How To Start A Journal And Actually Keep The Habit

Tips to stop your blank notebooks from piling up and go into your bookshelf full of memories instead.

The summer after I graduated high school, I decided to regularly keep a journal. Previously I would write sporadically if I found a journal while cleaning my room, or while on vacation. Ever since that decision, I’ve written an account of each day, sometimes detailed, sometimes simple, but always consistently. Over the years I’ve seen the benefits of keeping a journal, and will gladly share some tips and tricks for how to keep the habit of writing every day. 

Benefits of Journaling

Here are the benefits of starting a journal.

1. Journaling helps you find clarity

Journals are a great place to start sorting through your thoughts and find clarity. This is the place you can say whatever you can’t or don’t want to say out loud. This is the place you get to call your boss a meanie weenie and no one will ever have to know. It’s like having a friend who’s waiting for you to open up so she can help you process... except she’s free at any and all hours of the day!  

2. Helps in keeping a written account of your memories

It sounds simple enough, but it is actually very helpful to have a written account of your day-to-day life. Have you ever found a bank statement for something you don't remember buying? You can check your journal for that day, and realize you did actually buy that soda when you went out of town. You can remember what your aunt bought you for your baby shower to write a better thank you card. There are many times paperwork wants you to know an exact date, and your journal can do just that. 

3. Journaling is a fun activity

Let's be honest, it's also pretty fun to know exactly what you were doing a year ago or beyond. You can read little details about your old job, your old roommate, your old city, etc. that you otherwise would have forgotten as new chapters in your life begin.   

4. Helps you track goals

Journals can also be used as a goal tracker. It’s both a way to hold yourself accountable when figuring out your goals and a way to track your journey as you reach them. In moments when things seem difficult you can read notes to your future-self on why you want to reach those goals. Later you can also see how far you’ve come. 

Find your reason for journaling
Image Source: Pexels

Find Your Reason for Writing And Maintaining a Journal

Here is how you can actually keep the habit of starting and regularly maintaining a Journal:

1. Ask Yourself Why

An important first step is to ask yourself WHY it is that you want to keep a journal. What are the things in your daily life worth writing down now, and worth reading about later? What do you want to remember?

It's each time you finished up a project at work you’re super proud of. Or how happy you were after taking that perfect museum trip with your friend visiting town. Start with those and get more detailed. What are the little things that would make you happy to remember a few months or years from now? Did a cute stranger compliment your new jacket? Did you find $10 on the sidewalk? Did anything quietly beautiful happen?

Sometimes the day-to-day doesn’t seem exciting enough to write about. In any case, you can start with simple things, the tv shows you’re watching, what you cooked for dinner, and then weave in more details about your life around it. Sometimes you start out writing about having pizza leftovers for lunch, then the next thing you know you’re writing about a realization you had about something that happened in the 10th grade. 

Maybe your reason for writing is just to vent emotions, or to process your thoughts through a difficult event. Whatever your reason is, remember that it is important to you when you feel like putting off your entry for the day. 

2. Find Your Structure for Writing

If you still aren’t sure of where exactly to start writing, or if you’re nervous about getting too personal, picture an archeologist reading your journal in 200 years. What would you want her to know about what it was actually like living in the year you do now? How much does milk cost? What sorts of things are you hearing on the news each night? How is everyone around you feeling about said news?

Your archeologist would absolutely love to know these things! Then, if you feel comfortable, slip in facts about what a jerk Mel was to you today, or how angry you suddenly felt running into your ex at the store, and remember your archeologist won’t judge you. She loves the historical knowledge you’re bringing her!

You can even start by writing your journal as a letter… even if you never plan on sending it. Write to it your future spouse, your future child, an existing child in your life, your cousin, your best friend, someone from high school who completely misunderstood you, or again your future archeologist.  

3. Make it Fun!

Buy a notebook with a design you like. Buy a pack of glitter gel pens. Tape in ticket stubs. Use stickers! You can make your journal as fun as you want, and shopping around the stationary aisle might give you some extra motivation to open to the first page and actually start writing. 

Ways to make journaling fun
Image Source: Pexels

The problem is, actually putting ink onto paper, or putting a sticker somewhere feels super permanent. It’s intimidating enough to stop you from starting. However, just remember that once you finish a journal you get to start a new one, and then you can try something different!

Now that you have some fun supplies, you can build fun into your routine too. Drink tea, or hot cocoa as you reflect on your day. Listen to your favorite music, or even put on a low-stakes tv show in the background. 

Don’t forget there are other ways to journal beside a basic diary entry of the day. You can also try a gratitude journal or bullet journaling

Once you’ve started your journal, there are also some tips for how you can keep up the habit. 

4. Write Around Your Schedule

There are many odd places around your day you can squeeze in writing an entry. Start writing in the small spaces you're free, and then if you run out of time it'll be easier to pick it back up later, especially if you do have a more regular writing time later in the day.

Write while you’re waiting for something (like dinner to cook,) while you’re winding down for the day, while you’re still in bed after waking up, while you watch your nighttime tv, while you’re in-between the things that fill your day and you’re not sure what to do with yourself. Find a routine that works for you.

Make writing a journal entry fun with cocoa
Image Source: Pexels

5. On a Busy Day, Just Jot The Key Points Down

One issue you may run into is running out of time at the end of a busy day, or just being too tired to write your daily entry. If and when this happens there’s a simple trick I’ve used to not fall out of habit. I simply write down bullet points of my day on a sticky note or in a calendar that will later remind me of what happened. Then I get to writing with more attention and detail when I do have time.

Keep it simple, write down what hours you went to work, where you went that day, what you ate for lunch, and if you bought anything. This will jog your memory for later. Be warned that the uneventful days are the most difficult to recall if you don’t have notes to look back on. 

6. If It's Difficult To Write, Just Skip It

If something is really difficult to write about, just skip it. You can tell your future self about what happened in another entry. Sometimes bad things happen to us, or we do things we don’t really want our future selves to remember. Sometimes things just make us too angry or sad. It’s better to skip it and keep writing than to end up stopping your writing altogether because you got stuck after you wrote “you’ll never guess what awful thing happened today, journal.” 

Remember that ultimately your journal is yours. You get to decide how serious or detailed you get to be. You can decide on glitter pens with stickers or black ink on Moleskin.

Sometimes after you've truly built the habit of writing a little every day you won't even have to remind yourself. You'll automatically reach for your journal when it's time to write. Months or years from now you'll be thanking yourself for taking the time to give yourself a written record of the days you are living now. 

Happy writing!

Kaydee is a writer who is always looking for her next favorite show. She also loves journaling, graphic novels, and late night comedy.

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