Journaling Basics

Journaling for Beginners: How to Get Started in 10 Steps

Keeping a journal is one of the most rewarding endeavors you can undertake in life. Here's how to start journaling in ten easy steps.

Journaling is one of the best ways gain a better understanding of your thoughts and emotions, strengthen your memory, and even relieve stress. In fact, journaling boasts a ton of benefits for your mental and physical health. Much more than mere words on paper, journaling is an intimate dialogue with oneself—a canvas where thoughts, emotions, and aspirations take shape. Whether you’re drawn to explore your innermost musings, capture fleeting moments, or embark on a journey of self-discovery, the art of journaling provides a versatile pathway to understanding, healing, and transformation.

If you’re new to journaling, it can be challenging to know where to begin. In this guide, we’ll share some tips and techniques for how to start journaling. We’ll cover how to choose the right journal, when to write, and how to overcome some common journaling obstacles. With these strategies, you can make journaling a regular part of your self-care routine and start reaping the many benefits that journaling has to offer.

“The best time to begin keeping a journal is whenever you decide to.”
– Hannah Hinchman

What is Journaling?

Journaling is the practice of writing down your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and reflections on a regular basis in a designated journal, notebook, or digital platform. Keeping a journal involves recording your personal thoughts, observations, and experiences as a way to document your life and inner world. Journaling can take various forms with many different journaling techniques to choose from.

Journaling is the practice of writing down your thoughts, feelings, experiences, and reflections on a regular basis in a designated journal, notebook, or digital platform.

The act of journaling goes beyond mere note-taking; it’s a way to engage in self-expression, self-reflection, and self-awareness. Whether you’re jotting down daily events, exploring your emotions, setting goals, or brainstorming ideas, journaling provides a safe and private space to connect with your thoughts and feelings.

An example of journaling in a notebook.

People choose to journal for a variety of reasons, including emotional release, personal growth, problem-solving, creativity enhancement, stress reduction, and memory preservation. There are no strict rules for journaling, allowing individuals to tailor their approach to suit your needs and preferences. Some common journaling styles include gratitude journals, dream journals, bullet journals, reflective journals, art journals, nature journals, each offering a unique way to capture different aspects of life.

Journaling is a versatile and flexible practice that can offer numerous benefits, from improved emotional well-being to enhanced self-awareness, making it a valuable tool for anyone looking to explore their thoughts and experiences in a meaningful way.

The Benefits of Keeping a Journal

Whether you choose to write daily, weekly, or only during significant moments, consistent journaling can offer numerous advantages for your overall well-being. The host of journaling benefits include:

  1. Emotional Expression: Journaling provides a safe and private space to express your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It can help you release pent-up emotions, reduce stress, and improve your overall emotional well-being.
  2. Stress Reduction: Writing about your thoughts and experiences can help you gain clarity and perspective on challenging situations. This can lead to reduced feelings of stress and anxiety as you work through your thoughts and emotions on paper.
  3. Self-Reflection: Regular journaling encourages self-reflection. By writing about your experiences, decisions, and goals, you can gain a better understanding of yourself, your values, and your aspirations.
  4. Problem Solving: Journaling can help you analyze problems and come up with potential solutions. Writing about your challenges and brainstorming possible ways to address them can lead to greater problem-solving skills.
  5. Creativity Boost: Journaling can stimulate your creative thinking. Writing freely without judgment can allow your ideas to flow more easily and help you tap into your creative potential.
  6. Personal Growth: Tracking your progress and achievements in a journal allows you to see how far you’ve come and identify areas for improvement. This process of self-assessment supports personal growth and development.
  7. Goal Setting: Writing down your goals and aspirations can make them more concrete and achievable. Regularly reviewing your goals in your journal can help you stay focused and motivated.
  8. Memory Enhancement: Journaling about your experiences helps you record events, emotions, and details that might otherwise be forgotten. This can be a valuable tool for preserving memories and experiences over time.
  9. Mood Regulation: Journaling can have a positive impact on your mood. Expressing gratitude, documenting positive experiences, and noting things that bring you joy can contribute to an overall sense of happiness.
  10. Enhanced Communication Skills: As you practice articulating your thoughts and feelings in writing, your communication skills can improve both in writing and in verbal conversations.
  11. Catharsis and Healing: Writing about challenging or traumatic experiences can aid in the healing process. Journaling can provide an outlet for processing emotions and moving towards acceptance and closure.
  12. Time Management and Organization: Using a journal to plan your day, set priorities, and track tasks can improve your time management skills and help you stay organized.
  13. Tracking Patterns: Journaling allows you to track patterns in your behavior, thoughts, and emotions over time. This self-awareness can help you identify negative patterns and work towards positive changes.
  14. Reduced Rumination: Rumination, the act of obsessively thinking about negative experiences, can be reduced through journaling. Writing about your concerns can help you gain perspective and prevent excessive rumination.

