how to start a journal, journaling for beginners

Journaling for Beginners Guide: How to Start a Journal in 8 Easy Steps

Learning how to start a journal can be an exciting and overwhelming venture. With so much information on how to start a journal, techniques, styles, and tips it can feel like journaling can bring on more stress than not. This journaling guide was created to break down the many parts of the journaling process into bite-sized portions. I recommend bookmarking this journaling for beginners guide post and going through each step one at a time to fully grasp all of the concepts.

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Step 1: Determine why you are starting a journal

Before you can do anything, you need to know WHY you are doing it. If you don’t understand your own reasons, it will be very hard to stay motivated. What made you want to start writing in a journal? Was it a recommendation to relieve stress, or do you just want a safe space to vent? Are you trying to express more gratitude, or are you scripting for the law of attraction? All of this matters because it helps you understand the importance of a daily practice, and keeps you motivated.

Understanding the benefits of Journaling can help you to consistently maintain your journal routine. There are a wealth of benefits of journaling your thoughts and feelings. These benefits range from maintaining a sense of mental clarity to improving your health. Additional benefits of journaling include:

  • Journaling helps us to declutter our mind
  • Using a journal encourages us to connect with our emotions
  • Consistent journaling can give clarity in an issue
  • Journaling can help us track our decisions and progress
  • A journal routine can improve your health
  • Start a journal allows you to record significant life experiences and interactions
  • Journaling enhances your emotional function

With this wealth of benefits of journaling it is also important to note that determining your why could have nothing to do with the benefits of journaling and instead be something that you do to calm your mind and to take time for yourself. Journaling is an excellent method of self-care.

Step 2: Choose a journaling technique

Once you have determined the why behind your journaling you will want to decide what method you want to use to start journaling. In many cases the why behind your journaling will help determine how you express yourself through writing. Journaling techniques describe the different ways that we write entries in journals. Some common methods of journaling include:

  • Stream of consciousness journaling
  • List journals
  • Bullet journals
  • Morning pages
  • Unsent letters
  • Dream journals
  • One-line a Day Journals
  • Reflection Journals  
  • Daily planner journals
  • Gratitude journals
  • Prayer Journals

While I will be describing each technique in detail I want you to know that there are no hard and fast rules about the techniques. This information is simply a guide to help you get started with your journaling routine. Each of these techniques can be transformed into a style that suites your own journaling needs best.

Stream of Consciousness Journaling

With this method of journaling you are essentially letting your thoughts run wild. This could also be considered a brain dump journaling. This method is pretty simple to get started. You simply set a timer and write as your thoughts lead you. You could choose to write one page or several pages continuously. The aim is to be unscripted and follow the flow of your thoughts.

When you use stream of consciousness journaling there is no need to edit or concentrate on grammar. You’re not seeking acceptance. Keep writing until there is nothing left or the timer goes of. This journaling technique often looks like an endless ramble, however, it is quite a freeing experience. This works best for those who have a lot to get off there chest. It is the best way to get in touch with your true self, the uncensored YOU!

Start a Lists Journal

This journaling technique is more straight to the point and quicker to write than free writing. It is a great way to record, plan, and track your goals, hobbies, career, and relationships. Use this technique to come up with your favorite affirmations, self-care logs, books, films, meals, stories, vacation destinations, financial goals, and fitness goals. It is also a great way to record your child’s first words, interests, funny events, and milestones.

If you are considering starting your journaling journey with this technique, I recommend you start with one of the lists guided journals. They give great prompts for creating your lists!

Use a Bullet journal

A bullet journal is a great way to document to do lists, events, and other milestones on a regular basis. As you make bullet journaling a habit, you’ll begin to accrue a library of each year’s activities. These are great mementos to look back on in the future.

Bullet journals can help you get organized as well as explore your creativity in journaling. If you’ve tried to keep a journal or planner before but find yourself getting off track, a bullet journal is a great way to get organized. Bullet journals lack the rigid structure of a planner. Bullet journals provide opportunities for personalization beyond pen color. There are a few standard approaches to a bullet journal, but it’s up to you to make a bullet journal your own. These are some best practices:

  • Pick a notebook you love
  • Set aside the first few pages for an Index
  • Number all your pages
  • Label your pages appropriately
  • Review and revise as needed

If you are serious about starting a bullet journal, I recommend this bullet journal starter guide from my friend Sarah at Calming Grace!

