I started journaling my freshman year of high school when one of my closest friends gave me a cute little notebook. While it was mostly blank, she put her own touch on it by sprinkling in a mix of movie quotes, inspirational thoughts, and our own silly sayings that we thought were so funny back then. I loved the gift, plus I’d always thought journaling sounded romantic (I thought everything sounded romantic in high school), so I started writing.
Eighteen years later, I’m still writing. Today journaling is my most valuable method of processing through life, and I’m excited to share a lot more about how I approach it in this post. Earlier this week, I asked what you’d like to see me cover in this post and so many of you had excellent questions. So I’ll start this post with a hefty does of Q+As. Then I’ll finish up with my best tips to start your own journaling practice.
Get cozy, and settle in, this is a long one!
What do you write about?
I’d say about 65% of it is emotional processing — things going on in the country and the world, my dreams, what I believe and why (or why it’s changing), etc. Then maybe 25% is day to day things that were meaningful that I want to remember. And the other 10% is probably just nonsense. :) I do have a separate notebook I use for daily to-dos, creative content planning, task management, lists, etc. but I consider that more of a planner than a personal journal.
How often do you journal?
Usually I write two or three times a week, though I regularly go through seasons of journaling more and journaling less.
How much do you write a day?
It varies — sometimes half a page, sometimes six pages. Usually somewhere around two.
How much time do you spend / how long does it take when you do journal?
Typically something like 15-20 minutes.
Do you journal at a specific time of day?
I journal in the morning or at night — that’s when it works best for my schedule and when I’m in my most reflective state.
What if you don’t journal for a long time? Do you feel like you failed?
At one point, I stopped journaling for about a year. I didn’t plan it, it just sort of happened. I remember wondering to myself if this was it — if I’d ever come back to journaling or if it had run its course. But then after a while, I woke up one morning and wanted to journal again.
I started back with a tiny, thin little notebook — just about 30 or 40 pages, so I knew I could finish it. Sometimes you just need that feeling of completing a journal to get you back in the habit.
But because of that, now when I find myself in the middle of a long break, I don’t worry that I failed or that I’ll never come back to it. I trust my gut and know it’ll guide me back to it when the time is right.
Also! I don’t do huge recaps when I haven’t journaled in a while, because that’s feels like a burden. I just start fresh with the day I’m on.
How do you stay consistent?
Little things go a long way, like traveling with it, keeping it in plain sight near my bed, and always keeping a pen with it (why is it so hard to find a pen when you need one?).
I also avoid anything that makes it feel like a burden — like giant recaps, for example. Since I don’t do long recaps, I know that if I want to record something, it’s got to be in the moment. That really helps me stay consistent.
Finally, I only journal when I actually want to, not when I feel like I “should” because it’s been a while. That keeps it an enjoyable experience for me, which is key. If you enjoy something, you’ll keep doing it. If not, you won’t.
How do you let go of perfectionism?
Since the first page of a new journal can come with a lot of pressure, a long time ago, I started writing to/about the journal itself on the first page. Just silly musings like how the pages feel, if the lines are larger or smaller, how the cover looks — just nonsense really. But it took the pressure off myself to like, write a mission statement or something super positive or deep. Then when I came back the next time, that feeling of “spoiling it” was gone because I’d already written nonsense on the first page.
“Who” do you write to?
To me, journaling is both talking to yourself and listening to yourself at the exact same time. So rather than writing to someone, I write as myself. It’s hard to explain, because I’m not really talking to anyone in particular, but I’m also kind of talking to myself. Hah. :) Occasionally, when I feel like I need a focused point outside myself to write to, I’ll write to “J” (short for journal).
How much of my mood should I put into my journal? I don’t want to reread a sad journal.
I feel you. My journal is all mood though — it’s invaluable to me processing and growing from it. A lot of my past journals are sad. Sometimes it’s valuable to go back and read, sometimes it’s not. There are seasons of life where I’m not mentally healthy and that reflects in the pages. It won’t always be healthy or positive. It is what it is, just like being a human.
When I go back and reread them though, I always choose to see things through the lens of self-compassion. Choosing compassion over cringing is life changing. My past selves “live on” in a way, in my journals, and that can be kind of a weird thing. But because of that, I’ve learned to cultivate self-compassion in a unique way that no other method could have taught me.