Journaling: Getting Started in 10 Steps

The next section is designed to demystify the process and empower you with practical insights to kickstart your journaling practice. From selecting the right journaling format to overcoming the blank page syndrome, we’ll walk you through the steps that will turn your journal into a trusted confidant and a tool for personal enrichment.

1. Answer this question: Why do you want to keep a journal?

Think about why you want to keep a journal. Is it to keep track of your thoughts and feelings, to set and track goals, to explore your creativity, to better understand your thoughts or emotions, or something else? Knowing your purpose for keeping a journal can help guide your writing and keep you motivated.

Tips for Finding Your “Why?” for Keeping a Journal

Here are some tips for answering the question of “why do you want to keep a journal?” so you can document why you want to keep a journal and why it’s an important practice for you:

  • Identify your personal reasons. Think about why you want to start journaling and what you hope to achieve through it. Some people journal to track their progress towards goals, while others do it to process their thoughts and emotions. Identifying your personal reasons for why you want to start journaling can help you answer the question more effectively.
  • Connect journaling to your goals. If you have specific goals that you hope to achieve through journaling, explain how journaling goals it will help you get there. For example, if you want to improve your mental health, you might explain how journaling can help you process your thoughts and emotions in a healthy way.
  • Imagine the end you have in mind. Imagine the state of your future self that has benefited from journaling. For example, are you more calm, focused, motivated, or content with your life, thanks in part to your new journaling habit? By imagining the end goal of keeping a journal, you can evaluate your reasons for keeping a journal and ensure that it aligns with our values and priorities. For example, you may want to keep a journal to document your daily activities and experiences, or maybe you’ll use your journal as a tool for personal growth and self-reflection. Imagining the end goal can help you determine whether your reasons for journaling are meaningful and worthwhile.

2. Choose a journal you truly love.

The next step in how to start journaling is choosing your journal. This isn’t just any journal—make sure it’s a journal you truly love. Since building a journaling habit may be new to you, this is a great time to find a journal that will inspire or motivate you to use, whether that’s a beautiful notebook or a new journal app you download on your phone or computer.

The important thing is to choose a journal that inspires you and makes you excited to use it. When you are excited about your journal, you are more likely to make it a regular part of your routine, which can lead to greater consistency in your writing or creative practices. Additionally, having a journal that reflects your personal style can help you feel more connected to your own thoughts and ideas, and make the journaling process feel more personal and meaningful.

Tips for Choosing A Journal

  • Consider your options: notebook, app, or combo? Keep in mind that journaling can happen in a variety of formats or tools, from traditional notebooks to digital journaling to a combination of the two. Decide whether you want to use a notebook or a digital journal to keep your entries, or maybe a combination of the two. A notebook can be a great option for those who prefer a physical, tangible journaling experience, while a digital journal can offer even more convenience, accessibility, and multimedia capabilities. Some people like having both options available for keeping a journal.
  • Identify your preference: handwrite or type? Handwriting can be a more tactile and personal journaling experience, while typing may be faster and more convenient. Which method do you prefer for getting your thoughts out in your journal?
  • Consider your personal style or design aesthetic. Choose a journal that reflects your personal style, preferences, or design aesthetic. For example, if you prefer a minimalist look, choose a journal with a simple cover and plain pages, or maybe a journal app with a sleek and clean design like Day One. Maybe you prefer a more “embellished” look, so find a journal that has a cover with embossing, patterns, or decorative details. Alternatively, you could create your own journal with embellishments like stickers, washi tape, or other decorative elements that reflect your personal style.
  • Consider the journal features and functionality that are important to you. If you decide to go the digital journal or journal app route, look for a tool that has a user-friendly interface, customizable settings, and the ability to sync across multiple devices. Also, consider the security features of the app or platform, such as encryption or biometric logins.
  • Consider your privacy and security. Journaling is a personal practice, so keep your journal in a private place where no one else will read it without your permission. Knowing your journal stays safe is another key consideration when choosing a journal, so if you’re concerned about the privacy and security of your journal entries, consider a journal or journaling app that offers encryption or other security features to protect your personal information. If you’re using a physical journal, consider getting a diary with a lock.
  • Invest in a journal. Finally, consider buying a journal that you will be motivated to use. You may want to invest in a journal or journal app that is a little more expensive or luxurious than you would normally choose for yourself, in order to make it feel special and encourage you to use it regularly.

