Why And How To Start Journaling

pen and paper

“Journal writing is a voyage to the interior.” -Christina Baldwin

Journaling is a mysterious hobby. I’ve been keeping a journal for years, but I’ve only discussed it with a handful of people- it just doesn’t come up in conversation that often. When someone does discover that I journal, though, they are invariably intrigued. I am asked, “How do you do it?” “When do you find time?” and “Do you have any tips?” However, it’s the unspoken question: “WHY do you keep a journal?” that’s the most meaningful of all.

In the interest of shedding some light on a secretive habit, and hopefully inspiring some of you to give it a try, here are my answers to those questions…

How to start journaling

First, figure out your preferred medium (how you write best). When I started my journals as a teenager, I used big sketchpads and bold markers. (I was inspired by the work of the artist/writer Sark.) I have about 15 of these journals, and I’ve managed to keep them safe and private throughout several location changes. They are a storage issue, though, so I’m grateful that I’m now more comfortable writing on my laptop. I keep a word document called “journal” (original, I know; if you don’t trust your housemates not to snoop, call it “alfalfa pie recipe” or something as unappealing) and start a new file every year.

How to create a journal entry

I like to start with a day/date heading, so that if I choose to look back on previous entries, I can orient myself easily. Other people prefer writing blog-post style, or simply picking up where they left off the day before. It’s your choice.

The biggest potential roadblock to journaling is the dreaded “blank page” syndrome, where you’re sitting there having no idea how to start. You can solve that problem by starting the same way every time, either with a journal prompt (the same one every day, or a variety- Lacuna Loft can help with this); a list, a la Bridget Jones’s Diary; or by cataloging what you did that day. I take the last option, and I’ve never once had to sit and watch the cursor blink. Generally, starting with what I did becomes how I felt about what I did, which leads into deeper topics. If it doesn’t, well, at least I wrote something.

When to journal

This is entirely up to you, of course, but from personal experience I strongly recommend writing every day. Once you skip a day or two, it becomes a lot harder to reestablish the habit. It also helps to write at the same time every day. I like to journal first thing in the morning.

And now the big question:

Why keep a journal?

This is a personal question, and everyone will have a different answer. I don’t mind sharing my reasons, in the hopes that one or more will resonate with you.

1. It keeps me feeling positive and grateful. Like most people, I tend to focus on the negative things that happen to me. Writing about my life gives me instant perspective on my problems. It helps me to remember that when my doctor called with questionable test results, my husband stood there and massaged my shoulders, then offered to get me frozen yogurt. Telling the story of that moment brings the positive memories into greater focus.

2. It helps me release feelings I didn’t know I had. Throughout my teens and twenties, I had a lot of trouble getting in touch with my own feelings. I would act out by overeating or fighting with family, and I would know I was unhappy, but I honestly didn’t know why. Journaling helped put an end to that phase in my life, by giving me time and space to talk about my feelings to the one person who really needed to understand them (me).

3. It’s a great warm-up to the other writing I do. I’m also a musician, and I’m a big believer in a daily warm-up that sets the tone for the practicing my students and I do each day. The same goes for writing. Once I’ve journaled, I feel much more ready to dive into the bigger projects I have scheduled.

4. It documents my memories. I often return to journal entries from meaningful times in my life, such as when my son was born, to remind me what really happened and how I felt about it. It’s also a great resource if my husband and I disagree about when something happened- I can just look it up!

5. Maybe my journals will be a memoir one day. Hey, it could happen!

Best of luck with your journal habit! If you’d like to talk more about journaling, I’d love to hear from you. Please email me at leannesowul@gmail.com, or visit my website, leannesowul.com.