What’s your format?
I simply open to the next page, write the date at the top and start writing anything and everything. No sections, no organization, just a chronological journal.
I have a friend who lists out the date, current temperature, and current location at the top of each entry. I’ve thought about incorporating that idea because it gives more context.
What type of journals do you like to use? Where do you get your journals?
For a long time, I liked getting a totally different journal each time, and making a special trip to Target or Barnes and Noble to pick out a new one.
A couple years ago, I wanted to make my journals super special, so for a little while I got these customized nubuck journals, but they really started to add up, so I don’t do that anymore.
Most recently I’ve been using Moleskins, and I think they’ll be my go-to for a little while. I just like how small and uniform they are (which will make storage easier!).
But even still, I love the process of picking out a unique journal (like the yellow one from Tribe Alive in the photos — sadly it’s only available in their Ft. Worth store, but here’s another cool one), so I’ll probably still do that every now and then.
How do you get over the initial cheesiness feeling? How do you do it without sounding like you’re 8 years old? Dear diary…
LOL. My husband and I make Dear Diary jokes all the time. :)
There’s always an awkward stage at first. It’s normal. You won’t know what to say at first and that’s okay. You’ll feel silly and that’s okay. But after a while, those feelings will fade and you’ll start connecting to your present self in a new way.
For daily entries, just jump in with what you want to say — no preambles. Just jump in and get down to what you really want to say.
Do you have good handwriting?
I don’t have pretty handwriting. But I think of handwriting as part of the story — it’s a fascinating glimpse into my emotional state. My handwriting gets messier and larger when I’m passionate, it gets clean and pretty when I feel at ease, and it gets suddenly small and light when I’m having a particularly difficult time. It’s interesting to add that little bit of insight to each entry. Let your handwriting be what it is — let it be part of the story.
What do you do with your old journals?
I keep them in the house in a box. Currently they are in a closet, out of the way. They are the one thing I’d grab if the house was on fire.
Do you bullet journal or use prompts?
I don’t personally, but I know they can be great for others.
What do you get out of journaling? How does it help you?
So many things! I’m sure you’ve already picked up on these from this post, but I’ll share briefly: It’s a space for me to process what’s going on in the world. It’s a counterbalance to social media, where it’s all to easy to jump to conclusions or get caught up in what everyone else thinks. It’s a space where I can hear myself and process at my own pace. It’s helped me become more accepting of my human state. It’s helped me develop self-compassion. It’s helped me foster a positive, healthy relationship with myself. It’s a chance to spend time with myself and get to know myself better.
How to develop a journaling practice:
- First and always when incorporating something new into your life — check your capacity for new things. There are plenty of good things out there, but if you’re at your limit, it won’t be a good thing.
- Make the process of getting your journal special. It doesn’t have to be over the top, just celebrate it inwardly, take yourself out on a date, pick a fun color, etc.
- Start with a small, thin journal. Consider it your “practice journal” to take the pressure off yourself. Sometimes you just need that feeling of completing a journal to start the habit.
- If you’ve started and quit a lot in the past, look for a different method of journaling than you’ve tried before. Test them out freely in your practice journal and don’t worry about having different formats in the same journal — one day might be a gratitude list, another day might be prompt writing, another day might be stream-of-consciousness.
- Know there’s always an awkward stage for the first few months. It’s normal. Keep writing.
- When starting something new, it can be helpful to start with a measured goal. If that sounds like your thing, try to journal for a week straight. Then try to keep it going for another week (and remember you’re in the early awkward stage, and that’s okay). See if you can make it a month, and by then you’ll have a habit forming. Then you can let it melt into your life in an organic way.
- Don’t write something that you don’t want to write. Don’t feel the need to do a big recap if you’re not feeling it. Let enjoyment be your guide.
- After a while, check in and make sure you’re journaling because you want to — not just because it’s another good thing in a long list of “Things I Should Probably Do Because Other People Say It Helps Them” like dry brushing, etc.
And there you have it!
You guys have no idea how excited I was to write this post! Thank you for asking me to share it. It made me so happy, and I hope it inspires you a bit.
So what do you think? With it being fall, the season to cozy up inside, do you think you might want to give journaling a try? Since journaling is such a personal practice, I’d love to hear from you if you approach it differently than I do — tell me, what works for you? And what got you into journaling?