3. Find a regular time to journal.

Choosing a time of day when you can dedicate a few minutes to writing is the next step in how to start journaling. Maybe you could write first thing in the morning, during your lunch break, or just before bed. Try to make it a regular habit to help you establish the routine.

Tips on Finding The Best Time to Write in Your Journal

Finding the best time to write in your journal can be a personal preference and depend on your individual circumstances. Here are some tips that can help you determine the best time for you:

  • Experiment with different times of day. Try writing at different times of the day to see which time suits you the best. Some people find it helpful to write in the morning before starting their day, while others prefer to write at night before going to bed.
  • Look for a consistent time. Having a consistent time to write in your journal can help the activity become a regular habit.
  • Make an appointment with your journal in your schedule. Make journaling a priority and set aside a specific time each day to write. This can help you build a habit and ensure that you are making time for reflection and self-care.
  • Consider your mood throughout the day. Some people find that they are more reflective and introspective at certain times of the day, such as after a workout or before going to bed. Pay attention to your mood and energy levels to find the best time to write.
  • Set reminders. Setting a reminder can be another great way to help yourself build a habit. The Day One journal app even has custom journaling reminders so you can customize reminders on your phone at certain times of day with your own custom text.
a scene of a desk with an open journal notebook and journey entry on a computer

4. Start with small journal entries.

As you start journaling, know that it’s ok to begin with a small journal entry. Don’t put pressure on yourself to write a lot or to write about anything specific. Just start by jotting down a few thoughts or feelings that come to mind. Over time, you can build up to writing longer entries or exploring specific topics.

Tips For How To Start Small as You Start Journaling

  • Start with writing a single sentence. You don’t have to write a full page or even a paragraph to start. Begin with a single sentence, such as a reflection on your day or a gratitude statement, to get your pen moving.
  • Focus on one topic. Instead of trying to cover everything that’s on your mind, focus on one topic or theme for your writing. This can help you stay focused and make it easier to start writing.
  • Use a guided journal: Guided journals are a great way to start small and establish a regular journaling practice. These journals come with prompts, exercises, and activities that can help you explore your thoughts and feelings in a structured way.
  • Use a journal prompt: Using a journal prompt can help you get started and provide a structure for your writing. Choose a prompt that speaks to you and explore the topic in depth. (More on this in the next section!)

5. Use journal prompts.

Journal prompts are questions, suggestions, or ideas that can help inspire you to write in your personal journal. Prompts are a great tool for those who are new to journaling or those who want to add some variety to their journaling practice. Here are some reasons why you should use journal prompts as a step in how to start journaling:

Benefits of Using Journal Prompts

  • Provide structure. Starting a blank page can be intimidating, and it can be hard to know where to begin. Journal prompts provide a starting point and structure for your writing, giving you a specific topic or question to explore.
  • Boost creativity. Using a journal prompt can help you tap into your creativity and generate new ideas. By exploring a topic or question that you may not have considered before, you can discover new insights and perspectives.
  • Explore different themes, seasons, and topics. Journal prompts can help you dive deeper into unexplored territory related to your memories, motivations, values, and preferences. Prompts can also help you reflect on the changing seasons (for example, check out these end of year journal prompts and New Year journal prompts).
  • Promote self-reflection. Journal prompts can encourage self-reflection and introspection, helping you gain a deeper understanding of yourself and your emotions. By exploring your thoughts and feelings on a specific topic, you can gain clarity and insight into your inner world.
  • Assist with habit development. Using journal prompts can help you develop a regular journaling habit. By setting aside time each day or week to respond to a prompt, you can establish a routine and make journaling a consistent part of your self-care journal practice.
  • Feel a sense of accomplishment. Completing a journal prompt can give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. By exploring a topic or question in depth and expressing your thoughts and feelings on paper, you can feel a sense of progress and growth in your journaling practice.

