A woman with dark hair sits on a beige sofa writing in an opened bright white journal.

17 Powerful Journaling Tips For Beginners

Struggling to journal every day? Forget the typical advice. Here are my top journaling tips and the life-changing benefits of writing.

It feels hypocritical to write about journaling when I don’t always maintain a perfect writing streak. I get distracted and I deal with depression and anxiety like everybody else.

But here’s the thing: journaling is a habit. It’s not a hobby to indulge in whenever you have the luxury of time.

It’s a habit that – ironically – you need most precisely when you feel anxious, hurried and not in the mood to write. So don’t beat yourself up when you fall short of writing every day.

A woman wearing a loose-fitting grey sweater writes in a notebook with a silver pen. Her desk holds a white cup of coffee and several other notebooks and piles of paper.

Journaling is a check-in tool.

There are seasons in your life when you feel balanced and motivated – and when you’ve got your priorities straight. And other seasons when you’re stressed and wonder why bother journaling at all.

But the value of journaling comes through when you stick with it despite the obstacles.

I’ve written about the value of journaling daily.

But I don’t always keep a daily journal. I haven’t since my teens.

So it’s not my perfection that qualifies me to speak. It’s my belief in the power of journaling because I know that progress beats perfection – and you should too.

A yellow ochre leather journal with golden trim lays on a table next to a simple jar that holds a few green sprigs.

I’m figuring it out as I go. Because the journaling tips I’ve read online don’t always help in real life.

Here’s the thing: you have to experimented and find what works for you. Because the pleasures and benefits of journaling outweigh the necessity of writing on paper or journaling in the morning.

Even a few lines in your note app on the subway are far better than nothing.

Are you struggling to journal every day? Do you sometimes dislike writing or don’t have time for it?

Here are my top journaling tips:

1. You don’t have to keep a paper journal

A woman wearing a yellow ochre sweater and thick silver bracelets sits at a wooden desk typing into a silver laptop.

The usual advice is to write on paper because writing in cursive forces you to slow down and relieves stress.

And though I still love writing a rough draft of a story on paper, I sometimes do my everyday journaling on a laptop.

The speed and ease of the keyboard sometimes works better. I type faster, I feel more productive and I’m less likely to censor myself and more likely to write stream of consciousness.

Because it’s easier to type sometimes versus getting hand cramps from paper journaling.

The trick is to be self-aware. Try a few ways of journaling and observe how it makes you feel. Do you obsess over your handwriting when you’re writing in a paper journal? Try downloading an app for gratitude journaling that gives you daily prompts.

Are you more of a visual person who struggles with words? Start an art journal and express your emotions with daily sketches and doodles that incorporate a bit of writing.

Experiment with writing on paper, on a laptop or on your smartphone and find whatever works best for you. 

2. You don’t have to write first thing in the morning

My hand holding an open journal filled with handwriting that rests on a windowsill with a view of a tree bellow. There's also a small vase of greenery, a cup of milky coffee and a wooden bowl full of rocks and shells beside the notebook.

There’s a lot of talk lately about Morning Pages – the practice of filling 3 sheets of A4 paper each morning with your stream of consciousness thoughts when your mind is still fresh.

Except my mind needs two cups of coffee before it wakes up – and even longer to formulate a decent thought. So I’ve been journaling at night lately when the house is quiet and nobody can interrupt my flow. And my writing flows better.

I do love Morning Pages, but there’s a myriad of ways to journal. The right way is whatever works best for you.

Writing in the morning lets you plan out your day, reflect on how you’ll deal with any anticipated challenges and jot down whatever you’re grateful for.

Evenings are great to reflect back on your day, what you’d do differently and what’s still on your to-do list.

The only question is: what do you want to get out of journaling? And what time and technique works best for you?

Try writing at different times of the day and notice the difference. When are you at your best, and when does it feel most valuable to journal?

3. Get some accountability

A group of three young women sit outside at a dark grey picnic table all writing in their notebooks.

There’s something very motivating about being in a group of like-minded people pursuing the same goal – even if you don’t consider yourself competitive.

