10 Tips For Keeping A Meaningful Journal (And Why You Should Start One Now)

pencil beside book and flowers
rawpixel / Unsplash

Every life is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is often a story written and developed by others, drawn out by hands that are not our own with very little input from us. How many of us have had to contend with the perspective of others when recalling our own experiences? How often are our memories diluted by outside input, often long after the fact? Journaling allows us to tell our stories as we see, feel, taste, and smell them -even if it is only ever to ourselves. It is a means of grounding ourselves in our own lives and tracing our shortcomings and victories. Journals allow us to relive our weaker moments for personal reflection, or to revisit our victories or breakthroughs when we are struggling and need to be reminded of our strengths. I often turn to old journal entries and find new and deep insight for current struggles, and not just for myself! I write regularly about my husband and eldest daughter (she’s 13) and I have read past entries that have shed real light on current struggles or situations they are going through. Many of us like to believe that we can hold onto our most precious memories indefinitely, only to find later on that our recollections have dulled and diminished over time; journaling allows us to preserve these moments.

1. Write what matters to you; detailing conversations and mundane daily happenings appeals to some and not to others. Personally, there is nothing more tedious to me than having to write out my day’s activities (generally speaking). I prefer a more meditative approach, often embarking on deeply personal paths as I attempt to navigate difficult issues or perceived constraints. I will often journal about struggles in my relationships (significant others, children, parents, friends, co-workers, etc.) or issues individual family members or friends may be facing. Sometimes I make a point to journal about positive things; things that I enjoy or make me happy, little moments with my children or husband that I want to cherish. These are valuable explorations that have offered up much clarity and insight.

2. Use books/pens/highlighters/stickers that resonate or speak to you, that help you achieve optimal self expression and motivate you to sit down and get to work. You can make your journal as basic and simple or as bright and complex as you like; whatever it is, it should reflect you and what makes you feel good. In contrast, don’t feel like it has to be pretty to be functional, the aesthetic is not nearly as important as the content. Don’t put off journaling because you’re waiting for the perfect journal or pen set, those things can come with time (and if you’re anything like me, will change constantly anyway).

3. Don’t get trapped by the idea perfection. A journal is a reflection of ourselves, and we are far from perfect. Don’t rip out pages, don’t stop writing because you made a doodle on one entry and you don’t like the way it looks, don’t give up on the whole thing because you lost your favorite pen. Allow your journal to be as imperfect as you are and use these ‘mistakes’ or slip-ups as learning tools and reminders.

4. Quantity, not quality, matters here. Write every day, even if it is only a few sentences, even if it’s just a quote you like or a song you’re really into right now. Remember this is for you; you do not need to consider word count, there is no character limit -everything that goes on paper is for you and you only. You do, however, want to build a habit, and that requires repetition, which leads me to my next point:

5. Set aside a specific time each day to journal. Make a ritual of it if you want. I personally like to journal right before bed and after I’ve showered, basically after my kids have gone to bed and I’ve “washed” the day off. I make myself a cup of seasonal tea, light a few yummy smelling candles, and settle in at my desk (never my bed because, like you, I work hard and am about two seconds away from passing out at any given moment).

6. Sometimes journaling doesn’t come easy, and like anything else, starting and consistently engaging in the activity, especially at first, is often the hardest part. There are still nights where I almost don’t do it, where my snoring husband and warm bed are almost too great of a temptation to resist (the snoring is comforting now, married life is weird). I never regret taking the time to journal, however. You might feel that you don’t have anything of value to say or write or consider, but I can promise you that you do.

7. If you miss a few days, weeks, months, years… don’t take that as indication that journaling isn’t for you. We all fall off the proverbial bandwagon at some point (hello diets, I see you). Jump right back on that horse as soon as possible. Don’t feel like you have to write out your reasons or excuses; that you have to justify yourself to anyone, even yourself. If it feels right, you can express some feelings or issues you have that might have prevented your journaling, but this is certainly not required. Just jump back in, time gaps shouldn’t hold you back.

8. Have multiple journals for multiple things if the potential lack of organization is something that hinders you. I am a notebook junkie; I have a more ‘spiritual’ journal for deep reflection, a writing journal for my more creative ideas (be they articles, prose, poems, or story ideas), as well as various journals for school and work to keep the many aspects of my life in some sort of order (spoiler alert: nothing is in order, ever). This allows me to settle down and focus on a particular facet of my life and also makes it easier to find that random story idea I had three years ago or that quote I really liked that I scribbled down in my ‘spiritual’ book but can’t remember.

9. Use it as a sort of ‘burn book’ when necessary. When we are hurt and angry we often say or do things we do not mean. Write these thoughts and feelings down, exorcise them from your consciousness. You will be much more clear-sighted afterward and far less likely to do or say things you will regret. (You can legitimately burn these pages as well, if that helps. Aren’t we all just a little bit pyro?)

10. Don’t share your journals. While we can often come to profound and useful conclusions while journaling that can and should be shared with those around us, the book and words themselves should remain private and sacred to you. Often, if we consider sharing our entries with others we stop writing for our own use and pleasure and begin writing to an audience. This, I personally feel, runs counter-intuitive to the whole idea of journaling. It is the ultimate safe space, where you should feel comfortable writing down every thought, feeling, or idea without judgement. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

I feel a bit too old for this, but here we are. – A Memoir by Me

Keep up with Brianne on Instagram

More From Thought Catalog