6. Experiment with different journaling ideas.

When it comes to starting a journal, there’s really no right way. Journals come in a variety of shapes, formats, and techniques. As you dive into how to start journaling, you may want to try a variety of journaling ideas to figure out which one resonates the most with your style or interests. You may want to try keeping different types of journals, such as a gratitude journal or a mood journal, or a combination of different journals, until you find your signature style of journaling.

Tips for experimenting with different journal ideas

Here are some tips for exploring different journal ideas:

  • Explore different journal styles. Try out different journal styles to find what suits you best. For example, you could try gratitude journaling, reflective journaling, or photo journaling. Don’t be afraid to mix and match different styles to create a journal that is unique to you.
  • Incorporate different mediums. Experiment with different mediums, such as colored pens, watercolors, stickers, or washi tape to add personality to your journal. You could also include photos, ticket stubs, or other memorabilia to add a personal touch.
  • Incorporate multimedia. Consider incorporating multimedia elements such as digital photos, videos, or audio recordings to add another layer of depth to your journal. For example, you could include a short video of a special moment, a recording of a song or conversation that resonates with you, or a photo of a meaningful place. Digital journals make it easy to incorporate multimedia elements into your journal. However, even if you use a physical journal, you can still include multimedia by printing out photos or attaching small audio devices that can be played with a touch of a button. Adding multimedia can make your journal more engaging and help you capture memories in a more dynamic and immersive way.

7. Use journal templates.

Using journal templates can be a helpful way to start journaling because they provide a structured and guided format for writing. Journal templates are pre-designed formats or layouts that guide you through the process of journaling. They typically consist of prompts, questions, or sections that are designed to help you reflect on your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Journal templates can take many different forms, including digital templates, printable PDFs, or physical notebooks.

Tips for using journal templates

Here are some tips on how to use journal templates to start journaling:

  • Find a template that inspires you. Look for a journal template that meets your specific needs and preferences. There are many different types of journal templates available, including daily reflection prompts, gratitude journals, goal-setting templates, and more.
  • Use the template as a guide. When you sit down to journal, use the template as a guide to help you structure your thoughts and ideas. Follow the prompts or questions in the template, but don’t be afraid to deviate or add your own thoughts and insights.
  • Personalize your template. Once you’ve found a template that you like, personalize it to make it your own. Add your own questions, prompts, or sections that are specific to your goals or interests.
  • Keep iterating. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different journal templates and formats until you find one that works best for you. Over time, your journaling needs and goals may change, and you may need to adjust your templates accordingly. Be open to trying new things, and don’t be afraid to customize or modify existing templates to better suit your needs.

8. Write freely.

As you start writing in your journal, try to release any concern for grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Just let your thoughts flow onto the page without judgment. Your journal is a space to be yourself and express your thoughts and feelings without any external pressure. Resist the urge to edit or correct what you’ve written.

The goal of writing freely is to allow yourself to express your thoughts and feelings without judgment or self-censorship. By giving yourself permission to write imperfectly—not editing as you go, writing quickly, using stream of consciousness writing, writing about whatever is on your mind, and using prompts—you can develop a regular practice of free writing and reap the benefits of journaling.

Tips for Writing Freely in Your Journal

  • Give yourself permission to be imperfect. Allowing yourself some imperfection may feel new, especially if you’re used to sharing what you write with others. Giving up the need to edit, correct, or perfect what you write may feel new and uncomfortable at first, but you may feel a newfound sense of liberation and freedom.
  • Don’t edit as you go. Avoid the temptation to edit or revise as you write. This can interrupt the flow of your thoughts and make it harder to express yourself freely. Instead, focus on getting your thoughts down on paper without worrying about how they sound.
  • Write quickly. Try to write quickly without pausing or thinking too much. This can help you access your subconscious mind and uncover deeper thoughts and feelings.
  • Write whatever comes to mind. Write down whatever comes to mind, without worrying about structure or coherence. This can help you access your innermost thoughts and feelings and allow you to write freely and authentically.
  • Write about what’s on your mind. Focus on whatever is on your mind at the moment, whether it’s a worry, a goal, a frustration, or a happy memory. Write about it in detail and explore your thoughts and feelings on the topic.