Every November, I do NaNoWriMo – an annual writing challenge where people worldwide sign up and pledge to complete an entire novel in one month. I don’t always write a novel every year but I do use the challenge to pound out the recommended 1.6k words daily to hit my monthly goal (and that includes blog posts, short stories and daily rants).

And it works like a miracle. 

NaNo has that sentimental factor when you do it every year. But most importantly there’s the community. Strangers around the world (and friends-to-be) cheer you on. Famous authors send out pep talks on the NaNo website and talk about how much their first drafts always suck.

There’s a lot of energy that you can’t help feeding on.  

Last year, I met with a few women at a cafe in Cairo to write together and it inspired me to keep going, even though I’d been travelling and fell way behind on my word count. It was so encouraging to later update my word count and know my new NaNo friends were cheering me on.

And there are lots of different ways to get that kind of accountability – even when it’s not November writing month.

Form a local writer’s circle or find an existing one on Facebook. Google some online writing communities or just find a few like-minded friends to support each other on WhatsApp.

Get accountability. It’s a powerful tool. Whether that’s a writer’s group in real life, a challenge online or an app to keep track of your writing progress.

4. Start small and keep your expectations realistic

A journal lays open with a torn-out page of a novel resting on top and a small wooden bowl filled with dried leaves, rocks and shelves.

Do you picture yourself with a beautiful Moleskine, a Mona Lisa smile on your face as you fill up pages of insightful prose that your grandchildren will treasure?

That’s not going to happen.

It’s key whenever you’re building a new habit to keep your expectations realistic.

Whenever I fail to take my own advice, I narrow down my goals into the bare minimum that I can manage even on my worst days. When 10 minutes of meditation feels like too much, I cut it down to 5 minutes. Or I do a guided meditation when I can’t sit still.

It doesn’t matter if you write a single line or three pages. What matters in the beginning is to form a habit. Make journaling a part of your daily life and anchor it to another habit like your morning coffee.

And squeeze your journaling into your day until it becomes automatic and until you’re no longer beating yourself up about it.

Just do it, and then refine the how you do it later.

5. If you’ve got writer’s block, write about gratitude

A woman wearing a golden bracelet writes in a bright notebook with a white pen. She sits at a warm wooden desk and there's an empty chair beside her.

Writing about gratitude lifts your spirit and gets your thoughts flowing on the days you’re tired or filled with self-doubt.

This positive energy is downright invigorating. 

And it doesn’t have to be complicated. Start with what’s in front of you – your laptop, the balcony or the desk with your morning coffee. Then describe your emotions in detail.

Instead of trying to fill up a page with lists of everything you’re grateful for, focus on a few and really let yourself feel the emotion of gratitude.

Gratitude journaling is life-changing when it’s used in difficult situations. Ask yourself what can you learn from a difficult day or a harsh experience?

6. Try a new environment

A young woman with curly brown hair wearing a grey sweater and grey hat writes in a notebook. She's sitting outdoors on a shore with a vast stretch of rolling water in front of her.

A different setting gets your senses going and inspires new insights.

Sitting on a sunny terrace at a cafe gives you something to write about and lets you forget the daily grind of your desk.

If you feel uninspired, then change your surroundings. Step out onto your balcony or grab a chair in your garden and journal from there. Take your journal to work and jot down a few lines on your lunch break.

Pick it up in the evening and doodle as you watch TV.

There’s no right time and place to journal. It’s about finding whatever works for you.

7. Schedule your journaling into your day

A journal lays open filled with cursive handwriting. A brown pen and a cup of milky coffee lay beside it.

Set aside a time to journal – otherwise you’ll probably never get to it. And journaling whenever you’re in the mood is bound to fail.

Journaling lifts your spirits. And that means sometimes you just have to get on with it – even when you’re feeling uninspired.

When you schedule journaling into your day, you’ll be less likely to make excuses or rely on sheer willpower alone.

Inspiration will find you – but only when you’re writing.

To make journaling a part of your daily routine, anchor it to another habit you’re already maintaining well.

If you drink coffee religiously in the morning, make it a habit to write a few lines when you get halfway through your cup. If you unwind with a Netflix series at night, make it a point to scribble down a few lines before you hit play.

