Your first introduction to writing with a journal may have been the countless hours you spent pining away in your diary during those awkward middle school days. Over the years, journaling has evolved and changed into much more than a simple diary – it’s become a tool for help you organize your life, prioritize and set goals, reflect on and remember the past as well as envision the future of your dreams. Before you start writing, I want to share some things with you to make the process more satisfying.
I’m going to use the words “writing” and “journaling” interchangeably here. Know that you may write on your computer, as I do most of the time, or in a notebook or journal, as I’ve become accustomed to over the past year to have the connection between my hand and my brain that can only come in this way.
No matter what your personality or creative style looks like, you can make journaling work for you – it’s not a one size fits all kind of habit. With all the different styles and elements of journaling, it would seem easy to grab a pen, jump in and start writing. However, because there are so many journaling routes you can go, it can be intimidating and easily discourage people from taking that first step.
Don’t let that be you. Even if you’re a complete beginner, starting and maintaining a journal doesn’t have to be scary – you simply have to know how to start. With a few helpful tips, you’ll be journaling like a pro in no time. Here are ten things to you need to know to start turning those blank pages into big life changes.
1. Know Your Why Before You Start Writing: The very first step to a successful journaling experience is to know why you want to keep a journal in the first place. Getting clear on this will set the stage for everything that happens once you open your journal to that first blank page. Keep in mind, your why is not going to be the same as your sister’s, your best friend’s or your co-worker’s. The reason behind starting this journey is unique to you and it depends on what you expect to get out of it. Maybe you want to get more organized and pay off debt. You could use your journal to track spending, set a monthly budget and keep a record of everything you owe. On the flipside, maybe you desire a healthier lifestyle, and you need a place to track your workouts, your nutrition and your weight loss. You might need a place to brainstorm ideas for a new business or set a 5-year plan for your current one. No matter what your reasoning is, journaling can assist you along the way. Knowing the why behind it all will help to guide and keep you on track long after you fill in that first blank page.
2. Keep It Simple: When you first start out, it’s easy to be drawn into the Pinterest world of beautiful journaling layouts, creative artwork and calligraphy, leather bound notebooks, expensive markers and the “oh-so-cute,” must have stickers on Etsy. However, it’s important to be strong and remember not to feel compelled to go all in right at first. Keep it simple. Start with a cheap notebook (or sketchbook), a couple pens and about 10 minutes each day to practice writing. You’ll be able to experiment and find your journaling style without breaking the bank trying to be fit in with everyone else’s journaling experience. As you grow and learn, you can start to invest in the tools that will allow you to create a journal that perfectly expresses your creativity and unique personality. Just take baby steps at first until you figure that part out.
3. Let Go of Perfection: Going hand in hand with number two (Keep it Simple) is letting go of perfection. One of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to writing and/or journaling is feeling the need to be perfect right from the start. Perfectionist tendencies will ruin your experience and keep you stuck on a blank page. Let’s be clear: There is no right or wrong way to do this. Your journaling experience is yours and yours alone and the important thing is that you just start. Who cares if your handwriting isn’t beautiful, or you can’t draw to save your life? Messy action is where all the magic is at – it’s where you gain confidence and clarity about where you’re at and where you want to be. It’s where you learn and grow and challenge yourself to be better. No one is perfect, even if it seems that way sometimes. Letting go of that perfection perception is one of the best things you can for yourself, in the journaling world and in the grand scheme of life.
4. Make Time for Writing: If you want the habit to stick, it’s important to make your journaling practice a priority in your schedule. If you don’t set aside some writing time on purpose, it’s going to fall through the cracks and become second to other obligations. This doesn’t mean you have to schedule hours of solitude each day with just a notebook and a pen to keep you company. Before you start writing, simply find 5-10 minutes in your day where you can go someplace quiet and spend time with your own thoughts.
Think about your daily routine and see when it would make more sense to carve some time out of your schedule. Maybe the early morning hours are complete chaos, and you need to wait until the kids are tucked in bed before you start writing. On the flipside, maybe it’s easier for you to find some quiet time as the sun rises and everyone else is asleep. No matter if you are a morning person or a night owl, the key is to make journaling a natural part of your daily routine. Only then will you form a long-lasting habit that can help to set you up for future success.
5. Make Lists: If you’ve been on the planet for any decent length of time, you’ve probably made a list or two on occasion. If the thought of long, in depth journal entries stress you out to the max, lists may be a great way to dip your toe in the journaling pond. Lists are a super easy (and stress free) way to kickstart your writing habit without putting too much pressure on yourself at the same time. TIP: Take the items you’re prioritizing for the day and move them from your to-do list on to a schedule for optimal results.
