How to Journal: A Beginner's Guide
There are no rules in journaling which means you really can make it up and do whatever you want. But I know that can feel overwhelming when you want to get started somewhere. What notebook to use? How often should you journal? What should even write about?!
Loves, I've got you.
Read on for my journaling tips for beginners...
So what is journaling?
At its most basic journaling is simply writing down your thoughts onto paper — or onto a screen if you prefer to type. There are lots of different ways to do it — some people like to answer prompts, others prefer to write freestyle without any constraints. Some people like to journal every single day without fail, others prefer to journal only when they need it. You can write huge rambling paragraphs or a list or a line or a word. You can collage with images and not use any words at all!
You don’t need nice handwriting or a fancy notebook to journal. You don’t have to sit writing for hours and you don’t have to even write in complete sentences! Spelling and punctuation don’t matter a jot when you journal (unless they really matter to you, of course).
Journaling is for you and you alone. No one else is going to see it or grade it. It’s a space for you to express yourself and it’s the most powerful tool I know for clearing your head and getting to the heart of how you feel.
Your first journal
A journal doesn’t have to be fancy and expensive — in fact, it’s better if it’s not! I’ve probably owned hundreds of notebooks I’ve never used because I didn’t want to “ruin them”. And where are they now? Some are in boxes under the stairs, others have been lost to the winds of time. None were written in and that’s such a shame.
So my best tip is this: use a journal you want to journal in.
It doesn’t matter if your notebook costs a few dollars from the grocery store or fifty pounds from the chicest paperie in town, as long as you really really want to write in it. It needs to be practical and fit for use, but it should also delight your senses.
Go for the one with the pretty cover if that makes you want to pick it up and use it. Or maybe the super minimal look is more your thing?
If you have larger handwriting choose a larger notebook — A4 or A5 size. If you have smaller handwriting consider B6 or A6. What sort of pen do you enjoy writing with? What colour ink would feel right? Lined paper, grid or blank? And would you like to decorate your pages or keep them plain and simple?
For decades I was perfectly content using a blue biro on lined paper (Moleskine notebooks were my jam) but now I love to embellish my (Stalogy notebook) pages with stickers and washi tape and pick jewel-bright inks in my fountain pens because it makes me happy.
What would make journaling feel fun for you?
Notebook brands I like:
Stalogy — soft cover, simple minimal design with thin paper that's great for fountain pen ink
Moleskine — hardcover notebooks, perfect for throwing in your bag
Leuchtturm 1917 — hardcover notebooks, slightly larger than Molesines, with numbered pages (so useful!)
Take your time choosing your tools so journaling feels like a treat every time you come to the page. That’s the vibe you’re aiming for: practical and enjoyable.
One more thing: I highly recommend doing all your journaling by hand. Writing with pen and paper connects us to our body in a way that tapping on a phone or typing onto a keyboard doesn’t. Plus a notebook never needs to be charged! Writing by hand slows us down. It soothes, especially when you find the right pen and ink combo.
Your handwriting doesn’t need to be neat or perfect or a certain size, so unless you find writing by hand uncomfortable, do try to keep it analogue as much as you can.
When to journal
The short answer is: whenever you need to, want to or feel inspired to. Early birds like the morning, night owls the evening — and everything in between!
I mostly journal in the morning when I get to my desk. I like to check in with myself before my to-do list takes over and I'll often return to the page periodically throughout the day. When I’m really busy I often journal even more as my journal transforms itself into my coach and cheerleader. There are also weeks when I forget I even have a journal, and that's okay too!
What sort of journaling routine would suit your lifestyle?
If you'd like to experiment with daily journaling, 10 minutes a day is ideal. Would it help to journal at a set time of time day or do you operate better with more flexibility in your schedule?
You may be in a season of your life when finding time to journal is tricky, so combine it with things you already do — journal for ten minutes with your morning coffee, jot down thoughts while waiting in your car, keep your notebook by your bed for a nighttime decompress.
For more tips on creating your own consistent journaling practice check out my workshop, In The Flow.
What to journal about
The million dollar question! And the answer is: anything. The cornerstone of journaling is writing about how you feel, and this could be how you feel in the moment, contemplations about the past or visualising future dreams and plans.
If you have a decision to make a list of pros and cons in your journal will bring clarity.
If you've had a hard day, your journal gives you a place to vent. Maybe something happened you want to remember forever — use your journal to document those memories (add photos!)
In short, a journal is for whatever you need in the moment — it's not just for sad days or happy days, it's for all the days.
Jot down quotes from a book or film.
Record an insightful tarot reading.
Write a letter to someone you love.
Write a letter to something you're struggling with.
Fill an entire page with questions.
Doodle your to do list in colourful inks.
Write your bucket list at the back of your notebook and keep adding to it.
Use a journal prompt or write stream of consciousness, stopping only when you've run out of steam.
Set a timer and write without stopping for 10 minutes.
Decorate the page with stickers and words written in pink ink...
In short, anything goes!
The one thing I always do
I always start a journal entry with the date (for example: "June 23rd, Friday") and underline it. Obviously this isn't crucial to journaling and it doesn't matter if you forget! For me I like knowing when I wrote an entry as I often flick through old notebooks, but the main reason I suggest dating your entries is it gets you writing. Your pen is already on the page so you may as well keep going!
The daily check-in
Obviously not everyone wants or needs to journal daily, but if you're keen to establish a regular journaling practice consider doing a daily check-in with your journal. Write the date at the top of the page — or on the next available line — and let the words tumble out. There’s no time limit, so if you find yourself wanting to keep writing, keep writing!
Some simple check-in prompts you could use:
IN THE MORNING
This morning I feel ________
Today I need ________
One thing I’d love to get done today ________
IN THE EVENING
Today was ________
I'm letting go of ________
One thing I’m grateful for ________
You really can't do it wrong when it comes to journaling. Like I said at the start, having so much freedom can feel overwhelming, but once you find your notebook and pen, and have a few entries under your belt, you'll find you start creating your own journaling habits and rituals. It's not about practice making it perfect, it's practice making it easier to reach for your notebook and start writing.
One final tip: Note down all the journaling prompts you love in the back of your notebook, so you can always flip to the back and find something to help you start.
Happy journalling! xo
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