8. Track your journaling habit

An open journal lays on a wooden table that also holds a small pot with a succulent plant, a jar of ground coffee and a perfect cappuccino with swirls of foam.

We humans love to make a chain of habits and we hate to see it break.

I use a habit tracking app to mark off each day when I’ve journaled, even it if was just for 5 minutes. It’s so satisfying psychologically to see those marks add up to a streak.

And on the days when I’m not in the mood to journal, I open my notebook up just for 5 minutes for the sake of keeping that habit streak going.

Once I get past those 5 minutes, I often want to keep going and end up writing more.

And that’s the beauty of journaling. It’s not about willpower but about a small daily habit that you eventually don’t even think about.

Journaling becomes as routine as brushing your teeth.

9. Use different journaling techniques

A blank journal lays open on a white table, topped with a page torn out of a novel and a small wooden bowl with rocks, leaves and shells. There's a pressed dried flower on top of the journal and another green sprig on the table.

Keep your journaling interesting and spicy by using different journaling techniques. It doesn’t have to be the same old every day.

If you feel overwhelmed at work, brainstorm some solutions to your problems and make a streamlined to-do list that puts your real priorities at the top.

If you’re just in the mood for some TV, make a list of your favourite Netflix series and review the ones you’ve seen.

Make your journal work for you. Let it be there in whatever capacity you need.

There are dozens of journaling techniques for almost any purpose and occasion. From writing an angry unsent letter when you want to vent to sketching out ideas for your next project, a journal is your space for whatever you need.

A journal helps you plan your day or track your habits. Fill it in with your favorite movie quotes, recipes or reflections on how your children are growing up.

If you find yourself bored with journaling then shake things up and try something new.

10. Make your journal personal and messy

A woman writes in an opened journal that's filled with small writing and doodles of shells and fish.

Does the thought of writing in a spiralbound notebook bring back memories of dull work meetings that should have been emails?

Or maybe a beautiful notebook seems intimidating to fill with your illegible cursive?

Your journal should feel like it’s yours and it should fit your personality. Maybe that’s a leather-bound notebook that you can whip out comfortably on a business flight. Or maybe that’s a worn cloth-bound notebook filled with painted daisies.

Your journal should make you look forward to writing.

If you have new notebook, then fill that first blank page with some lyrics or quotes to break the ice.

And don’t obsess about your handwriting. You’re probably out of practice and it will look messy in the beginning. Handwriting gets better – and more legible – with time.

Make some messy doodles or scrawl some quotes into the margins to further smash those high expectations.

Your journal is your tool – not a photo for social media waiting to happen.

11. Keep a journal handy in your bag

A pale pink purse lays open revealing an issue of Kinfolk magazine inside, a black notebook, a smart phone and a black pen.

When you’re stuck on the bus in traffic, just pull out your journal and jot down your thoughts or vent your anxieties.

An extra journal kept in your bag is very useful when you’re in a waiting room, a traffic jam or any situation with time on your hands.

A journal is a great substitute for smart phone scrolling. Whenever you’re restless and reach for your smartphone, pull out your journal instead. It may be awkward at a boring dinner party, but a dentist’s office or bank are perfect settings for a journaling session.

When you’re on vacation, a travel journal is an incredible tool to jot down your sensations when they’re still fresh in your mind. Use a journal to plan your trip and keep track of any restaurants you’ve tried or museums you’d love to revisit.

If you’re intimidated to write in your journal in public, then don’t worry. It gets easier.

And remember that someone may give you a weird look, but they actually have no idea if you’re drafting up a business plan or complaining about your ex.

So let your thoughts flow freely.

12. Make journaling a pleasure

A woman in a white sweater writes with a blue pen inside a spiral notebook with a cup of coffee in the foreground.

Journaling should be a pleasure and a treat – not a chore you knock off your daily to-do list.

Invest in a fountain pen to make your writing flow like silk. Dab on some perfume before you start writing. Brew your favorite herbal tea and turn on your favorite calming playlist.

You’ll start to associate those little indulgences with journaling and that will make your writing time a real pleasure.

But don’t overthink it. Don’t expect your journaling to be impossibly Pinterest-worthy hygge.

13. Analyze what isn’t working

A blank journal lays open next to a sheet of paper with cursive writing and a small wooden bowl full of rocks and shells.

