The blank page. Poet, novelist, journaler – every writer faces it. It stares you in the eye, daring you to start, encouraging you to think that anything you write will fail. But never fear! These four simple steps will help you get started, keep you going, and achieve your journaling goals.
Type of journal
First, you need to choose what kind of journal you want to keep. This depends on your style and goals. Figure this out by asking:
- What do I want to accomplish with this journal?
- Do you want to explore you innermost thoughts?
- Work through a pain point or some trauma?
- Make a record of the high and low points
of your day?
- How much time can you realistically dedicate to
- How often? Every day? Once a week?
- This can change from day-to-day.
This will help you decide if you want to keep a classic journal, micro journal, bullet point journal, dream journal, or vision journal. For a better idea of what makes up each, check out the blog post The Best Way to Journal for You.
The journal itself
- What kind of physical journal do I want to keep?
A notebook or hardbound journal lets you feel the pen on the paper, smell the ink, choose or decorate the cover. Your cell phone provides a convenient medium you can take anywhere, and plenty of apps like ByteLyfe make the process simple. Your laptop or desktop computer falls in between the two, requiring a little space.
- How do you want to save your journal – in the cloud, as a computer file, hard copies?
- Where do you want to journal? Do you need an office or a quiet space, like a bedroom, or do you feel okay journaling in the car while the kids finish soccer practice or during the last few minutes of your lunch?
- Are you at your best in the morning? The evening? A few hours in between? It may take a little experimentation to find the best time for you.
- Will you write at the same time every day? This
works best for most people, but maybe the demands on your time just don’t allow for that.
·Do you want to write a little bit (or a lot) every day? Maybe you prefer to put all
the events together at the end of the week. Some days you may want to write
long form, while a bullet point journal gets the job done on others. Most
journalers find one style that works for them, but don’t be afraid to mix it up.
That should give you a good idea of how to get the ‘administrative’ tasks out of the way, but still leaves the daunting task of actually writing. It can quickly turn into a scene from Throw Momma from the Train, where you lock up trying to find the
best word, the rhythm, the best turn of phrase. When this happens, how do you
get past it?
Honestly, just do it. It’s as simple as that. Fiction writers come to grips early with the fact that their first words will likely be garbage. Reading through some of my first drafts, I often wonder if English really is my first language.
Don’t see this as a bad thing. First, it gets better the more you write. Second, it means your mind has genuinely embraced the moment. It’s told your logical side to leave the room so it can dive into the passion, pain, and excitement of the time and events.
But what if you don’t write so well, don’t understand grammar so much, and never could spell. Remember, anything you write can always be fixed later. It’s why professional writers edit. It’s why they pay good money for line editors and content editors. It’s why we drop cash on aids like Grammarly and ProWritingAid. But should you worry about it and fix it, tighten it up?
No. You keep a journal for you. Unless you are writing to share publicly, your journal is about the raw, free you. Look at the words as the written lump of coal that is your life. Each entry and each exploration of self polish your life a little more, changing it into an ever brighter diamond. The raw, ragged, beautiful, and ugly expression of your self not only serves the moment, it also shows the future you how far you’ve come.
Okay. We’ve looked covered the administrative part of journal keeping and looked at its fluffier, philosophical side. That just leaves what many people consider the hardest part – starting the writing. Consider these ideas to get into the flow:
To work through some things, start by naming the issue. Maybe you have a broken heart or anger issues. Write that. You can start in general terms, but get specific quickly. Rant, rave, cry, and spit on the page. Here’s an example.
· I have a broken heart. Ricky isn’t the man for me. He told me he loved, wanted a family, and a daughter that looks just like me. He promised to love me and only me. But he cheated. It breaks my heart because I thought I had found my soulmate. I feel stupid because I fell for his BS, and that hurts the most.
You can stop there, or go on that day or the next to fix it.
· I can’t let him make me feel this way. To suffer and cry for his failings would make for a real tragedy.
Relive the joy. Write about that special moment using all of your senses. Get creative. Wax philosophic. Describe your day in a shade of prose so purple, no one has seen the likes:
· I met Mike in person for the first time today. My beat hammered against my breastbone so hard it hurt. The butterflies churning in the pit of my stomach multiplied by the second. Then he spoke, and my heart melted.
List your blessings and some things you are grateful for. Be specific. Nicole Gulotta
says, “For example, instead of being thankful for your sister, list that you’re
thankful that she made you smile with a fun text on that day.”
Whatever you do, just do it. Don’t think, act. Put your pen to paper of fingers on the keyboard, type a few words, and let the love, pain, and joy flow!