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Nothing makes me sadder than when people tell me they don’t think they can keep a journal. Inevitably, this is followed by some sort of excuse: “I don’t know what to write about. I don’t have time. My handwriting is too messy.” But this is your life we’re talking about! It deserves to be documented and remembered and celebrated.
So if you’re not sure how to start this practice, here are some tips for falling in love with keeping a journal.
The Write Stuff
I honestly believe that having the right notebook and the right pen can make a huge difference for how much you enjoy keeping a journal.
Some people will recommend getting a cheap notebook if the thought of ruining a fancy journal intimidates you, but I personally feel that cheap notebooks make it hard to feel like what you’re writing matters. Finding a notebook that excites you can make writing in your journal something to look forward to. Choose a book with a cover that speaks to you, whether it appeals to your aesthetics or makes you giggle. Also be sure to run the edge of your hand over the pages and see if you like how they feel. If the paper is rough, it won’t be pleasant to write on for long, but extra-super smooth pages tend to smudge and get messy.
Your choice of pen is also important. I spent years writing with cheap black Papermate ballpoint pens. They served me well enough, but I had no idea what I was missing. The first time I used a fine tip rollerball pen, it was like the sun came out from behind a cloud and angels started singing in the background as someone ran over to hand me a check for a million bucks. Writing with that pen on nice, smooth paper was downright magical. It took a little more testing to find the perfect pen for me (a Pilot Precise V5 RT), but I’ll never look back. What works for me might not work for you, so play around with different pens to find out what you like.
And consider other tools you might enjoy using, too: stickers or washi tape, photo mounting stickers to add ticket stubs and other flat ephemera, colored pencils or markers for adding a bit of color to your pages. There are lots of ways to personalize your journal and make it match your style, which will help you feel excited about writing in it.
Set a Schedule
The easiest way to get into a the practice of keeping a journal is to set a consistent schedule. You don’t have to write every day (although that is ideal), but you do need to be consistent about it. Maybe you write every day at 8am. Maybe you write every Sunday after church. Maybe you write on the 3rd Wednesday of every month at exactly 12:05pm. Do whatever works for you, but make sure that you do it consistently. Consistency will help you create a habit of journaling, and once it’s a habit, you won’t feel like you’re having to force yourself to do it. (Which is no fun. Journaling should not feel like a chore, so if it’s starting to feel that way, it might be time to reevaluate your approach and try something new.)
If you don’t write every day—or even if you do and you just have a bad memory—keep a little list of what you want to remember to write about. There have been periods in my life when I wasn’t a daily journaler, and this technique saved my bacon more than once. I just tucked a half sheet of paper into my journal, on which I’d keep a running list of events or details I wanted to make sure to write about. That way, I never felt like I was forgetting something even when I couldn’t write every day. The trick is to make sure you don’t go too long between journal entries, though, because then your list starts to feel just as intimidating as not knowing what to write about.
Make Keeping a Journal Part of Your "Me Time"
I’m usually up before Brett, so that’s when I tend to do my journaling. In that quiet hour when I’ve only got myself for company, I sit down with my journal and write about the day before (because I’m always too tired to write at the end of the day). Then I write out my to do list and do my personal scripture study (which also gets recorded in my journal). I love my morning routine and I definitely notice a difference on days when I don’t get the chance to reflect, plan, and commune with God.
I’m a big advocate for making sure you take time for yourself, and keeping a journal can be a great way to clear your mind, work through problems, make and track goals, and receive instruction through the Spirit. Adding the practice of keeping a journal to your personal time can make it something special that you’ll quickly learn to love.
Stop Worrying About Perfection
Most of the excuses I hear for not keeping a journal center on this crazy idea that your journal has to be perfect to be worthwhile. You have to write well, never mess up a page, and present yourself and your life in this perfect light. Pish posh. Future generations want to know about you and your life. They don’t care about scribbled out words, bad handwriting, or spelling. Some of the most interesting things I’ve read have been journal entries by people who never learned how spell or use proper punctuation, and that detail colors their words in a way that perfectly manicured writing never could.
