How to Journal: 6 Proven Methods to Help You Get Started

Journaling is at the top of many self-care lists, and for good reason. Getting your thoughts out on paper can do wonders for your mental health and help you stay organized.

Learning how to journal isn’t always as simple as it seems, though. To get started, you will need to identify your reasons for starting a journal and what you hope to accomplish during your journey.

People keep journals for almost anything you can think of. The most common reasons for journaling are self-care, self-discovery, and memory keeping, but people also keep journals to keep track of their ideas and progress.

People use art journals to sketch out painting ideas, travel journals to memorialize their adventures, food journals to keep track of their diets, and various other journals for many reasons. Many people often keep more than one type of journal and use different ones for different needs.

One of the most common types of journals, and one that has hit the mainstream in a big way, is a bullet journal.

What is a Bullet Journal?

A bullet journal is designed to be a cross between your typical journal and a planner. While a standard journal is a book that contains lined pages for writing, a bullet journal contains pages filled with tiny dots, or bullets, arranged in a grid.

The point of a bullet journal is that users can design it to be whatever they want it to be. The grid layout makes it easy to draw out rectangles for planners, squares for checklists, and anything else you might need.

How Do I Use a Bullet Journal?

A bullet journal requires some creativity. The first step to creating your perfect bullet journal is to know what you want to get out of it. Are you using it for note-taking and planning? Do you want to have a section set aside for a daily food diary? Do you need space for a to-do list?

The advantage of a bullet journal is that you get to design your journal pages to meet any need that you want. The blank pages are blank slates, just waiting for you to draw out the perfect page for your journal entries.

What Other Types of Journals are There?

Bullet journals aren’t for everyone. Some folks prefer to keep their planners and journals separate, and others don’t want to design their own journals. The great thing about journaling is that there is something available to meet everyone’s needs.

If you want to keep a journal to sketch out art ideas or jot down your creative thoughts, you can get an art journal. Like a sketch pad, these journals have blank pages that let you use the space however you deem fit. The pages in an art journal are generally a little thicker, which allows you to experiment with mixed media art right in the journal without destroying the pages.

There are also traditional journals filled with lined pages. These journals are designed for writing, but you can use them to write whatever you want. A general, lined journal is an all-purpose journal. You can use it to write your thoughts and feelings, for mindfulness, to practice expressive writing, or even to complete writing exercises. It’s intended to be a one-size-fits-all journal that meets most people’s needs.

However, many people want a journal that’s designed specifically for a specific topic. If this describes you, you’re in luck because there are many journals available for various topics. Usually, these journals also include short prompts and writing ideas related to the topic.

You can get a gratitude journal that prompts you to write things you are thankful for, a travel journal that prompts you to make lists of your bucket list destinations, a dream journal that helps you remember to write down your nightly adventures, or a food journal that helps you count calories or keep track of reactions.

These specific journals are designed to inspire you to write about the most important topics to you. Everyone’s reasons for keeping a journal are different, and the different types of journals help address these different needs.

How Do I Start Writing a Journal?

Learning how to journal isn’t as easy as it seems. It sounds simple to grab a journal and start writing, but it’s not that easy.

The first step is choosing the journal that’s right for you. Determine why you wanted to journal in the first place and get a journal designed for that specific need. If you aren’t sure, you can go with the traditional lined journal and start from there. You can even get started with a simple notebook. All you need to journal your thoughts is pen and paper. However, choosing a journal that speaks to you will motivate you to write in it.

The next step is to make journaling a habit. Journal every day, even if just for five minutes. The important thing is that you write something down, no matter what it is or how trivial it seems. Getting into the practice of picking up your journal first thing in the morning will help you create a daily journaling habit. Building this habit is key to learning how to journal.

What Should I Write in My Journal?

Your fancy new leather-bound journal just arrived at your front door. You rip open the box and excitedly pull it out, then head to your cozy writing alcove. With pen in hand, you open your journal to the first page and put pen to paper.

Nothing happens. Your mind is blank. You’d think that ideas would flow through you, but you’re stuck. What should you write?

