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Journal Writing: The Benefits, and Helpful Tips for Getting Started

Journal writing. It’s so polarizing. You either really love it, or you hate it. I used to completely detest the idea of journaling. But now, I’m a journal loving convert, if you will. I get it now. Using my own experience as a frame, I’d like to advocate for journaling and provide some tips for getting started.

I never really understood the importance of keeping a journal. Through sexist clichés, I grew up believing that journals, or diaries, were girly and silly wastes of time. Too many times, I saw the cliché of the girl sat in bed, daintily inscribing her scarred text with the secrets she held most dear. And then, inevitability, the diary would be discovered and put on blast by her nemesis. The thought of someone discovering a potential journal, filled with potentially damming secrets, scared me.

But there was another part of me, one that wanted to fit in with societal expectations and pressures. So I decided to start a diary in the first grade. I couldn’t think of very many things to write about, so I went with some common tropes: I chose a random boy from my class and wrote down that I had a crush on him. (I did not). After a few short days, my steadfast devotion to maintaining my dear diary quickly died, and I ended up losing it. (It’s quite a shame)

Now I’m in my twenties, and I’m currently working through four journals. Through this process, I've generated some tips that can help make journaling a daily part of your routine. I started with daily journaling in March 2017, with the help of a daily prompt book.

My four journals

Next, I took up the more traditional, writing in a notebook, daily journaling at the very end of February 2020. Some days are easier than others, and I have missed some days here and there. But since it’s an activity I truly enjoy, I keep at it.

I tend to follow a structure of writing down how my sleep went, recording if I had any dreams, my plans for the day, what I ate, how that day’s exercise went, and anything else I have the time to write down.

So why the change?

I think of my journaling sessions as another form of self-care. It's me taking the time to focus on myself, and produce content that although seems a bit boring now, will be something I enjoy reading over in a few years. My past entries will provide valuable insight into what my life was like in my twenties. I touched on this in another blog, but I will restate here, writing presents such an intimate and important opportunity for us to track our personal growth and get to know ourselves better. And these are just a few benefits. If you're a writer who struggles with motivation, journaling offers another opportunity to practice writing routinely.

My main journal, flipped backwards, in the hope no one will actually take the time to read it

1. Start Small

It’s usually easier to habituate new activities when you ease in. There are plenty of ways to go about journaling. When I first started, I wasn’t interested in maintaining an entire daily journal without help. As I mentioned earlier, what appealed to me was my one question a day, five-year long journal. I’m currently on year four. The questions usually take 10 seconds to two minutes to scribble down and forget about. Once the days, and years passed, I eventually found a lot of joy in looking back on my answers over the years and seeing how I’ve changed or stayed the same.

My one question a day journal

Sometimes it's difficult coming up with topics to journal about. Here are some prompts that may help you get started.

2. It doesn’t always have to be personal

There is a large variety ways to go about journaling, and it holds the potential to be so much more than daily remnants of your day, or a safe space for secrets. Here are some other ways you can go about journaling.

· Write lists

I find that when I’m least motivated to write within my journal, or if I’m feeling particularly low, writing lists is a great way to get some words in for that journaling session. I tend to write lists of things I am thankful for, since there is a lot of importance in both feeling and expressing gratitude.

A friend of mine writes lists of words that begin with the same letter when she is feeling anxious. You can even write a list of items that are near wherever you’re writing, or record the names of the people you cherish most. There’s really no limit to list writing!

· Write down quotes and inspirational messages

Since journals are great spaces to record meaningful and encouraging messages. When I read the quotes I love, I feel motivated and inspired to keep moving forward.

3. You don’t even have to write

There is no rule that states journal keeping has to be done solely through written content. Why not explore different forms of journaling?

· Draw

I believe that drawing within a sketchpad or notebook is a form of journaling. It may be fun to draw daily or weekly prompts. As journaling has the potential to help writers improve their craft, drawing exercises in a journal can help any artist practice. There’s great opportunity to draw new subjects or to relax after a long day. Maybe this journal is the one for you.

One of the drawings from my "no eraser or color" journal

· Collage/Scrapbooking

If drawing isn’t for you, consider collaging, or making a scrapbook. If you enjoy crafting, there’s a lot of potential to create a personalized piece of art. Use scraps from magazines, wrapping paper from old gifts, newspaper articles, old photos, and your imagination however you want. A great way to get started is to work on a “Wreck this Journal”.

Just remember this:

Like so many activities and personal projects, journaling should be fun. While some days may feel like a chore, it should be a part of your routine that you look forward to. There is no shame in not journaling, simply, it isn’t for everyone. But I do believe it is always worth trying.

For me, the joy of journaling is that it’s another opportunity to track my progress, see what matters to me, and (hopefully) see how I’ve changed for the better.

I think of all my journals as books of memories, and the activity functions as another form of self-care. Although it scares me from time to time, I say with happiness that I am a very different person than I was last year, and so on. And when I fail to see growth, I can depend on my journals to showcase the change.

My journal and handwriting after writing in public

Have you considered journaling? Do you journal already? Tell me what you think about these tips and give some of your own. What will/does your journal look like?

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