9. Tap into mindfulness.

Mindfulness is simply the practice of being fully present and engaged in the present moment, without judgement or distraction. Being mindful involves paying attention to your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations in a non-judgmental way, and accepting them without trying to change or resist them.

Mindfulness can be an effective way to start journaling because it can help you become more aware of your thoughts, emotions, and surroundings, and encourage you to observe them without judgment. Meditation and journaling can even be used as a way to practice mindfulness, as you bring yourself into the present moment to write.

Tips for how to use mindfulness to start journaling

  • Bring yourself into the present moment. As you begin a new journal entry, anchor yourself into the present, noticing the details around you. Try to resist changing anything or passing judgement. Simply observe your surroundings.
  • Focus on your sensations. Pay attention to the physical sensations of journaling, such as the feel of the pen on the paper, the sound of the writing, or the sensation of your breath as you write. This can help you stay grounded and present in the moment.
  • Observe your thoughts. As you begin to write, observe your thoughts and emotions as they arise. Notice any patterns, recurring themes, or areas of your life that you may be neglecting.
  • Observe your emotions. As you write in your journal, pay attention to any emotions or feelings that arise. Notice where you feel the emotion in your body, and describe it in detail. Try not to judge or analyze the emotion, but simply observe it with curiosity and openness.
  • Now write. After you have observed your surroundings, thoughts, and emotions, write about them in your journal. Describe any details or impressions that stand out.

10. Be patient and kind with yourself.

Finally, being patient is an important key to starting a journaling practice because it takes time to develop the habit and to see the benefits of journaling. Journaling is truly a rewardifng endeavor, but it takes time to reap the benefits. Be kind to yourself as you establish a regular practice of journaling. By taking the time to develop a routine, seeing the results of your writing, finding your voice, and reflecting on your writing, you can make the most of your journaling practice.

Tips for Staying Patient as You Start Journaling

  • Celebrate small victories. Even if you’re not able to journal every day, celebrate the days when you do make time to write. Every small victory counts, and it’s important to acknowledge and appreciate the progress you make.
  • Be flexible. It’s okay to experiment with different journaling styles and formats until you find one that works best for you. Be willing to adjust your journaling routine as needed, and don’t be afraid to try new things.
  • Don’t be afraid to start over. Don’t be afraid to start over: If you miss a day or a week of journaling, don’t worry. You can always start over again. Remember that the goal of journaling is to gain insight and clarity, not to meet a specific quota or deadline.
  • Practice self-compassion. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, just as you would a good friend. If you find yourself struggling with negative self-talk or self-judgment, take a moment to pause and reframe your thoughts in a more positive and compassionate way.
  • Stay inspired with journaling books and journaling quotes. Tap into the wisdom or others with this list of journaling books and inspiring journaling quotes to deepen your practice.

Wrapping Up: Best Wishes as You Start Journaling!

Journaling is a process, not a destination, and every step along the way is an opportunity to learn, grow, and evolve. By staying patient and kind with yourself as you start journaling, you can build a sustainable and rewarding practice that supports your personal growth and well-being.

Journaling is truly one of the most rewarding and beneficial endeavors you can undertake in life. Not only does journaling provide a creative outlet for self-expression, but it also helps you gain clarity, insights, and perspective on your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Through the act of journaling, you can develop greater self-awareness, build resilience, and cultivate a deeper sense of gratitude and appreciation for your life. With every journal entry, you are giving yourself the gift of self-reflection and self-discovery, and creating a record of your personal growth and evolution. So embrace the process of journaling, and trust that every step you take along the way is helping you become the best version of yourself. Happy journaling!

Start Journaling Today in the Day One Journal App

The Day One journal app makes it easy to build and maintain a daily journaling habit. Daily journaling reminders, writing prompts, and journaling streaks are designed to help keep you motivated and consistently journaling.

About the Author

Kristen Webb Wright is the author of three books on journaling. With a passion for writing and self-reflection, Kristen uses her experience with journaling to help others discover the benefits of documenting their thoughts, feelings, and experiences. In her role at Day One, she helps to promote the power of journaling so people from all walks of life can experience the transformative power of journaling.

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