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Horrible at Journaling? 10 Tips to Help You Start and Keep a Journal

by Jacki Andre 16 Feb 2020
Open blank notebook on a table, with a jar of markers nearby.

Friends, truly, there are no rules in journalingIf there are no rules, no one can be bad at it. Amirite? 

It's YOUR journal, after all. Forge your own road. Follow your own path. Do your own thing.

You do you.

Yeah, sure, there are lavish Bullet Journal® (Bujo) spreads splashed all over Instagram and other social media sites. Some people spend hours designing their Bujo spreads and trackers each month. Just because those spreads are beautiful, that doesn’t mean they’re the “right” way to journal. Likewise, some people churn out three morning pages every day or religiously record the minutiae of their day in a personal diary. Other people keep art journals that have no text in them at all. How can one way be better than any other?

If you walk away from journaling because you feel like your personal journal doesn’t measure up to other people’s expectations, just stop. Journal however you want, as often as you want.

That said, I do have one caveat for you: Do not journal regularly about negative stuff. THAT, my friends, is the only wrong way to journal. Because our writing journals are private, they’re safe places to express our deepest worries and, well, vent. But, as Katie Wells points out in her piece at Rebelle Society, we “concrete” the stories that we write down. We give them a physical space to live forever.

ALSO! If you believe in the law of attraction (and I do!), remember that you attract the same type of energy that you put out. If you focus on the negative, that’s the kind of energy you’ll attract. No one needs more negativity in their life. NO ONE. If you’re going through a rough patch and need to write it all out in order to process it, do it on foolscap. And then: burn it, release it, let it go. Forever.

So. Stop with the negativity + do whatever else you please = the right way to journal. Easy peasy, eh? Or not. Sometimes when “rules” get THAT simple, it actually makes things tougher. So if you need a little extra push to get started or to pull out your writing journal on a more regular basis, I have some super doable tips for you below. 

1. Decide on a METHOD of Journaling that Sparks your Soul

This is a universal truth: if you like doing something, you’ll make a point of doing it. If it’s not fun, you’re more apt to make excuses and put it off.

As far as journaling goes, figure out what you like about it. Think about which journaling style speaks to you and brings you joy.

Some people are organizer types and the tidy spreads and trackers in Bujos speak to their souls. For other people, although they technically have a “Bujo,” it’s really all about the artwork. Their journals are more about breaking out the Mildliners® than maintaining a calendar. And for still others (like me!) it’s about sorting through their psyches by writing down ALL THE WORDS. Not one of these ways of journaling is better than any of the others. So just pick the one (or ones) that speak to you and dive in. And, hey, if something appeals to you that I haven’t included here--like daily lists (gratitude, happiness, etc.)--that’s fine too. Whatever floats your boat.

2. Choose a Journal that Brings you Joy

Photo by Hope House Press - Leather Diary Studio on Unsplash

If you get giddy just looking at a blank notebook, there’s a better chance you will pull it out and use it. There are a lot of options out there, as far as writing journals go. Casebound vs spiral. Hardcover vs soft. Dots vs lines vs blank. There’s also the paper color and weight to consider, as well as the overall size of the notebook. And, of course, it’s lovely if you can find a cute notebook with a cover that speaks to you in some way, whether by its soul-affirming color, a stamped-on inspirational quote, or an etched design. If you need help deciding, check out my blog on how to choose the best notebook for journaling. Or, how about a direct recommendation? SohoSpark has beautiful lay-flat vegan leather journals with a number of different embossed designs. I'm particularly taken with the Wildflowers Journal, but have a browse at the SohoSpark website and see if any of the other designs spark joy.

But you know what? There’s no law that says you have to use a blank notebook in order to journal. If you’d rather use an app, a blog, or just a plain old Word doc, that’s A-OK too. And, as an avid Facebook user, I have to point out that social media sites can work as journals too. I’ve made a point of posting things just so that they will show up next year in my Memories app.

And hey, always remember: No one says you have to fill in an entire journal or stick with the same app forever. Feel free to move on if your first (or second) choice isn’t inspiring you to journal often.

