journaling tips
Journaling,  Slow Living

17 Journaling Tips For Beginners

When you’re struggling to get into the habit of journaling daily, sometimes it’s best to forget the usual advice. Here are my top journaling tips.

Sometimes I write how-to stories and the tips really work in my daily life. Then a few weeks later all my good habits fall apart.

And sometimes it feels hypocritical to write about journaling tips when I don’t always maintain a perfect daily writing streak. I get distracted and I deal with depression and anxiety like many others.

But here’s the thing: journaling is a habit. It’s not a hobby for when you’re feeling great or have the luxury of time.

It’s a habit we develop that we actually need most when we’re feeling anxious, hurried or just not in the mood. And we don’t have to beat ourselves up whenever we fall short of writing daily.

Journaling can also be a check-in tool. There are seasons in our lives when we feel balanced and motivated, and we’ve got our priorities straight. And other times we’re stressed and wonder what it’s all for.

But the value of journaling comes through when we stick with it despite the ups and downs.

I’ve written before about the value of journaling daily.

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

Though maybe it’s not achieving perfection that makes someone qualified to speak. Maybe it’s the belief in the value of journaling and the persistent desire to make it work.

journaling tips
Journaling offers many powerful benefits, but it’s not always easy to get into the habit of writing every day.

I’m figuring it out as I go along. Because the journaling tips I’ve read haven’t always helped in my real life.

So I thought I’d experiment and find whatever works for me. Because the joys and benefits of journaling outweigh the necessity of writing on paper or journaling in the morning. Something – even a few sentences in your note app when you’re on the subway – is much better than nothing.

Are you struggling with journaling every day, or maybe you just hate to write or don’t have the time for it?

My advice is to experiment and find whatever works for you – even if it goes against the common journaling tips out there.

Here are my top journaling tips:

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

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 for a story on paper, I sometimes get on my laptop for everyday journaling.

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 not much effort to type something out versus getting hand cramps from paper journaling.

journaling tips
You don’t have to keep a paper journal. Experiment and find whatever works to get into the writing habit.

The trick is to be self-aware. Try a few ways of keeping a journal 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 will give you daily prompts you can simply type in. 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 some 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.

There’s been 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, when the house is quiet and when no delivery man will interrupt my flow. And my writing flows better.

I do love Morning Pages, but there’s a myriad of ways to journal. The only way that’s right 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 or even jot down whatever you’re grateful for. Evenings, for their part, are great for reflecting back on your day, what you’d do differently and what’s on your to-do list for tomorrow.

journaling tips
Whether you write in the morning or at night, both practices have their advantages.

The only question is: what do you want to get out of journaling? And what time and technique would work 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.

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 competative.

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 write a novel every year (the rules are flexible) but I do use the challenge to pound out the recommended 1.6k words daily to hit that monthly goal. And I use that word count to write blog posts, short stories or daily rants.

And it works like a miracle. 

There’s the sentimental factor when you do NaNoWriMo every year, but most importantly there’s the community. Strangers around the world and those soon to be friends who cheer you on. Famous and brilliant authors sending out pep talks on the NaNo website and talking about how much their first drafts always suck. There’s so much energy that you can’t help feeding on.

journaling tips
Finding other likeminded people who want to journal helps get you motivated.

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 target word count. It was so encouraging to log in and update my word count and see that line rise on the graph and know my new NaNo friends were cheering me on.

And there are so many ways to get that accountability even when it’s not November.

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.

Do you imagine yourself with a beautiful Moleskine, a Mona Lisa smile on your face as you fill up pages and 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 a single snippet that I can manage even on my worst days. When 10 minutes of meditation felt like too much and I had problems keeping still, I cut it down to 5 minutes. I also have short guided meditations for the days I’m too tired to go alone.

journaling tips for beginners
Keeping a journaling habit going – even if you only have a few minutes a day – is infinitely better than setting unrealistic goals.

It doesn’t matter whether you write a single line or three pages – what matters in the beginning is that you form a habit. Make journaling a part of your daily life and anchor it to another habit – like your morning coffee or your evening washing up. And get that journaling in there until it becomes routine and automatic and until you’re no longer fighting with yourself about how badly or well you’re doing it.

