January 2021: Written by Jamie Petersen
If you have never kept a journal before, the thought of starting one may be intimidating. Where do you start? What do you use, and what do you write about?
It should not feel daunting; it is a refreshing experience, and believe it or not, it is highly beneficial too. I began journaling recently, and I also sat at that same roadblock wondering how to start journaling. Before I could even discover the words I wanted to express, I decided that I should make journaling a new habit, and allow it to form part of my daily routine.
Making it a habit meant I could program my brain into making journaling a natural part of my day. I am sure you can relate that it is easy to start something, but maintaining it is the challenge that lies ahead.
So, I decided to eliminate the challenge and diarize my journal time for every day. I scheduled my journal entries for 8:30 pm every night. It was guaranteed to be my quiet time after the children were tucked into bed. It is important to make sure you journal in a quiet place and at a time that grants you peaceful self-reflection without distraction.
With my new venture diarized, I was ready to start journaling and to embark on an amazing experience. This article is for you, the beginner, and I am here to share with you how to start journaling.
Journaling for beginners is going to raise a lot of questions at first. When 8:30 pm came around for my very first journal entry, I sat in my office quietly and realized that I had no idea how to journal. Did I need a private diary as I had as a teenager, or did I start typing away on the laptop? I wasn’t up for trying to keep a book in a safe place, so I decided to journal online using the platform, Emote.
The platform offers me privacy and has been built for every journaler there is, including beginners. It guided me to my space of creativity, and once I sat in front of the page it displayed, I had realized there was really nothing to feel anxious about.
You may find comfort in writing down your thoughts in a book, but you may also enjoy the online experience and the use of prompts. It all comes down to personal preference.
Now that I was all set up in my private space with the laptop on and a cup of tea by my side, I realized that I had no idea what to write about. I stared at the blank page on my screen and sipped my tea as I waited for a thought to pop into my head.
Do I write about losing my mom as a child to suicide and get heavy into my emotions that I had tucked away safely all these years? Did I write something dedicated to my children amidst the unknown of the coronavirus pandemic? Or did I simply write about the day I had? No one told me what I was supposed to write in a journal.
But that is actually the wonderful thing about journaling. There are no strict guidelines about what you should be writing about. It is entirely up to you and what you want to share and write about.
Perhaps a great way to start is to ask yourself why you want to start journaling? You will be pleasantly surprised by how well your answer guides you into writing those first words.
So, I started writing about my day because at that moment I was feeling happy. I had a wonderful day with my family, and I wanted to write about the inspirations behind my happiness. I started by dating my journal entry and then got right into it:
“Today, Carter said his first word. And while I had hoped it would be Mama, it was Dada. But I saw the way my husband lit up with excitement, and I didn’t mind that Dada was his first spoken word. It was a special moment I watched from a distance. He is such a wonderful father; I was happy he was rewarded with Carter’s first words…”
As soon as you start that first sentence, the thoughts just seem to flow naturally. I struggled to stop typing as the time ticked past quickly. I was excited to write in my journal again.
As your journaling continues, you can explore the benefits of expressive writing to unlock some of your deeper emotions.
Still not sure what to write about, or do you want to change it up a bit? Here are some helpful tips for beginners:
Start to write whatever is on your mind, without limitation.
Write about what you need to do that day (or the next) and where you want to focus your efforts.
Sometimes a list adds comfortable structure. You jot down a list for anything – what you need to do, what you accomplished the day before, things that make you happy, etc.
Prompts are a question that you answer in your journal entry. They are uniquely designed to get you started, and they help you clarify your thoughts on a certain subject.
Gratitude is a powerful tool that encourages happiness because it shifts our mindset from what we don’t have to what we do have.
Vanilla papers notes: “Writing about gratitude will lift your spirits and get your thoughts flowing again on the days you’re tired or filled with self-doubt.”
You can write a letter to someone telling them your innermost thoughts and feelings while still keeping them entirely safe and confidential inside your journal because you do not send your letter. I particularly love this technique because it helps me process my emotions rationally when I read aloud what I want to tell someone. I do not mind not sending it because it grants me my own closure.
Take a step back and journal from another person’s perspective, or from your own perspective in the future or in another time frame.
When you first start journaling, start small and keep your expectations realistic. There is no need to edit either. You will enjoy going back on your thoughts in what could be considered their purest moments.
Remember to write about the good and the bad and always be patient with yourself; some days you may write a few sentences, and other days an entire page or two.
If you are looking for inspiration, why not explore group journaling? You could sit in on a session and listen to how others journal and gain some insight and advice. If you are feeling up to it, you could write your own small piece to share with the group too. You will be surprised just how beneficial group journaling really is.
“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.” — J.M. Barrie