How to Start an Effective Journaling Practice
Journaling and its benefits
Journaling. It's kind of like having that friend who listens to all your deepest thoughts, wildest dreams, and random epiphanies. It's a judgment-free zone where you can spill your soul, unpack your feelings, and explore every corner of yourself. Kind of like having a dog but without the vet bills and hair all over the place. If you're new to journaling, the intent of this article is to help you get started with an effective journaling practice.
More than just writing "Dear Diary" every day, journaling is your own special art form - you can scribble, doodle, collage, and paint your pages however you want! There are no rules. Get creative!
Beyond soul-searching, keeping a journal has some awesome scientifically proven benefits too! It can help you de-stress, improve your memory, solve problems, boost creativity, strengthen your immune system, and simply feel happier.
Journaling is a tool, like a compass on the path to self-discovery, personal growth, and living your best life. Grab a notebook and pen and let your thoughts flow freely. Find your Zen. Unlock your inner artist. Get inspired. Most importantly, enjoy the journey and have FUN!
How to get started and begin an effective journaling practice, a few of the various types of journals and journaling styles, journaling tools, establishing a routine, and I'll touch on some of my journaling practices.
How to Get Started Journaling
Journaling is as simple as just starting to write on a blank page, which also makes it the hardest thing. Nothing is more intimidating than a blank page.
An endless void screaming with potential; a paralyzing foe conquered only by silencing the inner critic and unleashing the creative spirit within, one mark at a time.
A blank page can be overwhelming without a plan. So hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll have enough insight to structure your approach or implement an existing structure that appeals to you.
Different types of journals
Bullet Journal or BuJo if you prefer. The Bullet Journal is a lightly structured journaling process, organized into key components that include the Index, Future Log, Monthly Log, and Daily Log. While many find it a useful journaling tool I use it more as a planner for business activity. I think it’s well suited for either purpose, so I chose to include it in this article.
Bullet Journaling uses symbols to classify entries. The core concept uses bullet points and symbols to represent tasks, events, and notes. Dedicated BuJo users also often create their own additional bullets or symbols.
It allows you to quickly capture thoughts and track to-do lists while customizing them to your needs.
It promotes mindfulness, goal setting, and reflection, making it a popular tool for productivity and self-improvement.
This 4-minute video lays out bullet journaling beautifully.
The official Bullet Journal site is bulletjournal.com which contains a lot of useful information, a free introductory course, and a paid deeper dive course.
Tools needed: A pen and a notebook. Any notebook will work, but you can also get the second-edition branded bullet journal.
I use bullet journaling for my blog and some other ventures I’m working on. I love it as a simple and practical nondigital tool.
Art journaling is a method to create daily, a chance to test, capture, or work out creative ideas or see what happens as you make marks on the page. The focus is on art, illustrations, color collages, photos, and other creative expression. It emphasizes the artistic process and exploration more than words.
Tools needed: A sketchbook or a notebook with heavier-weight paper and whichever medium(s) you wish to use.
Here’s what I use for my art journal: A small 4 x 4 sketchbook, a Kuretake Fountain Brush Pen (black), and a basic set of watercolor pencils. I keep these at my desk in my home office. I’ll open it up and doodle if I’m stuck or have an idea I want to work out or take a moment at the end of the day to unwind. As with all journaling, it doesn’t have to be good, just put words or marks on paper.
|Proof you don't have to be good - A few pages from my art journal
Morning Pages are a journaling technique that involves writing three pages of stream-of-consciousness thoughts every morning. The goal is to write down whatever comes to mind, uncensored and unedited. The idea is to wake up, open your morning journal, and write three pages of longhand of any thoughts that come out of your head. This was really popularized by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way.
Tools Needed: a notebook and pen are really all you need, but if you like the branded prepackaged materials you can grab the Artist’s Way Morning Pages Journal which serves as a companion piece to the book.
My personal journaling technique
My personal journaling techniques are a combination of the types listed below. For me, it depends on what I need or feel like for the day, often ending up with a combination of one or more.
Dream Journal - A dream journal is used to record dreams, typically immediately upon waking. This helps you remember the details and gain insight into meanings, patterns, etc. Personally, if I wake up after a dream I will usually remember it in the morning and will then write about it in my journal.