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

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

Writing about gratitude will lift your spirits and get your thoughts flowing again 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 or journal, the balcony or the desk with your morning coffee. Then describe your emotions in detail. Instead of trying to fill up a page with all the things you’re grateful for, try focusing on a few and really let yourself feel the emotion of gratitude.

Gratitude journaling can be life-changing when it’s used in difficult situations or downright irritating relationships. Ask yourself, despite all the bad, what can you learn from a difficult day? What qualities do you admire in your partner – even if you don’t want to be around them right now?

journaling tips for mental health
Writing down everything you’re grateful for is a powerful mood booster – and it helps you conquer writer’s block.

6. Try a new environment.

Sitting out on the terrace at a cafe gives me something to write about and lets me forget the daily grind of my desk and laptop. A different setting gets my senses going and inspires thoughts.

If you’re feeling 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 for journaling – it’s about finding whatever works for you.

7. Schedule your journaling into your day.

Otherwise you might never make the time for it – and journaling whenever you’re in the mood and inspired is bound to fail.

Journaling lifts you when you’re not feeling in the mood and that means sometimes you just have to get on with it even when you’re feeling uninspired. And 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, set aside a time for it. Anchor it to another habit you’re already great at maintaining.

journaling techniques
You won’t always feel like writing, but a journaling routine will keep your habit going.

If you drink coffee religiously in the morning, make it a habit to write a few lines when you get halfway through your cup. Or 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.

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

I use an app called Loop Habit Tracker 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 it up just for 5 minutes for the sake of keeping that habit streak going.

Very often once I’m past those 5 minutes, I find myself wanting to keep going.

And that’s the beauty of journaling. It’s not about willpower but about forming a small daily habit that you’ll eventually think less about. Journaling becomes as routine as brushing your teeth.

9. Use different journaling techniques.

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

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

how to develop a writing habit
There are dozens of different journaling techniques to keep you interested when you feel unmotivated to write.

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

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 need to vent to sketching out ideas for your next quilting project, a journal is your space for whatever you need.

A journal can help you plan your day or track your projects or hobbies. Fill it in with your favorite movie quotes, notes on recipes you’ve tried 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.

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 like a shame 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’re cracking open a new notebook and looking for an ice breaker, then fill that first, intimidating blank page with a favorite song lyric or inspirational quote.

benefits of writing a daily diary
Making your journal personal and unique inspires you to write more.

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 practice and plenty of patience. So don’t let an un-Instagrammable cursive stop you.

Make some messy doodles or scrawl some quotes into the margins to further break that ice and smash those high expectations. Your journal is your tool – not an Instagram flatlay waiting to happen.

11. Keep a journal handy in your bag.

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

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

A journal can also be a great substitute for smart phone scrolling. Whenever you find yourself restless and reaching for your smartphone, pull out your journal instead. Sure it may be awkward during a dinner party, but a dentist’s office or bank are perfect settings for a journaling session.

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

how to keep a diary tips
A journal kept in your bag makes a great passtime when you’re suddenly hit with unexpected wait times.

If you’re intimidated to write in your journal in public, then don’t worry. It gets easier with time and it’s helpful to remember that people may shoot you the odd glance, but they actually have no idea whether you’re drafting up a business plan or complaining about your ex.

So let your thoughts flow freely.

12. Make journaling a pleasure.

Journaling should be a pleasure and a treat – not a chore you knock off your daily 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 infusion and settle back in a comfortable corner or turn on your favorite playlist.

You’ll begin to associate these little indulgences with journaling and they’ll make your writing time a real pleasure.

But don’t overthink it. Expecting the journaling process to be impossibly hygge will only disappoint when reality hits.

13. Analyze what isn’t working.

What do you hope 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 evaluate if you achieved what you wanted. Or try journaling about your journaling. Do you feel bored and dread that 15 minutes of writing, or do you look forward to it?

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

how long should i journal each day
Being self-aware and analyzing your journaling habit helps you avoid what just isn’t working.

If journaling is not working for you and bringing you results, then it won’t be easy to maintain your daily journaling habit. Make time to look at 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.

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

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

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

And once you’re done, let your entry sit for a few days and read it back later. You’ll begin to realize that your daily frustrations are rarely worth stressing over.