Here are a few ideas and journaling tips that will help you get started.

Brain Dump

Start with a simple brain dump. Transfer all of the information from your brain into your journal. Not only will this help you untangle your mind, but it will also give you a starting point for your journaling adventure. Use it to create your to-do list, jot down important tasks, and remember important dates.

Brain dumps are great tools for organizing your thoughts and clearing your mind of clutter. If you are journaling to improve your productivity, this might be a great way to start.

Self-Care

Journaling for self-care can help you feel better about yourself and your situation. It can make you happier and lift your spirits to put you in a better mood. But on the other end of the spectrum, it can also help you explore any negative thoughts you have and even help you sort through past trauma.

When journaling for self-care, try starting with gratitude. Write down three things you are thankful for. You might be surprised to find that simply acknowledging the good things you have in your life and writing them down can do wonders for your well-being. Next, set intentions for how you want your day to go. Follow up at the end of the day by reflecting upon the things you’ve accomplished.

After you’ve gotten comfortable addressing the positive parts of your life, you can explore journaling for cathartic reasons. That is still self-care, but now we dive into the negative emotions we experience and maybe even reflect upon traumatic experiences. Write down your thoughts, even the negative ones, and explore the reasons why you have them.

Face your inner critic and be honest with yourself about why you feel the way you do. Being mindful of your negative thoughts and emotions can help you overcome them, and writing them down in a journal isa great way to do that.

Free Writing

Freewriting is an entirely different type of journaling experience. It’s the process of putting pen to paper and writing whatever pops into your head, whether it be a story idea, a to-do list, how you feel, or anything else. In short, it’s writing directly from a stream of consciousness.

Journal writing doesn’t have to have any structure to it at all. When you are freewriting, don’t worry about grammar, coherent thoughts, or that you are jumping from one topic to another without any transitions. Let the words flow through you however they choose to. You may be surprised by what you come up with.

Journal Prompts

Sometimes it’s hard to come up with your journaling ideas. If that’s the case, consider using journaling prompts. Prompts are short questions designed to give you a little push in a particular direction to help you start writing.

There are all sorts of journal prompts available. Some are designed for self-reflection, and others are made to help you express yourself. Others still are just silly ideas designed to make journal writing fun. Many ask you to write a letter to your former self at a certain age or to describe an event that happened at a given time.

Some make you think about the world in different ways, asking you to use a different sense to experience the world, like what does the color red feel like? You can purchase a list of prompts on places like Etsy and then write the answers in your journal each day.

Self-Discovery

Although journal prompts can help with self-discovery, you don’t need to use them. Many people use their journals for introspection and personal growth. Finding yourself is a huge part of journaling, whether that be discovering what you are passionate about, identifying the root of your fears or anxiety, or understanding why you behave the way you do in certain situations.

Writing out your thoughts, feelings, and emotions when they are fresh can give you deep insight into your psyche and help you discover who you are.

Creative Writing

Journaling can be a great way to enhance your creative writing skills. Use the pages to write a poem, start a story, or design your characters. The pages of a journal are a blank slate that you can use to write down all of your story starters and ideas!

If you are having trouble starting, you can use creative writing prompts. Like journal prompts, these are designed to give you a little boost and help you get started. But creative writing prompts are designed for fiction, whereas journaling prompts tend to be questions about yourself. Either way, using a prompt is a great way to get your creative juices flowing.

What is the Difference Between a Journal and a Diary?

There is no official difference between a diary and a journal. In my opinion, a diary is a specific type of journal, one that is generally used for memory keeping. Diary entries usually outline specific events that happened. A food diary outlines the specific things that a person ate, and a traditional diary is a memoir. However, this definition is subjective, and many people use the two terms interchangeably.

Build Your Journaling Habit!

Now that you know how to journal, it’s time to make it a habit. Make journaling part of your daily ritual. Write every day to build it into a routine and make it become second nature to you. You will be amazed at how much better you feel about yourself and your life when you start journaling every day. So what are you waiting for? Grab your journal and start writing!

This post originally appeared on Your Money Geek.

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