I realize that starting a journal can seem daunting for someone who has never tried it before. An enormous amount of social media content portrays journaling as an in-depth planning system, with aesthetic spreads, and an abundance of stationary supplies. But starting a journal is more approachable than it seems! In this post, I will share tips for how to begin journaling and what choices to consider when starting a journal.
Step 1: Decide what to journal about
The first step is to decide which topics you want to journal about. Once you have a general idea, you can make more informed decisions in the next steps. I recommend asking yourself, “What areas of my life would I like to better engage with, and bring more mindful awareness to?”
There are tons of different topics you can keep in a journal. Below are just a few examples. (All the possibilities are so exciting to me!)
- Introspective Journaling: connect with your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations
- Hobby Journaling: for any hobby of your choice: gardening, songwriting, fashion, reading, etc.
- Skill Building: track your progress and keep notes on the information you learn
- Productivity: for planning, to-do lists, and keeping track of tasks
- Art Journaling: draw, sketch, test art supplies, etc.
- Memory Keeping: look back on life experiences, travels, and memories
- Commonplace Book: compile inspiring quotes, lyrics, wisdom, articles, etc.
Step 2: Choose a physical or digital journal
Once you know what you want to journal about, the next step is to figure out whether keeping a physical or digital journal would suit your needs better.
Maybe one method immediately sounds better in your mind! For example, you might love stationary and hand lettering, so journaling in a paper notebook seems like a logical choice. Alternatively, you might be a fast typer and heavy computer user, so it may seem like a digital journaling application would suit you.
However, there are hidden benefits to both methods, so it is useful to choose based on how you will be using your journal.
- For example, if you want to keep an introspective journal, maybe you plan write down your thoughts and feelings at the end of the day to unwind and help clear your mind. Even if you are a heavy computer user, you may find that a paper journal suits you better because you can set time aside every day to unplug, be with yourself, and connect with your physical experience. (Read more about the benefits of paper journaling.)
- Alternatively, maybe you have a constantly changing schedule and you need to keep your tasks with you on the go. Even if you love stationary, you might find a digital journal would give you the flexibility to easily move tasks around, and allow you to sync information between multiple devices.
So, I recommend you think about whether a physical or digital journal would suit your needs based on the journaling topic you chose in step 1. If you start to run into challenges, remember the other option is there for you (whether that’s going from digital to physical journaling, or vice versa). And you might be surprised to love the method you didn’t choose at first! Keep in mind, many people use a combination of both paper and digital journals.
Step 3: Gather essential journaling materials
For paper journals, the only thing you need to begin journaling is a notebook and writing tool. But I highly recommend you choose a notebook and writing tool that you enjoy using! Journaling in a paper notebook is a tactile experience; while writing, you can feel the friction of your pen moving on the page and it’s important you like the way the pen feels in your hand for long periods of time. Your journal and writing instrument do not need to be expensive, just choose ones that you like.
For digital journals, it’s important that you find a journaling app that meets your needs and one that you enjoy using. Consider the features of your digital journaling app: Does it have the formatting options you want, like tables, lists, and layouts? Can it sync to the devices you have (if that is a priority for you)? Is it annoying to use? It’s important to choose a journaling app that feels right to you, so you will want to engage with it regularly.
Step 4: Try out many different journal formats
You can find a great notebook and set out to write to your heart’s content about a particular topic… but if your journaling format isn’t working for you, it can put a damper on your entire experience.
Keep in mind that discovering a format that functions well for you can take time and practice. And it can also take time and practice to produce layouts that look pleasing to you. So consider your first journal as a learning experience, where you can try out many different layouts, make mistakes, and explore what works for you.
Search online for inspiration about how others are using their journals. This might give you some ideas you hadn’t considered, and you can learn what works for others, and combine the right combination of techniques that can enhance your journaling experience. But be wary of the pitfalls of aesthetic journaling.
Step 5: Build a regular habit of journaling
Once you get started, the next step is to keep going! Just like with starting any new habit, remembering to journal regularly could be one of the trickiest steps for many people.
I wrote an entire post dedicated to how to build the habit of daily journaling. My tips include adding journaling to your existing routines, among others. I recommend you check out that post, as those tips have helped me journal every day for an entire year (and counting!).
How is your first journaling experience going? I would love to hear about your successes (or struggles) in the comments! :)