15. Write for your eyes only.

Journaling is wonderful therapy but it’s difficult to write 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 to prove a point.

how to keep a daily diary
Write for your eyes only and your journal will be more intimate and honest.

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

16. Keep a list of journaling prompts for a speechless day.

Writing about a variety of topics and prompts keeps your journaling fresh and interesting. Keep a list of journaling prompts ready to go in your notebook or in 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 to have handy.

17. Don’t wallow or self-blame.

Journaling can be anything from a fun hobby to a form of meaningful therapy. But you won’t get much benefit if you only wallow in problems or constantly blame yourself.

It’s great to release those pent-up emotions in a journal and it’s helpful to have a rant. But eventually you’ll want to brainstorm about solutions or jot down some things you’re grateful for.

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

Journaling is a powerful tool that can change your life. These 18 Incredible Benefits of Journaling show exactly how journaling improves your mental and physical health. 

Whether you want to manage stress, get organised or boost your creativity, read about 13 Powerful Journaling Techniques (And How To Use Them).

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tips for keeping diary

16 Comments

  • Tracey Bacic

    I think your greatest bit of advice is find what works for you. I don’t journal everyday and sometimes feel guilty about this, but who made this rule? I just do it when I feel like it. For me it also works to have a gorgeous book to write in – somehow that encourages me. I’ve been writing in my current journal since 2015 (I have tiny writing, and that’s why writing 3 pages first thing doesn’t work for me either – it would take until lunchtime!) but I love the book and feel gratitude for it every time I pick it up.

    • Dee

      For me it helps to make it into a daily habit.. I don’t often feel like picking up my journal, but I always get into it eventually once I start. And I actually buy the most ordinary notebooks on purpose because when they’re too pretty I don’t ever want to use them up 😀

  • Sharon

    For me the best way to maintain the habit was to arrive at work an hour early and use the time to journal and to read. I also use the journal to set daily intentions and along with gratitude that helps when I feel unable to writ about much else. I have tried morning pages and it didn’t work for me, for similar reasons.

    • Dee

      That’s a great idea, Sharon! I love writing about my day as well and about plans for the future whenever I’m stuck and don’t have anything to write about.

  • Alyssa

    I really do like writing in the morning because it works for me. I often have a lot of communication at work that can sway my attitude so writing early helps put me in a better mood and I feel much more complete. But I’ve learned what I like to write on is for sure paper via rough draft unless it’s being posted lol. At work I’ve gotten into a habit of writing on tons of scrap paper for my more spontaneous poems and prompts. Recently I bought a book of prompts that really helps but me in the seat and just write and it always helps me come up with new blog ideas or just my own journal ideas. I loved and admit I need to follow your advice on accountability. On twitter I always see poem contest but maybe now I’ll start with other things like challenges. Thanks for sharing just how real it is in the writer world!

    • Dee

      Thank you for reading, Alyssa! I love prompts when I’m feeling stuck and they can really help to generate ideas, too. For blog posts, I’ve found it helpful to keep a notebook for ideas and inspiration that I get while reading other blogs or writing. I just turn to those whenever I feel stuck or feel that I’ve got nothing left to write about.

  • Alice

    What a beautiful post, Dee! I keep a paper journal that’s my stream of consciousness journal, I like to write in it with my fountain pen whenever I feel the need. I tried all the various methods you usually see online but they don’t work for me. I write whenever I feel like it, mostly in the evening, but I can stay even a week without adding entries if I can’t process my thoughts or I don’t have anything to say. Now I’m curious, do you use a specific app to journal on your computer? ?

    • Dee

      Thank you, Alice! I love writing in the evenings as well, and I try to do it before I get too tired and just write stream of consciousness about my day if I can’t find anything significant to write about. I don’t use any particular app – I just have a journal in one giant Word file.

  • Manisha

    This is such a wonderful post on journaling. I’m actually motivated to start doing it. Like you, I haven’t kept a regular journal since my teens either and now I’m in my late 20s. During the pandemic it’s very helpful to compose yourself and look at the bright side of things. It is the little things that keep us going. Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing.

    • Dee

      Thank you, Manisha! I’m so glad you’ve found this helpful.. These lockdown days are perfect for starting new habits since much of our old routines have been overturned. Just start small and you’ll get there.

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