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3 Tips for Keeping a Journal

Photo by John O'Nolan
People who keep journals have life twice. ~Jessamyn West

A few weeks ago I was talking to a friend who said she wanted to keep a journal. She’d read that all successful people have that in common. Later on that day I saw an Internet meme that said exactly that. Afterward I realized how many people in my 30 Day Challenge group have wanted to write every day as their challenge.

On and off since I was about fourteen, I’ve been keeping a journal. But it wasn’t until about a year and a half ago I started writing consistently — three pages, every day.

I’ve noticed that not only has my writing improved, but I have way less anxiety and my depression has become a lot less pronounced. It’s become part of my routine for self-care.

Many people struggle to keep a journal and write habitually, but it is pretty simple once you have the hang of it. I’ve found that remembering a few things can help you get into writing every day and I want to share them so you can reap the benefits of journaling.

1. Choose Your Weapons Carefully

When I started knitting, there were a bunch of people who said “Life’s too short to knit with cheap yarn.” I thought that was a little silly. Who cares? Well, it turns out I did. If you’re going to be doing something every day, you need to love your tools.

Your tools, of course, are your journal and your pen. For me, a beautiful journal is a luxury. I have no problem writing in a basic notebook. It’s where I got the notebook that matters. I like to buy them when I travel.

It’s a souvenir that keeps on giving. I can look at it later and be reminded of my trip or read it and be reminded of another time. My friends also love this because they can give me a journal as a gift and know I’ll use it.

Head to your local bookstore and spend some time looking through the journal section. Do you want spiral bound? Do you prefer smaller pages? Thick journals that will last for months? You may want to buy journals with gold-foil lined pages.

Indulge yourself. You don’t have to buy expensive ones. If you have a store like Ross or T.J. Maxx around, they often have journals for super-reasonable prices. Or just grab a standard notebook.

Where I indulge myself in writing is my pen. One of my favorite things to do is visit the local office supply store and stand in the pen aisle. Oh the possibilities! The different color inks. The feel of a pen in your hand.

I don’t buy cheap ones. I get pens with nice ink gel that roll smoothly across the paper. For me, that makes writing a joy. And they’re refillable so I feel like I’m doing the environment a favor.

I don’t really include electronic tools in this, mostly because I’ve found journaling on the computer to feel more like work and less like the creative catharsis it’s supposed to be. If you’re more inclined to write by typing, feel free!

Do what works for you. Just make sure you use the word processing tools you like, and turn off your spell check! Journaling is about getting things on paper, so to speak, not perfection.

Remember that your tools are what you’ll come back to day after day. Experiment until you find what resonates with you. Also keep extras around so you don’t have to stop writing if you run out of ink or paper. Have fun with this process, and it’ll be an easy habit to cultivate.

2. Learn the Art of Free Writing

When I was 12 years old, I spent a week taking creative writing classes with my cousin. The teacher had us write every morning for 15 minutes without taking our pens off the paper — without stopping.

It was weird writing things like “I don’t know what to put here …” or “I’m bored and wish I had a sandwich,” but after a while it opened up a window into my brain that was often untapped.

Things that I wanted to write but didn’t feel comfortable sharing, even with myself, would suddenly spill onto the paper. Sometimes I wouldn’t even realize what I wrote until I went back later and read it.

Free writing is the easiest way to start journaling because you fill up pages, and it gets your creative juices flowing without any real pressure. There were days when I literally would write the same sentence over and over again. It’s about putting your pen to paper and getting the words out. That is all.

3. Set a Goal — Set a Time — Honor Both

I remember once an artist I worked with asked me for a deadline. He told me nothing gets done without one. When I finally cultivated a daily habit of journaling, it was when I told myself that I’d write three pages every day after breakfast. I created an expectation and a deadline.

Of course, the amount I wrote would change depending on the size of my journal, and the time I put pen to paper would change, depending on what time breakfast finished, but it became easier and more of a habit every day.

You might be more interested in journaling on your lunch break or before bed. Perhaps you only want to fill two pages or maybe you’re shooting for five. The details aren’t as important as standing by your choice.

One thing I worried about was when we went camping or on vacation that I wouldn’t have time to write. I found that if I just pulled out my journal after breakfast, everyone else would follow suit and take a few minutes to relax, whether it was reading or chatting with others over coffee. I saw that by honoring my habit, other people honored it too.

Parting Words

There is no right or wrong when it comes to keeping a journal.

  • You can draw
  • Write up and down
  • Pen poetry
  • Fill up the page with random words

I used to worry about spelling things wrong and even corrected my punctuation as I wrote, but it slowed me down and I found I was actually censoring myself. Enjoy letting your thoughts flow simply and without judgment.

So many people think they need to be a writer to keep a journal — don’t believe this myth! Writing is something everyone can and should do. It’s like exercise. You may not be an Olympic athlete, but that doesn’t mean your body should rot on the couch all day.

So take the first step: Grab a journal and pen and write down your thoughts. You may not be writing the next great novel, but you’re taking care of one of your greatest gifts — your mind.

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About the author

Rebecca is a fierce optimist who believes in the power of making life happen. Magic and creativity are her latest pursuits, along with exploring her new home, Germany. Read her blog, follow her on Facebook and Twitter for her latest enthusiastic (and sometimes witty) remarks. Check out her new book, Change is Easy & Other Novel Concepts: Short Essays on Changing Your Life, One Step at a Time.

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2 thoughts on 3 Tips for Keeping a Journal

  1. I really like this freedom in journalling.Some of my clients don’t get the hang of it straight off – so I’ll keep a note of these approaches which will help. While I’m writing I’m wondering if the boom in colouring for adults is part of this need to ‘get things out’……. mmmm. Thanks again for a great article, from Chloe.

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