So ditch the notion of perfection. Write in your own voice. Don’t try to sound a specific way. Don’t worry about spelling or grammar or punctuation unless that’s your thing. Be funny. Write about the things that matter to you. Your posterity will love it, warts and all.
“But I don’t know what to write about.”
If you don’t know where to start or don’t think your day is interesting enough to warrant an entry in your journal (and yes, I definitely have those days, too), a good place to start is with a journal prompt. Using a prompt as a springboard for writing relieves some of the pressure for deciding what to write about. As you answer the question, you might very well be inspired to write more than a simple answer, and that can be a great jumping off place for a fantastic journal entry. Check out my Journal Keeping board on Pinterest for hundreds of ideas.
Looking for More Fun Ways to Keep a Personal History?
Set a Theme
Something I used to do when I was first getting into journals was to set a fun theme for that notebook. I have a journal that is written in 3rd person, like a novel, and one written entirely in verse. I have one in which every entry starts with a Top Ten list (“My top 10 favorite movies” or “My top 10 favorite pizza toppings” or “Ten things I would never want to find in my bathroom”). I have another that I first gave to a couple of friends and asked them to write jokes or quotes randomly throughout the book. I wasn’t allowed to look ahead, and writing in that journal felt like a treasure hunt as I filled the pages. Giving yourself a challenge will require creative thinking and can foster a sense of accomplishment. If you make journal writing fun, you will quickly learn to love it.
Write Down Funny Quotes
When I was at BYU, my roommates and I always kept a “quote wall.” Whenever anyone said anything that made us giggle, we’d write it on a piece of poster board tacked to the wall. It was a great conversation starter, and most of the quotes were still funny long after we’d forgotten their context.
Nowadays, I still love to record the funny things people say. I either include them in the body of a regular entry or I write them inside the back cover. I love looking back through my old journals and reading the things my loved ones have said. I know some seriously funny people.
Add Your Art
If you’re an artist (or an artist at heart) one thing that can make journaling really fun is to draw little pictures. (This is a big part of why I recently switched to journals with dotted pages—I never loved having the page lines running through my pictures.) I love to draw little illustrations that match what I’ve written. Or I sketch my surroundings when I’m stuck waiting somewhere for a long time. I even tried drawing portraits of the speakers during General Conference once, but I rarely got them finished before their talks ended. Even if you’re not a great drawer, fun little doodles are an easy way to infuse character into your writing and break up the text. And as a bonus, if you make drawing in your journal a regular habit, you will get better at drawing.
Write About What Brings You Joy
Because journals are personal and private (at least while you’re alive), it can be tempting to use them as a place to vent your frustrations and sorrows. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and I can personally vouch for the therapeutic effects of having a safe, private place to work out my thoughts. But if that’s all you ever write about, your journaling practice will start to feel heavy and disheartening.
Make sure you write about the things that bring you joy, even if it’s just a little thing. I always laugh when I think about my future great-great-great-grandkids reading about all the times I got to pet random dogs at the park. I feel like Buddy the Elf—“Guess what! I saw a dog today. Did you see a dog today?” But dogs and all other creatures bring me joy, so I write about it. I also write about the sweet things my husband does that help me feel loved, the tender mercies of the Lord, or the phone call I had with a loved one. I write about how glorious the weather is when it rains and how glorious it is when it’s sunny. I write about work projects that excite me, funny experiences I share with strangers at the grocery store, or how the bumblebees looked on my hyacinths.
Writing about these details is a form of gratitude, and gratitude can be even more therapeutic than expressing your emotions. Take time to write about the things that bring you joy every day, and I can almost guarantee that you will learn to love keeping a journal.
Just Do It
The most important step for learning to love writing a journal is to start. Pick a time, get a nice notebook, grab your favorite pen, and get writing. If something is holding you back, tell me in the comments, and we’ll see if we can’t get you feeling inspired!
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