The Joys of Journal Keeping

Craft flower made with jewelry beads and paper petals

Journal keeping offers many joys for both adults and children. Set goals with a bullet journal. Start a novel with a creative writing notebook. Keep track of inspirations, quotes, recipes or wellness tips. There’s a journaling style for everyone.


Have you tried journaling before without results? Are you thinking to yourself, “I can keep up my exercise plan, I don’t have the time to journal”? Dare we try to persuade you to give this happy, healthful habit a try?  Y.E.S. Read on for the why, who, what and how of journaling, then choose the journal keeping tools you need.

WHY?

A record of life. Journal keeping preserves memories in a deeper way than smart phone photographs. Remember names, places and the perspectives you brought to a moment or a day. A journal is a very personal legacy.

A pathway to healthy routines. Journaling is an act of self-discipline that requires no technology, no special location and not much time. Yet, as you deepen your commitment to journal-keeping, you build up the discipline “muscle” so that you can add more positive routines, such as exercise or healthy eating, to your lifestyle.

“The habit of writing for my eye is good practice. It loosens the ligaments.” — Virginia Woolf

A home for ideas. Did you ever get an idea for a poem or story — or think of a terrific gift, decorating idea or recipe — only to have your day get in the way and the notion disappear? A journal is a place to keep these thoughts. Making a daily habit of recording creative thoughts helps you be more attuned to them (and remember them better) while honing your voice and style.

A ticket to goal achievement. Just as the best way to build a house is with a blueprint, a journal is an optimal tool to describe, chart and comment on key life objectives. Writing about weight, fitness or other targeted plans helps clarify and crystallize your process. A goal-focused journal is a daily reminder of your plan that helps keep it front-of-mind, making you more likely to stay focused and succeed.

An aid for emotional wellness. Intentionally writing about feelings, emotional experiences and concerns helps you to take a reasoned look at them, understand more about your motivations and, sometimes, to create plans of action to address issues. Getting those emotions on paper can help you process them, reducing anxiety and even enabling better sleep. Recording moments of joy and gratitude can also increase happiness.

“The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent.” — Susan Sontag

yellow striped journal and pencil
What kind of writer are you? Take our Storyteller Quiz.

WHO?

Journaling has been practiced across centuries and disciplines by an epic range of individuals. The journal-keepers’ role call includes scientists from Albert Einstein to Leonardo DaVinci to Marie Curie; famous figures from Anne Frank to Nelson Mandela to Oprah; and many, many writers — J.K. Rowling, Susan Sontag, Mark Twain, Joan Didion and David Sedaris come to mind without even searching the internet!

“I’ve been keeping a diary for thirty-three years…It’s an invaluable aid when it comes to winning arguments. ‘That’s not what you said on February 3, 1996,’ I’ll say to someone.” — David Sedaris, The New Yorker interview, 2009

While the quote above is lovely — and certainly journaling is first and foremost a gift you give to yourself — the journals of the folks noted above (and many others) led to fame and, in some cases, fortune. (Not to be materialistic or anything!)

What?

There are many options for the kind of journal you can choose to keep. We’ve organized them into four categories, followed by several prompts to which you can return to get started after reading the “How?” section below.

Creative Journals are a great space for… Poetry, Short Stories, Novel Ideas, Sketches, Ideas

  • Make a list of favorite books or songs, least favorite foods, names for story characters, traits of a hero or villain
  • Write a letter to a childhood friend or lost love
  • Describe your dream bedroom or plan a fantasy getaway
  • Choose a cherished object, such as a piece of jewelry or small artwork, and describe it in detail
  • Think back to a time that you said yes or no to something, and write about making the opposite choice
  • Review the last book you read or movie you saw
  • Put yourself or a character into a trap (a locked room, a closed road, a mountaintop, taking a test filled with unanswerable questions) and write the way out
  • Keep an ongoing list of titles for imaginary books

Inspirational Journals focus on… Gratitude, Prayers, Dreams & Reflections

  • Write 3 things for which you are grateful each day
  • Recall your happiest thought or experience from the day before
  • Write a spiritual or inspirational quotation, where/how you found it and your reaction
  • Describe an image from a dream or daydream and why you think this image came to mind
  • Make a list of people, places and things that bring you joy
  • Write about a piece of wisdom shared by a loved one

“The act of writing is the act of discovering what you believe.” — David Hare, playwright

Lifestyle Journals (such as Bullet Journals) help with goal-setting and keep busy lives focused on priorities

  • Write a single goal for the day (large or small)
  • Calendar and record essential events of the day for future reference
  • Log daily activities, such as exercise minutes, calorie counts and/or project tasks achieved
  • Create a bullet journal style by quickly writing tasks and goals, and using a coding system (dots, dashes, carets) for tracking the process of each entry
  • Write about something you’ve been avoiding (what, for how long and why?)
  • Incorporate sketches, diagrams and clippings as inspiration or guidance for upcoming events
  • Note words of wisdom and celebrate wins
How?

Journaling requires very little investment of anything besides time. Just a notebook (pick something that inspires or excites you to write) and pen or pencil. It’s really more about the mindset. Here are a few tips for success.

  • Choose a regular writing time and place. Most people find morning works the best, but it should be a time that feels right for you. Be prepared to forgive yourself for missing the occasional day, or for rescheduling to a different time.
  • Unplug (mute your cellphone, disconnect from the internet), declutter (put mail, catalogs, bills and to-do lists out of reach) and choose a quiet, cozy place.
  • Create a centering routine. Several deep breaths, a long look out a window, a hot cup of tea…your writing practice begins before the first word with a few mindful moments in which you move your focus to the journal.
  • Set a time limit. The act of daily journaling is a lot less overwhelming if you can reassure yourself it will only take ten or fifteen minutes. Set a timer, and decide in advance whether you will absolutely put down your pencil when it rings, or whether this time limit is a minimum.
  • Have fun. If the writing feels more like a chore than a release, keep a list of enjoyable questions or writing prompts and pivot until the pen moves more easily. Try writing a list of reasons why writing is fun, or describing a happy experience (big or small) or writing something very short and simple, such as an acrostic poem or haiku.

Feeling inspired to give journaling a try? What next? Try to resist the urge to spend the next hour scouring the internet for more tips on journal-keeping, and instead write for just five minutes on the following prompt:

“My name is ______ and today I begin journaling because…”

We leave you with this grand inspiration from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Antony Doerr:

“A good journal entry ought to be a love letter to the world.”