How to start a journal with Morning pages

While there are benefits to journaling as part of your self-care routine at any time of day, journaling in the morning has some particular advantages. Because of these advantages, Morning Pages journaling can have a significant impact on your day! This type of journaling is a form of freewriting that is done in the morning hours, created by Julie Cameron as a technique to help artists unleash their creativity.

To practice Morning Pages journaling you should write first thing in the morning when your prefrontal cortex is active. This is the best time since the ego is low, and normally you aren’t stressed from the day yet. Begin the process by writing 3 pages of what is on your mind. No overthinking and no second-guessing. Its purpose is to provoke, synchronize, and clarify your day.

It is written that this form of journaling can help you clear your morning brain fog, overcome procrastination and be more productive.

Unsent letters

Starting a journal with unsent letters is an emotional experience. This method of journaling is the best option if you are writing to get closure, forgive, or be at peace with a situation or person. The purpose of these letters is not to mail them but to help you channel your anger and pain into words. It is also a powerful tool to write to people you’ve wronged or to address your addictions.

Journal with One Line a day

If you are short on time of not a person of many words then One line a day journaling may be the technique for you. This form of journaling could be considered a chronic list. The focus is to capture key moments as a single line every day. It is also a great option for those who may feel overwhelmed by writing long paragraphs. Just one sentence and you’re done. Some ideas of prompts for the one line could be:

  • Daily memory
  • Child development
  • Daily funny
  • Daily jokes
  • Daily quotes
  • Daily Goals achieved
  • Daily emotional status

Journal your Dreams

This journaling technique encourages you to record your dreams to help you better understand your subconscious and emotions. Use the records to observe any dream patterns or reoccurrences that need interpretation. Recording your dreams is also a great exercise for the brain growth and memory.

Start an Art journal

If you are a more visual person and would rather let your thoughts flow visually, try this journaling technique. Journal entries include doodles, sketches, and collages. It is an effective way of pulling out your creativity and expressing yourself. Art journaling can combine visual and written entries. A few tips to help you if you are considering an art journal include:

  • Use a sketchbook and remember that this is not like a traditional journal. You will most likely be using art supplies to create your entries so you will need a paper that can withstand lots of different media.
  • Create with multimedia. Art journals can transform into anything you want them to be, many people choose art media that appeals to them based off of what they are comfortable I recommend, however, trying something new and expressing yourself in many different ways.
  • When adding letters or words, paint or color them in as a super fun way to channel your creativity.
  • For art journaling to be therapeutic, try to get into a mindful space before you start creating.

Reflection Journaling

This is best used when you are looking back at previous events. The journal becomes a safe place to analyze the events, check your growth, and track your goals or new habits. You can write the reflections in free form or using lists. Lists are a quick way to jot down the lessons and areas to improve on.

Journal using a Daily planner

Many people don’t consider planning your day as a way of starting a journal, but this is often the most common and unknown way people document their lives. Daily planning is a detailed version of a to-do list that incorporates your goals and priorities. Daily planners usually allow you to track multiple different thought processes such as:

  • Your to-do list
  • Daily schedule
  • Gratitude
  • Goal progress
  • Daily priorities

Start a Gratitude journal

Gratitude journaling has so many benefits! This journaling method is great for boosting self-confidence and living in the present. It contains detailed writing about the things and people we are grateful for. This could be a good relationship, an opportunity, or some simple act of kindness. This journaling is best done at least once a week when you are in no hurry to do anything else.

Start a prayer journal

Prayer journaling can be a mixed bag of all of the previous techniques with the addition of the who you are writing to. With a prayer journal you are writing to God. This type of journaling can include lists of prayer requests and praise reports. It can include scriptures, and quotes, as well as stream of consciousness prayers to God.

Step 3 Gather journaling supplies

After you have determined what type of journal you will use, the next step for the journaling beginner is to start to gather your journaling supplies. In the beginning of your journaling process I recommend you use the things that you have around the house. This allows you to try out different techniques without a significant finance burden.

