“I have no idea how to start journaling. I’ve tried, but I look at the empty page in front of me and I have no idea what to write.”
Does this sound like you? A relative of mine made this comment to me the other day while we were talking about journaling. She wishes she could start the a habit of writing in a journal- she’s read about all of the benefits of journaling and knows numerous people who love it. Despite this, whenever she’s tried it always feels silly and awkward. She has to force the words out. This is for your Aunt Annie.
I’ve found there’s three groups of people in life-
- Those who journal
- Those who don’t journal.
- Those who wish they did.
There’s a lot of people in that third group. Lots people are like you and know about the benefits of journaling, but they can’t seem to turn it into a natural part of their lifestyle. Which is completely understandable. That blank sheet of paper can be intimidating.
When I was younger I always thought about starting a journal. Santa even gave me one for Christmas when I was about 10, but I wrote about three entries in it and decided it wasn’t for me. It felt silly talking to an inanimate object about my day. “Dear Journal, Today I did blah blah blah.” It was so awkward and weird.
How to Journal? Stylistically speaking…
There’s so many different ways to journal, which can make it intimidating when you’re just starting out. There’s the type where you talk about your feelings that day. There’s the type where you draw or write poetry, expressing yourself through some format other than plain prose. There’s the type of journaling where you write a bulleted list of all the things that you did that day.
Each of these different ways works for different people and you have to mess around a bit to how to journal in a style that works best for you. Make sure you try a few different styles before giving up.
When I was younger I tried the just talk about everything you did that day style, but I decided I really didn’t need to write spend days writing about playing with my dogs and catching butterflies- pretty much what my life consisted of back then. I didn’t feel a need to rehash my whole day for the benefit of some inaniment object.
Last summer, I tried the five minute journal style for about a week because Tim Ferris recommended it. It didn’t work for me. This style has you write down 9 specific things in the morning and then again at night. I dreaded having to find fifteen minutes of time each morning and night (no, not just five- it’s a lie) so I could write about things that I really didn’t care about. It made journaling a chore that I “had to do every day” and so I quit. I went back to my old method and was much happier.
My Current Journaling Style
My personal journal style is a smorgasbord of whatever comes to my mind. Sometimes it’s a little brief about something awesome that happened that day, sometimes it’s a huge deluge of emotions, sometimes it’s rehashing a text conversation that I couldn’t quite figure out. Or maybe it’s writing down a favorite quote or a song that I want to remember for the future.
How to journal is a question each person gets to decide for themselves. I don’t really have a style- I just journal when I have something I need to talk about and get off my mind. My journal is like a good friend who’s always there and ready to listen whenever I want to talk. A friend who doesn’t mind hearing the same stories over and and over and over again.
How I Got Started Journaling
I started my journal around March 2015 when I was a Junior in high school. My Junior Ring Dance was coming up, which is a big deal for my school. Only Juniors and their dates could go and it was going to be at a expensive off-school location. Somehow I ended up with two dates to this dance (oopsies!), and I literally couldn’t take it. All of my teenage emotions were making my tiny teenage heart feel like it was about to burst.
So I spilled the beans to my friends. And talked and talked and talked and talked, until I felt like they had grown bored and weren’t really listening anymore. But I still was going crazy inside. I needed to talk more, but to who? I decided maybe journaling could help. Maybe somewhere along the way of writing out my emotions, I’d be able to find peace and clarity.
I found a spare book and started writing. Surprisingly, journaling helped. Thanks to journaling, I was ready to face school the next day and sort out my mess.
This was the start of my relationship with my journal. The first few months the entries were mainly concerned with boys. Boys, boys and lots of boys. This is still fairly frequent topic because it’s the one that tends to get me the most disoriented and therefore most in need of my journal. But it certainly isn’t the only topic.
And now, let’s talk about you. So you want to know how to journal?
5 Ways to Start Journaling Naturally
Your journal is like a good friend. Possibly even a childhood friend who seems to know you better than you know yourself.
Like a friendship, your relationship with your journal has to be nurtured.
While this is an awesome thing to have, friends like that are rarely made overnight. Beautiful friendships are often awkward and bumpy in the beginning. Very rarely do we meet someone who we can divulge our deepest and darkest secrets to right off. So don’t expect everything to smoothly with your journal at first. Unless you’re bursting at the seems ready to just spill everything to the next person who has a spare minute (like me), your “relationship” will take time. Like a friendship, your relationship with your journal has to be nurtured and you have to become comfortable writing.
1. Accept that it will feel probably feel awkward at first.
Your journal is like a good friend. Remember that friendships rarely form overnight. View your initial journal entrees like small talk. Polite chatter to warm up to the other person and figure out your conversational flow.
Yes, it might feel awkward and pointless. You may be like oh gosh, I’m talking about the weather again, this is going no where. Your mind might even start looking for ways to make a quick escape to get rid of the awkwardness. Remember that assignment you have due tomorrow?