3. Start Small

This tip may actually be a bit hypocritical coming from me. Because we all know that I've been seduced by bins of cheap washi tape. But, as they say, live and learn.

If you’re not sure if journaling is for you, or if you’re not sure what kind of notebook you would best like to work in, start with a few dollar store items. Truly, all you need to journal is paper and a pen. But many dollar stores have a fair variety of blank notebooks to pick from as well as, of course, of all manner of stationery. Start by getting the essentials (journal, pens, pencils, ruler) and a few fun things if they speak to you, like stickers or a couple rolls of washi. As you discover your journaling style, you can add to your stash of stationery supplies.

4. Keep your Journals Handy

Photo by Ella Jardim on Unsplash

My writing journals live in a small desk in my living room. The pens and markers that I use most often are stashed in a cup on top of the desk; all other supplies are stowed in a plastic carry case that’s kept nearby. Having everything handy, and in the place where I most enjoy journaling, makes it easy for me to work on my journals whenever the mood strikes.

If you would work on your journals on the go--for instance, during your daily commute or on your lunch break--then, by all means, keep your supplies super handy by toting things along with you.

5. Set Reminders (Or Not)

Sometimes, having the prettiest, most portable journal in the world isn’t enough to make us write in them. Sometimes it’s just not having enough hours in the day. You have no idea how deeply I feel this.

You don’t need a huge chunk of time to work on a personal journal. You could do it while having your morning coffee, for instance, instead of scrolling Facebook or checking your eBay watch list. Or, you could set aside 10 minutes each night before bed. Figure out a time of day when you can most likely spare a few minutes and then make use of your reminder apps.

6. Create Rituals and Discover Hygge

Photo by Kenny Luo on Unsplash

Journaling and hygge go together like tea and toast. Hygge is a Danish lifestyle concept that revolves around mindfulness, coziness, and ritual. Establishing rituals, like lighting a candle before beginning or journaling at a specific time each day, can help establish journaling as a habit. Likewise, creating a cozy spot where you feel relaxed and comforted can encourage you to retreat there and pull out your notebook. If you have questions like what is hygge and how can journaling contribute to hygge, I have a blog for that!

7. Use Prompts

Sometimes we get stuck in our journals. Either we’re not sure where to start at all or we get into a rut, consistently revisiting the same topics. That’s where prompts come in.

Writing prompts are easy to find on the internet. Just search for “writing prompts” or “journaling prompts.” Or, if you’re keen to explore a certain theme, you can narrow down your search by looking for things like “gratitude writing prompts” or “happiness journal prompts.”

Another--fun!--type of prompt is a daily photograph. If you realize in the moment that you’ve come across something that you’d like to journal about, whip out your phone and take a snapshot. If you usually take a number of photos over the course of a day, you could scroll through your day’s photos and pick one that you’d like to write about. Or, if you see something online that you would like to journal about, download a related photo.

8. Use a Wall Calendar

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Regular wall calendars are da bomb for list-based journals. Let’s say you want to record 1-3 happy moments or 1-3 things that you’re grateful for each day. A wall calendar provides the perfect, concise, un-overwhelming format for this type of journaling.

9. Write Like You Talk

There's no need to go all English Lit major on your writing journal. Just write conversationally, in the same way that you speak. That's very much what I do in these blogs. I pretend I’m talking to a friend and let the words flow out that way.

And on that note: who cares about spelling and grammar? Likely the only person who will ever read your journal is YOU. Is it more important to capture the moment fully so that your memory is sparked later or is it more important to spell everything correctly? Hey, I proofread Ph. D. theses and even I don’t care about spelling in my journal. Let that be your touchstone.

10. Don’t Compare!

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

One of the surest ways to ignite a fear of starting is to feel like your first journaling pages have to be as good as the person who went to art school, has been journaling for over a decade, and teaches Bujo classes at their community college. Please, cut yourself some slack. If you want to look at other people’s journals for inspiration, go right ahead. But don’t even start with any comparisons. You are enough. Your journal is enough. Give yourself some time to figure it all out. And always remember: your journal is for YOU. You ain’t got nothing to prove.

You do you.

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