Gratitude Journal - Centered around regularly writing down things you are grateful for. This cultivates mindfulness, positivity, and self-reflection. For me, it’s usually three things I’m grateful for. They need to be specific and detailed, trying to avoid broad generalizations such as I’m grateful for today. Try dialing it in. Here’s a great short article on gratitude journaling by Berkley’s Greater Good in America.
If you are someone who prefers a little more structure with formatted pages, and prompts to contemplate, inspire, and focus your writing you may like this hardcover leatherbound 5-minute gratitude journal or something simple like this paperback 52-week Gratutude journal for men.
Venting emotionally. I’m a fan of this, especially before bedtime if I’m going through a rough patch. Just a stream of consciousness writing down whatever comes to mind about what I’m feeling. When I write in this style I don’t care about legibility, so it’s almost more of a scribble, so I can get it off my mind. Not surprisingly, there are journals designed specifically for venting, like the F**k this S**t venting journal or Rage Page: A Journal for the Bad Days.
Meditation/Prayer Journal - Used to record prayers, verses, and thoughts about your spiritual journey. I record any insights or new concepts from a guided meditation if I’ve followed one that day, or any thoughts arising from or related to the day’s meditation, prayer, or reading. Preformatted journals can be found in your preferred discipline. Jungian Shadow Work Journal, Christian 60-day prayer journal for men, or A Year of Zen: A 52-Week Guided Journal.
I don’t know if this is actually a thing or not but it’s something I do. When anxiety or uncertainty is high for me (which lately is quite often) I just write about what I’m feeling, what I believe to be true about it, and what I want to do or plan to do about it. I do a brutally honest assessment, even calling out what might be my own cognitive bias - or at least trying to. At the time I’m writing this, I’m going on 9 months of unemployment. There are days when the panic is sky-high and I need to be able to cope with it. I have a regular meditation and prayer practice, but I find writing it out as emotions get bad really focuses the mind and helps to make sense of it all.
There are many other types of journals for writing poetry, tracking projects, Travel journals, solving problems creatively, and more. Choose the type that fits your needs!
Notebook and writing tools
At the most basic level, anything you can write on and write with will work for journaling. I personally think there’s great value in having something you enjoy the look and feel of for both recording your entries and the instrument to write with. I’ve gone through quite an array of journal notebooks, some formatted, but most just notebooks. I’ve found this particular journal I’m loving right now. It’s a 5 ½ x 5 ½. Artist Canvas Cover Travel Notebook is technically a small sketchbook. I like that the paper is heavy enough that pens don’t bleed through, I can draw in it if desired, it’s easily portable and comes in a decent color assortment so I commit a certain color to a period of time or category I choose.
|Some of the types of journals I've used over the years.
I’m also quite particular about my writing instruments. I love pens. My personal favorite is my Grandfather’s Parker Retro 51 fountain pen. I used that pen for journaling for a while but found having to refill the ink and clean up was more fuss than I wanted in the morning. Now I’ve actually grown fond of the Pilot Varsity disposable fountain pen. I like the multi-color pack so I can color code if I wish or just change up because I feel like it.
Setting a routine
To establish a successful journaling practice you need consistency. I’m sure you’ve seen the ‘what consistency looks like’ meme but it bears repeating.
Scheduling time and making it a priority. What time of day is best for you? Are your mornings go go go? Then maybe later in the day or evening. What do you want for frequency? Every day, Weekdays, weekends, M-W-F? Explore what works for you.
Do you need a reminder system? Get some Post-it notes or calendar reminders or tell Siri to let you know when it’s time.
Not pressuring perfection - journaling for yourself. You’re not writing a memoir, it’s only for you. Don’t write for anyone else to see. I find that attitude helps maintain the sincerity of the journaling effort. Treat it as a one-on-one conversation with yourself.
Letting go of expectations or rules. It’s your journal practice. Make it whatever you need it to be that you find value in.
Switching up techniques if getting bored. If you find yourself being repetitive or your writing is boring to you, change it!
Do have questions? Throw them in the comments below or send me an email at