The great thing is, you can create lists for virtually anything and everything – there really are no limits. From meal plans and business ideas to travel goals and favorite books, you can use your journal to become a list making pro. You can keep it simple or even go a bit deeper into the self-reflection realm. For example, make a list of fears you want to overcome or goals you want to accomplish in the next 5 years. List making is a great way to jump start your journaling habit and the best part is, you’ll never lack for things to write about.
6. Take Your Journal with You (Everywhere): A great way to ensure that journaling becomes second nature is to take it with you wherever you go. Let’s face it: We all have those moments during our day where we mindlessly scroll social media, wasting time and accomplishing very little. By having your journal handy, you can use those moments for creative exploration, self-reflection or simply to write out a much-needed grocery list that you’ve been putting off.
It’s easy to find excuses as to why you can’t write or don’t have the time to fit it into your schedule. By carrying your journal with you, you’ll always be able to find a free minute to tackle a sentence or two throughout your busy day. Another perk? When inspiration strikes, you won’t have to wait until you get home to let those creative juices flow.
7. Set Up Your Sacred Space to Write: Writing is a habit that can be done anywhere and everywhere but when you first start out, it may be helpful to have a designated space for your writing. If you already have a home office, that may be a perfect set up. Otherwise simply choose a spot with a comfortable level of privacy that is free of distraction. Think of your space as a retreat – someplace you can go to get away from the chaos for a few moments and get in touch with your own thoughts.
If you sit down to journal and the TV is blaring, kids are arguing and your phone is beeping with constant notifications, you’re probably not going to accomplish much. You can easily claim a corner of your bedroom, a quiet spot on the front porch (weather permitting), or simply a seat at the kitchen table, as your journaling space – provided there are no other distractions clamoring for your attention.
8. Use Prompts That Inspire and Motivate You to Write: The biggest obstacle you’ll face when you first start journaling might be knowing what to write about. This can be discouraging and has caused many people to throw in the towel before they even begin. Writing prompts can be a helpful guide when you have zero clue how to even start. Prompts come in the form of statements or questions that are meant to give you a focused topic to write about and can be used to get those creative juices flowing.
Whether you are looking to use your journal for self-reflection and discovery, to manage your emotions or to help you deal with anxiety and stress, prompts are meant to guide you and help bring your thoughts, feelings and emotions to life on paper. What are you grateful for? What is your meal plan for the day? What is your most favorite memory, book, movie?
The options are limitless when it comes to writing prompts. Think you don’t have what it takes to be a writer? Think again. Prompts are an easy, surefire way to help you dig deep and find a way to journal your heart out even when you’re at a loss for words.
9. Implement a One Minute Rule: Time or lack of, is one of the many excuses for not maintaining a successful journaling habit. This is where the one-minute rule comes in – it says if something can be done in one minute or less, don’t put it off. Do it NOW. Whether it be doing a load of laundry, taking out the trash, loading or unloading the dishwasher or even journaling, you’re bound to find 60 seconds in the day to commit to these activities.
It makes the time factor seem less of a problem when you carve out such a simple, small amount of your day. Plus, it’s much easier to commit to something when you know it’s not going to take time away from any other portion of your schedule. This is a great way to stop procrastinating and start forming new habits that will serve you long into the future. For journaling purposes, it can even be helpful to use a timer, so you know exactly when your minute is up. Once you get into it, you’re most likely going to feel like writing for longer than that. However, the key is to start small and build up over time until it simply feels like just another part of your daily routine.
10. Track Your Writing Habit: If you have any intention of forming a journaling habit that’s going to stick, you have to be willing to work at it a little bit every single day, especially in the beginning. A great way to ensure that you stay consistent is to keep a habit tracker and mark off each day after you get done journaling. This super simple task will help keep you motivated, even on those days when you feel like writing is the last thing you want to do.
The more you see those checkmarks add up, the more determined you will be to keep the streak alive – because we’re human and it’s super satisfying to make that little mark once we’ve completed our writing for the day. Keeping a habit tracker will allow you to see how far you’ve come over time and can be the key to building and maintaining a successful journaling habit for years to come.
One of the best things about journaling is that there are no certain rules you have to follow. Even as a beginner, there is no need to feel intimidated and overwhelmed at the thought of getting started. You can easily create a journaling experience that is unique to you – your wants, needs and personality. Through self-reflection and discovery, journaling can provide a shift in mindset and perspective that will start you on the path of life-changing transformation. Don’t wait another day to bring life to all those blank pages – you’ll open up a whole new world right at your fingertips.
I’m Connie Ragen Green, writing the stories I need to tell, publishing articles, posts, short reports, and books, and living a lifestyle by design I want and deserve. Come aboard for my complimentary Action Habits Challenge and see where the journey will take you.