater understanding and knowledge.


When keeping a handwritten diary, it is a good idea to use materials that make the overall experience more pleasurable. This enhances your enjoyment and the benefits that you get. A personal journal can be kept in a book and some even come with a lock, which are particularly popular with teenage girls.

If you prefer neatness and structure, then a lined journal is a good choice. This will make the content easier to read back too. This sort of structure will help with anyone using journal writing as a way of bringing a sense of calm into their life.

Having a special book to write in adds more importance to the content. A beautiful leather journal can give you a lovely warm feeling as you write in it and reading it back will feel just heavenly. This would be a lovely idea for someone writing their memoirs as a gift. What could be lovelier than reading about a loved one’s life in a luxurious leather or particularly beautiful book?

It is important to make time for writing in your journal. It is often easy to get swept up in the chaos of modern life, with little thought going into making time for yourself. A journal is an excellent way of doing this and it forces you to relax. As discussed previously, sitting down to write your thoughts de-clutters your mind and helps to relieve stress. If you write in your journal before bed each night, you can clear your mind and improve your sleep pattern.

Having a set time and place to write creates some structure in your life and can help to focus the mind. Trying to write your journal while commuting to work on a packed train each morning, probably won’t result in a particularly thoughtful or complete entry.

However you choose to keep your journal, you can be sure that you will benefit greatly from doing so. It is an intimately private experience and can bring about great comfort and joy in your life.

Photo credit:  Ganamex  via  CC BY-NC