How to Begin Journaling

 In Journaling, Weekly Wonder For You

Maybe you’ve been hearing more about journaling these days, and the benefits to your well-being. Or, maybe you made a resolution that this is your year to begin journaling, but you just haven’t been able to get started. To be sure, the world of journaling is expanding these days, and can be a bit confusing. There’s bullet journaling, nature journaling, gratitude journaling, and, well, the list and techniques are quite endless and can feel overwhelming.

Still, you want to write, but just aren’t quite sure how to begin journaling.

First of all, know this: There are no rules in journaling. So for starters, it doesn’t matter if you use a journal with lined pages or blank pages, a pretty journal or a composition notebook. Blue, black, pink, green, red ink. Pencil, crayon, marker, pen. All our choice.

Don’t over think the journal or the writing instrument. Just go with your gut.

Journal in hand, here are three practices, or guidelines, to help you get started and begin journaling today.

1. Keep it basic.

Often when I teach a journaling workshop, I hear from many women who believe that their writing must be perfect in their journals. It has to be readable, stay in the margins and on the lines, and make their former English teachers smile.

Nothing could be further from the truth in journaling.

Instead, I tell my journaling clients, “Write for your eyes only.” Not a peer, or a professor, or a parent, or a perfectionist, though we can and do play many of those roles ourselves. While much of the writing we do–like with emailing, blogging, or work-related writing–is for others to read, journaling is not meant for anyone else’s eyes. Once you can drop this cloak of perfectionism or of an audience, you can begin to journal frankly, honestly about your thoughts, feelings, emotions.

So release the perfectionism. Draw/write outside the lines. Use sentence fragments, or bullet points. Swear. Use bad grammar. Doodle. Remember, no one else is going to read this.

Which brings up another basic point in journaling. Keep your journal private. This might mean hiding it if you’re worried someone may find it and read it. Whether you’re beginning to journal or a long-time journaler, protect your private thoughts and emotions.

2. Use journaling prompts, quotes, images to get started

I should begin here by saying prompts aren’t necessary to begin to journal. Sometimes I can sit down and just start writing whatever is on my mind; other times, I’m so overwhelmed I don’t know where to begin. That’s where a few go-to prompts can come in handy.

Almost anything can be a journal prompt. Lyrics to songs that keep playing in your head. A line from a book. A word in a dictionary. A memory. A photo. The wrapping to a Dove chocolate.

Then there are the go-to prompts I use over and over again.

  • Right now I….
  • Where I am….(special thanks to Saundra Goldman for this one)
  • What’s going on is…
  • I’m grateful for….because….

Be on the look out for quotes you might discover in a book, lines from a poem, words on a billboard. Take a photo of them, or write them down. You can also start a prompt jar so that when you feel stuck, simply reach in for a prompt to jumpstart the journaling. Find more prompts here.

3. Set a timer before you write.

So, you’ve got your journal, your favorite pen, and a prompt. Next…

Set a timer set for 5 minutes, or 10, or 20. Your choice. But if you’re new to journaling, start with 5 minutes.

Why a timer? Because from the moment you press start, you’ll discover a “space” of  time to write within. Contrary to those stories you may have heard about folks who could write for hours on end, you do not have to. Instead, simply try to keep  your pen to move across the page for however long you’ve set the timer. If you run out of things to write, just keep writing, “I’m stuck. I’m stuck. I’m stuck….” over and over until something else comes into your mind. I can 99.9% guarantee you that it will.

Plus by setting a timer, the brain seems to be “tricked” into quickly getting to what it is you need to write.  Somehow it knows you don’t have all day to get to the point, and it responds by letting down its guard so words flow.

Sometimes when I think 5 minutes is too long (like when I’m exhausted or running late in the morning), a timer reminds me that “I only need to keep my pen moving for 5 minutes…I can bear anything for 5 minutes.” And then before I know it, the timer’s gone off, and I’m done. So a timer helps to get the journaling juices flowing quickly.

When the timer goes off, put the pen down. If you really feel you could write more, set the timer again.

One more thing to keep in mind as you begin journaling.

I once heard Kathleen Adams, founder of the Center for Journal Therapy, share these words of wisdom about starting a journaling practice. Kay recommends:

Lower your expectations. Don’t worry about writing every day. Use rituals if they help. Drink a cup of tea, light a candle, play music, stretch first. Find a pattern that works for you.

Don’t worry about how your best friend or mother-in-law  journals, or what their journals look like. Journaling is like your fingerprint. It’s unique to you.

Ginny Taylor is a life transition mentor at Women of Wonder where she guides women in life-changing transitions towards their new beginning. Journaling is one of the practices she helps women utilize on their transition journey.

In a life transition? Begin discovering your own survival techniques. Click here to receive your Free Transition Survival Guide: 5 Strategies to a Stronger You.


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Showing 2 comments
  • Nancy Seibel

    Wonderful words of wisdom and encouragement, Ginny. My key takeaway from your article is, to benefit from journaling, we just have to do it!It doesn’t have to be our best writing. The act of writing helps us find our way back to ourselves, and that’s surely worth 5 minutes even on a super busy day!

  • Ginny

    Nancy, yes! Journaling is never my best writing, though at times the insights gained seem to be the “best.” I love this in your comment: “The act of writing helps us find our way back to ourselves.” Time and time again, my experience has been exactly this. Especially on really busy days. It’s a way to connect back to ourselves. Thanks for your wise comments, Nancy!

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