What do you want to get from journaling?

Do you want to manage your anger? Become a better sales manager? Get inspired for your child’s next birthday party?

Identify your goals and then look back at your journal to see what you’ve achieved. Or try journaling about your journaling. Do you feel bored and dread those 15 minutes of writing, or do you look forward to it?

Be mindful of your emotions and how journaling makes you feel. Do you feel energized at the end of a journaling session, or just relief that it’s over?

If journaling isn’t working for you and bringing you results, then it won’t be easy to maintain your daily journaling habit. So take time to think about what isn’t working and experiment to find what journaling technique works best.

Is it time to try a new technique or to switch from laptop to paper? Does journaling in the morning or evening work better for you?

Be candid with yourself and make journaling work for your real life.

14. Use your journal for stress management

A pale blue notebook, a spiral notebook and a brown pen lay on top of a white sofa next to a big white cushion with navy stripes.

Journaling is the most effective form of therapy – and it’s absolutely free, too.

Whenever you feel frazzled, overwhelmed or anxious, there’s nothing like pouring your frustrations out into a journal for catharsis.

Once you fill up a page or two, you gain some much-needed distance from your troubles. You realize things aren’t as bad as they seemed and you might even see that silver lining.

Let your vents and rants sit for a few days and read them back later. You’ll realize that your daily frustrations are rarely as insurmountable as they seem.

15. Write for your eyes only

My hand lays on top of an opened journal filled with cursive handwriting. On top of the white desk there's also a dark brown coffee cup, a jar of water with a green branch inside and a small wooden bowl filled with rocks.

It’s difficult to journal honestly unless your journal is absolutely private.

When you write in hope (or fear) that others will read your words, it becomes harder to write truthfully and express your real emotions.

You won’t write for self-awareness but to impress others or prove a point.

Keep your journal in a secure place. And if you’re still worried that others will stumble upon it, find a hiding space or use a laptop protected with a password.

16. Keep a list of journaling prompts for speechless days

A brown leather notebook decorated with a drawing of flowers lays on top of a light grey desk alongside another opened journal and a black pen.

Write about a variety of prompts to keep your journaling fresh and interesting.

Keep a list of journaling prompts ready in your notebook or a word doc for the days you’re at a loss for words.

Pinterest is a gold mine for journaling prompts for any mood and occasion.

Create a board for your journaling and gather some prompts – or if you’re not on Pinterest then take some screenshots.

17. Don’t wallow or self-blame

A woman writes in an open journal with a black pen against a background of dark wood.

Journaling can be anything from a fun hobby to meaningful therapy.

But you won’t get much benefit from journaling if you wallow too long in your problems or constantly blame yourself.

It’s great to release your pent-up emotions in a journal and to have a rant. But eventually you should start brainstorming about solutions or jotting down some things you’re grateful for.

If your journaling gets dark and stays there, chances are it won’t help you grow.

What’s your journaling technique?

A journal lays open next to a cup of coffee on a bed filled with grey linen with the sun streaming in from a window.

There are many different ways to journal.

And how you journal should depend on what you’re facing in life and what you’d like to get out of your writing..

Whether you want to start a bullet journal to get organized or get into the habit of writing daily Morning Pages, read my ultimate guide to Life-Changing Journaling Techniques to find what works best for you.

How to beat writer’s block

A journal lays open on a dark wooden table filled with small handwriting and a sketch of a sun-shaped doodle.

No matter how long you journal, there will always be days when you just don’t feel like writing. And days when you have nothing to say.

Keep a list of journal prompts inside your notebook. Whenever you don’t know what to write, pick some journaling prompts to get inspired.

Journal prompts can serve a variety of different purposes. Read my ultimate guide to 100 Incredible Journaling Ideas for a list of prompts for anxiety, clarity and more.

More resources:

51 Inspiring Quotes About Journaling (To Get You Writing!)

Nature Journaling: An Essential Guide (+8 Tips To Start)

Journaling for Mental Health (And 30 Powerful Prompts)

18 Incredible Journaling Benefits (To Transform Your Life)

24 Inspiring Journaling Examples (To Get You Writing)