Push through it. Write about whatever comes to mind. Something might spark your interest and lead you into a deeper conversation. If not, that’s perfectly fine. Not every bit of small talk leads deeper, but that doesn’t mean it won’t eventually.
2. Try it for a few days, or even a month, before giving up.
If a friendship doesn’t blossom immediately, that doesn’t mean it can’t blossom eventually once you get more comfortable with each other. You have to give yourself time. The same goes for journaling.
Perhaps attempt to journal for one month before you decide if it’s something that works for you or not. By then you’ll have had time to get through some of the initial awkwardness. It’s repeated a lot that if you want to start a habit, do it every day for one month. I wouldn’t recommend journaling everyday, unless you want to. I feel like that will make it feel like a chore. However, initially try to journal at least a few times a week just to keep the juices flowing.
3. Make journaling a treat you look forwards too.
No one likes chores, so make sure journaling doesn’t fall under that category. In the last tip, I recommended trying to make journaling a habit by doing it everyday for a month. This is great for some people, but others, like me, might hate this.
I journal when I have something I want to write about. Sometimes this is several times a day and other times this is once a month. It doesn’t matter if I don’t touch it for three months- that just means that life is going good and I haven’t had anything terribly awful or terribly exciting to talk about. Or I’m surrounded by an abundance of friends and family who I can talk to endlessly until I get whatever it is off my chest. That’s okay.
If you want to try to journal everyday, keep in mind that you don’t have to make every journal entry several pages long. Or even several paragraphs long. Some of my entries are literally a sentence long. Others take up over 20 pages. Depends on how you’re feeling. Often times if you sit down with the intention of writing just a short snippet, you might find yourself engrossed and finish many pages later. Eliminate the pressure to write.
4. Know that everything is worth journaling about.
A journal can be literally anything. It’s a scrapbook of your life- a random hodgepodge. I have grocery lists and business plans in my journal. I have summer bucket lists and lists of people who I wanted to hang out with before summer ended. I used to keep lists of everyone I’d kissed (yes, I was that girl). Maybe a song lyric or a funny thing a friend said that day. The randomest things can be some of the coolest to look back on.
For example, you may think that a to-do list is the most monotonous thing to write in a journal, but for me these are some of the best insides to my life at the time. I have a to-do list from last semester that’s an impressive peek into my mental state and my focuses at the time. I didn’t accomplish nearly half of the things I thought I would accomplish, but I ended up doing some totally unexpected things instead.
The list was a perfect example of my overzealous planning and a lack of direction. Looking back at it now, without reading any other entry from that spring, I can easily understand why it turned out to be a stressful hodgepodge.
5. Talk about things happening now as if your journal already knows the backstory.
In particular, this means you don’t need to make your first few entries exhausting pages-long explanations of your life up to that point.
Start at the present moment. Talk about things that are current. If there’s something in the past that happened to you and is relevant maybe you’ll explain it at our leisure. Despite my earlier comments about small talk, the person you’re talking to already knows the backstories- it’s you.
When I began writing my journals I just dove right in, I have no idea what specific things happened in the days leading up to the start of my journals, but I really don’t need to. If it doesn’t provide you any personal satisfaction, don’t waste those precious minutes. Down the road, if you go back and reread your journals, you’ll likely still remember the context of various events. But, if you want to dive into a full explanation, go right ahead. You probably remember it in more detail now than you will down the road, but don’t ever force yourself too. Writing super long journal entries in the beginning could wear you out.
You can write a short explanation now and go into detail later. If there’s some crazy event that you absolutely want to remember and write a long entry about, but you can’t find the time at the moment, write a quick summary. Or say you’ll continue later. If you do great, if you don’t you at least have a little bit to look back on.
Those are a few bits of advice I have for starting the habit of journaling.
The Benefits of Learning How to Journal
I’m sure you know about the benefits of learning how to journal, but I just want to reiterate that it’s so worth it. Journaling can help with most anything, including college burnout.
Immediately, the ability to have a “friend” who doesn’t judge you and listens whole-heartedly until you’re through is such a blessing. A journal doesn’t interrupt you and doesn’t tell you your ideas are stupid (unless your own mind is doing that- make sure you’re practicing self-love).
The ability to have a “friend” who doesn’t judge you and listens whole-heartedly until you’re through is such a blessing.
If my house was burning down and I could only save one thing, I would save my journals. Rereading the five or so journals I have at this point is such a treat. It’s like rereading a favorite fiction series. I know the story by heart, but each time the experience gets richer.
Rereading your journals through with an outsiders perspective gives you serious insight into your life and personality. It’s fascinating to reflect back on events in the past and reread your exact emotions at the time and reevaluate them based off your present experiences and values. Truly a fascinating and worthwhile experience.
Plus, you’d honestly be surprised how interesting your life is. Even the most mundane things can be sweet memories.
That’s all for today friends. Hopefully these tips helped you figure out how to make journaling feel natural. If not, don’t despair, but other forms of self-care may be better suited for your personality and needs at the moment. Don’t force it.