How to start a journal – and keep it going

how to start a journal

How to start a journal as a diary, creative journey or self-care tool? How to keep it going with love and passion over time? Veteran journaller ReD shares her tips.

I’ve always found that keeping a journal is an effective way to organise your thoughts, reduce stress and preserve memories. As a form of self-care, journalling can help you identify and manage emotions, create plans for handling problems, and shift your focus to something positive.

how to keep a journal

ReD’s newest journal has an inspiring owl of wisdom on the cover

However, keeping a journal can be hard. If you’ve resolved to keep a journal, consider these three tips before you start:

  • Pick the right journal
  • Pick where and when you want to write
  • Arm yourself with some writing prompts

These little tips from my own personal experience of keeping a journal may help…

Pick the Right journal

Take a moment to think about where and how you plan on writing, then ask yourself these questions to find the perfect journal.

Large or small? Don’t get a full-sized A4 journal if you plan on regularly writing while on public transport – if you commute, for instance. Instead, get a small A5 one which you can easily tuck into your bag or pocket.

Lined or unlined paper? Have a think before you buy. This may seem like a small distinction, but for some, lined pages create a sense of obligation that every line must be filled. Others might find unlined pages too unorderly to craft eligible entries.

how to keep a journal

Lined or unlined pages – which do you prefer?

Hardcover or paperback? The cover and thickness of the pages are also important, yet often overlooked in choosing the right journal. Durable hardcover journals can last longer, but they can also be more expensive and need to be weighted down with something to keep the page you’re writing on open. Paperback journals or spiral bound journals are often more affordable and can provide greater flexibility, but they may not last as long and the pages have a tendency to escape and flutter away on the wind!

Thick or thin pages? Do you plan on sketching or storing memento items like ticket stubs, dried flowers, and photos in the pages of your journal? Or do you have a preference for writing in ink pens? If so, consider getting a journal with thicker pages. Thinner pages are better if you plan on removing pages, you want to conserve space in your bag or you want to print out and store other pages inside your journal.

Determining your writing needs is an important first step in keeping a journal. Some of what you discover may be through trial and error, and that’s okay! The important thing is that you’re setting yourself up for success before you even begin writing.

Choose when and where you want to write

When and where will you be most likely to write on a regular basis? Think about where you have a few quiet moments during your day.

It’s a lot easier to start a new habit if you pair it with something you already do regularly. Try pairing your journalling with an activity you already do, like writing during lunch or with your morning cup of tea. Consider setting up one day each week where you will write before you go to bed.

how to keep a journal

Will your journals have a decorative theme as they grow in number over time?

Keep your journal where you can see it and remember to write. If you’re going to write during your morning commute, keep your journal on top of your work bag, or pack it in with your lunch if you plan on writing while you eat. Storing your journal inside of your pillowcase can keep it out of sight for privacy’s sake – but not out of mind before you go to bed.

If the urge strikes you to write before or after your usual journal time, write anyway! Don’t feel as if you can only write during your scheduled journalling time. You can never record too much in a journal.

Write a few prompts

In the beginning, it can be difficult deciding what to record in your journal. If you’ve set yourself some regular journalling time, try to write in that period even if you’re not sure what to put on paper.

An easy way to begin keeping a journal is simply to describe what happened during the day. If all you did was sit around the house in your pajamas, eating snacks, and watching movies, write about that! Tell your journal why it was the best way to spend the day or, consequentially, what you’d rather be doing instead.

Consider using your journal to keep lists. They don’t have to be to-do lists. They can be lists of things that are important to you.

Take a moment to think about the good things that happened during your day and make a list. A journal’s useful for venting, too. You can take a moment to list your frustrations with the day instead, and get it out of your system. Write about what you need to do during the week. Take a moment to describe the room you’re sitting in. Pretend it’s 200 years in the future and you want to record details for someone writing the description for a museum plaque based on objects from your life. What objects would they include in this exhibit? What would you want them to know about them?

You needn’t worry too much about finishing an entry if you lose motivation. If something demands your attention and pulls you away from your journal and, when you sit down to write, you realise you have no interest in finishing what you were writing, don’t force yourself to finish the entry or say ‘I will do it later’ and walk away. Write something else instead.

Writing prompts to get started

  • Write about your family. Tell your journal who they are and what they mean to you.
  • Write about how you met your best friend or romantic partner. Tell your journal what attracted you to this person and what their best qualities are as a friend.
  • Write about your favourite place in your hometown or the place you’re living at now. Why is this place your favourite?
  • What was the best thing you ate this week?
  • Make a list of five good things that happened to you this week. (Remember, these don’t have to be spectacular. Sometimes, something as simple as “the sun was shining when I walked home” can be a good thing.)
  • Make a list of three songs you’d want played at your funeral. Why these three songs? What do they mean to you?
  • Write a letter to a family member, friend, or pet that has died. What would you tell them about your day if they were still alive?
  • What are you worried about? Why is this worrying you? What can you do about this worry, and what do you wish you could do about this worry?
  • Make a list of five fun things you want to do this year.
  • Make a list of three places, real or imaginary, that you want to visit. Tell your journal why you want to visit these places.
  • Describe what you look like as if you were writing about a character in a novel. (ReD is a short young woman with messy brown hair that is more often than not tucked behind her favourite hat…)
  • What is your favourite animal? Why is this animal your favourite? Is this animal different from your favourite animal as a child—if so, why do you think this is?
  • What is the earliest memory you have?
  • Make a list of three things you want to do this week. Why do you want to do them? What is stopping you from doing these things?
  • What is something about yourself that a stranger could not tell just by looking at you?

Keeping a journal can be rewarding, creative and insightful. It’s something to spill thoughts into, and to look back on. It’s not the same as a blog or tumblr. It’s a different thing. It feels different. It looks different, and you can hold it and tuck it beneath your pillow. It’s always there for you, and never asks anything of you.

If you kept a journal, what kind of journal would you keep?

See also:

How to keep a dream diary and interpret your dreams

How to make a Book of Shadows

Creative writing tips