How to Write a Journal (and Keep Writing It)
Ann Frank, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, John Steinbeck, Anaïs Nin, David Sedaris, Joan Didion… the list goes on. For centuries, writers have been among the most famous journal keepers. But many prolific journal keepers aren’t professional writers at all.
Much has been written about the value of keeping a journal as a way of healing and personal therapy. Many people use journaling to support health and well-being. But one of the obstacles many would-be journal writers find is keeping it up once they’ve started. In this article I explain seven powerful strategies which support regular journaling and make sure you’re always inspired with something to write about.
The value of journaling is well-documented. Building a journaling habit can help organize your thinking and assist decision making, reflection, and self-understanding, and keep a record of important life events and your feelings about them. Many people want to write a journal, but find writing regularly a difficult aim to achieve.
Finding time to write your journal and making it a habit takes creative thinking and persistence. In a busy day, writing your journal can get pushed to the bottom of your list of priorities. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Once you’ve decided what you want your journal to be, there’s no reason you shouldn’t develop the habit of journaling. Below are seven powerful strategies proved to help people “get into” journaling, take the stress away, and leave you free to enjoy the creativity and fulfillment you want from keeping a journal
1. Write your journal first thing in the morning
A common misconception about a journal entry is that you should write it in the evening as a summary of events, perhaps with thoughts, feelings, and reflections on those events. But for many people, the evening is the worst time to write as they are tired and need to relax with friends and family.
Writing first thing in the morning before you even get out of bed can be an excellent way to build the habit. It’s a good time to write about the day before as understanding is often clearer after you’ve “slept on it.” You may even find that dreams offer insight into your thoughts and feelings, and might wish to jot those down before the concerns of the day sweep them back into the cellars of the unconscious.
2. Make use of journaling software and applications
You can write your journal as often as you like. Whether you are more efficient writing your main entry in the morning or the evening, journaling apps can be a great support. They allow you to jot down thoughts, ideas, experiences, and feelings in real time on your phone or another mobile device. You can then write them up later, or if you use journaling software, sync them with your computer at home.
Many journaling apps let you include photos, web links, video and audio recordings. Voice recording a journal entry means you can “write” on the go. Multimedia functionality enriches the journaling experience.
3. Break all the rules
When you write your journal, don’t let the rules of grammar, spelling, and syntax stand in your way. Your journal is for you and you alone. No-one else has to read it or understand it. Write for yourself and write as you wish. You don’t even have to write in the traditional sentence and paragraph structure. Bullet points are fine. So is un-punctuated “stream of consciousness.” It’s up to you.
4. Ask yourself questions
While you don’t have to write your journal every day, or even every week, it’s helpful to write regularly. Would-be journal writers often get stuck because they can’t think of anything to write. A great way around this problem is to ask yourself questions and then answer them. Write the question as the header of that day’s journal entry and then write your answer. It may only be a single sentence, but as you write you’ll find one idea sparks another and before you know it you’ve written a few pages! Try questions like these:
• If I had done this instead of that today, what might have happened?
• How could I have done [insert activity] more efficiently?
• What was the worst and best experience I had today and why?
• What was the most surprising thing that happened today?
• What small act of kindness could I do for someone tomorrow?
5. Use a journaling worksheet
There are many excellent journaling worksheets and templates you can use to guide and inspire your journal entries. Many ask you a series of questions like the ones above. Others use the principles of story structure to inspire ideas. Experiment with a few and find the one that best suits your approach, style, and needs.
Journaling software and apps often include templates and worksheets you can use to make journaling easier. You can use them all the time, or just as a “fall back” if you find yourself stuck for what to write. It may be helpful to use them while you get started, but write your journal without them once you’re “in your stride.”
6. Use Google alerts as writing prompts
If you have particular interests, a hobby, or concerns you want to write about in your journal, sign up for Google Alerts. Google will deliver all the latest news, blog posts, and web updates relating to your chosen themes direct to your inbox at intervals of your choosing; such as once a day, week, or month. Scan through your alerts, pick a post or news item to read, and use that as a prompt to get you started.
7. Write emails to yourself
Writing emails to yourself is an effective technique, especially if you’re writing a journal to develop your self-awareness and personal insight. It’s also an easy way to build journaling into your daily routine. When you’re reading and writing your daily emails, make time to write an email to yourself. You can either write as if you were someone else or as yourself writing to an imaginary friend or even a celebrity. You can set up a dedicated email account to receive the emails. Once in a while, compile the emails into a file and let that be your journal. You could even write back!
Journaling is a great way to develop writing skills, self-understanding, work through problems, and keep a record of your inner and outer life. It doesn’t have to be difficult. The only rules about how to do it are the ones you invent for yourself. But these seven powerful techniques should help you get started, reboot a lapsed journaling habit, or help you sustain your current journal going forward.