Items you will need to begin journaling include:

  • A Journal, this could be guided or blank! Because I think we should have the freedom to try out a few different techniques, I recommend this leather bound journal from amazon.
  • A pen or pens
  • Washi Tape
  • Ruler or straight-edge
  • Pretty stationary or paper

Step 4: Prepare your journaling space

It helps a lot to have a designated area for journaling, as it creates ambiance and turns it into something you really look forward to. Maybe you have a desk in your bedroom, an office where you can set up a little space, or you write on your dining room table. Set it up with your journal, writing utensil, and a little ambiance like candles or essential oils.

Step 5: Plan journaling into your schedule

When you first start a new routine, any routine, you need it to become a habit. Before you can do that, it will have to be scheduled in. You want to add it to your daily planner or calendar just like any other appointment or event you have. Treat your journaling routine like an assignment you have every day, something you have to do before the day is over. Whether it is added to your night or morning routine, you need to stick to it by having it written on your schedule each and every day.

Step 6: Start writing your entries

At this point you have done all of the preliminary things necessary to start writing out your journal entries. So how do you do this. Well in general, journal entries are the easy part, but if you have yet to really build the practice starting can be awkward.

I recommend starting each entry with the date and taking a deep break. remember that journaling is for your own benefit and no one else’s so you are the only one who’s opinion matters. You want to be consistent in the act of journaling but the practice of journaling requires flexibility.

Some days you will want or need to journal your thoughts in a very free-flowing manner. Other days you will only want or need to write a line of text or a list. Whatever comes of your journaling time, honor that, and allow the benefits of journaling fill you.

Step 7: Give yourself Grace

When you are learning how to start a journal there will be days when you miss the mark. You may forget to journal, miss your scheduled appointment, or simply rush through it to get to your next task. We are human and this is common. There will be times when journaling isn’t what you need to feel as if you are stewarding your mind, body, and soul emotions well.

When this is the case, simply brush off any feelings of guilt or shame and press on. Try again tomorrow to incorporate journaling into your schedule. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Every single positive step is a step in the right direction.

Step 8: Maintaining a journaling habit

Journaling is a habit that a good majority of people would love to get into. Starting is easy, but maintaining the habit can be difficult. You want to have a plan for how to maintain your journaling through the many daily life distractions that can keep you from turning this into a beneficial habit.

Here are five tips for finding time to journal every day and actually get into the habit

Try several methods until you find one that works for you

You need to find a method of journaling that’s right for you. If you’re constantly on your tablet or computer at night, you might want to think about keeping a journal online or using a digital journal. If you’re a paper and pen type of person, get yourself a large notebook of your choosing and try to find a little time each day to journal your thoughts of the day. Keep this in a place that is readily accessible to you to increase the chance of maintaining the habit.

Make it a Habit

The key to keeping up with your journal is to make it a habit. This might not come easy if you’re not used to journaling every day, but over time, you’ll notice that you feel off or weird when you skip a day. The key is to stick with it. If one morning you don’t have time to journal, do it at night as part of your evening routine. Try to pick the same time every day so that it’s just something you do, like brushing your teeth or showering.

Keep it Short and Simple

One issue that a lot of writers have when keeping a journal is that they get too detailed. If your journal entries are a mile long, you’re probably not going to be able to write a post every single day without it taking an hour or longer. Keep your posts short, simple and sweet and you might even find that they’re more enjoyable to read through later on. No one wants to read through an entire essay on how your day went, including the future you.

Attach goals to entries

Finish each entry in your journal with a goal. It doesn’t matter what you write down. But once you finish, attach a goal to that entry. This could be a daily goal, weekly, or even a lifetime goal. For example, if you wrote about a recent breakup, end with one positive affirmation. If your journal entry was about feeling overwhelmed with the baby, home, and work expectations, your goal could be to practice one of the 52 self-care suggestions every week.

Customize Your Journal

Another method for getting into the habit of journaling is customizing your journal so that you’ll want to write in it. If you have an online journal, you can grab a template or create your own so that you can customize it to your needs and interests. If you have a pen and paper journal, you can easily find a great-looking book and get a really nifty pen that you’ll look forward to using every day.

Starting a journal and getting into the habit of journaling each day is a great way to keep tabs of what’s going on. It’s a good outlet for mental health issues ranging from anxiety to depression, and it’s a wonderful source of memories that you might want or even need to go back to a year or two down the road. Be sure to utilize each of these methods so that you’re able to find both the time and motivation to journal each day.

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