No matter the mood—joyful, depressed, mourning, sick, upset, jealous, confused—a journal is always there for you in ways a human cannot sometimes reciprocate.
I never was a journal person growing up. I had the occasional diary or two, mostly where I would share about my current crushes at school or awards I won at dance competitions. But was never anything truly substantial, or even consistent. However, all of that changed when I was a freshman in college.
When I moved into my dorm room and met my roommate at DePaul, we had al the basic essentials every dorm needs: lamps, throw pillows, TV, a Keurig, books, and of course, the secret toasted that we were technically not allowed to have. Sure we had a few other things of our own here or there that wouldn’t be deemed “normal,” but my roommate brought in something peculiar that sort of stopped me in my tracks: a large bin filled with journals. Some even dating back to when she was first learning how to write. I was oddly jealous of her and watched as she documented her day every single night before going to bed.
Craving to have a little memory archive of my own, I went out and bought myself a new journal. I even decorated the outside of it with some pictures of Harry Potter, because uh, who wouldn’t. But no matter how much Harry tried to get me to write in my journal, it just never happened as much as I hoped. I could never keep up with the meticulous documenting that my roommate had down to a science. It just wasn’t my style—but I wasn’t quite ready to give up journaling yet.
Six years later, I can proudly say that I have filled 23 journals and I love them dearly. They hold a mixture of precious memories, creative ideas, emotional baggage, and lots of prayers. It is always a joyful evening when I pour myself a cup of tea and reread my thoughts, fears, and triumphs from many moons ago. To this day, I still can’t believe how far I’ve come in my life—and I would have never noticed this without my journals.
Okay, so I’m sure you’re wondering what happened during those six years. What changed? And 23, really?!?
Yes, really. You see, after a few months of trying to journal like my former roommate, I realized how much I actually hated having to sit down and write out my day (which, in my opinion, is where most people feel stuck when it comes to journaling). Instead of following this traditional pattern, I started writing how I felt. At first, it was a humble jumble of emotions with absolutely no documenting of my everyday life, but it soon started to transform. Now my journals have a mix of thoughts and stories. Some days I even try to dive into some creative writing, or even some blog entries (like this one, which I actually wrote in my journal before typing it into WordPress). The subject matter of my journal changes from day-to-day, and I have absolute freedom to do whatever I want with the pages. There’s only one rule that I follow: I only write what I want to write.
I know that sounds way easier said than done, so I’ve jotted down a few ways that you can get started with a journal of your own.
Make a calendar
This is something new I’ve been trying, and I already love the results. At the start of each month, make a calendar with blank squares. All you have to do is fill in a square with one sentence explaining your day. Just one sentence! Super easy, right? At the end of the month, you can look back and actually see all that you went through without the stress of having to open a new page, date the top, and write “dear diary.”
Write actual entries when you have something to say
At this point in the game, I feel like I have something to say multiple times a day—but that may not be the case for you. Turn to a new page when you actually feel like writing something down, instead of doing it out of obligation. I find turning to my journal to be therapeutic when trying to process through some of my emotions. I especially find it useful with my relationships. It’s a place where I can calm down before I say something to someone that I will later regret.
Don’t limit yourself—make lists, write stories, say some prayers
Your journal can literally be whatever you want. Sometimes I’ll go streaks of only jotting down blog entry ideas and never actually date anything as a proper entry until a few months later. Let this journal reflect you.
I also have a bunch of lists going in my journal that I love to refer to: My capsule wardrobe for this season, music I’m currently into, my book challenge, recipes I want to try, and even a list of ways I can relax when I’m feeling stressed out. If you have no idea what to jot down in your new notebook, lists are a great way to get started.
I know there are all these gorgeous bullet journals all over Pinterest that probably make journaling a massively intimidating journey for you. Major news flash, people: You don’t need to Instagram every page of your journal! So stop trying to make all of your pages look “Instagram ready.” It’s way too stressful and will make you avoid your journal altogether. Instead, make terrible sketches, write in your chicken scratch, cross the crap out of sentences you don’t like. If you’re feeling even more daring, leave misspelled words in the text. That’s write, grammar nerds (see what I did there??).
Find a journal you love
Because how unmotivating will it be to write in something you hate? Trust me, I know…it’ just never fun. Find something that you love to look at and write in. Yes, that means considering the pages on the inside. Lines? Grids? Blank pages? Maybe even one with staff paper? You decide. It’s your journey. Right now I’m using this Poppin soft cover journal and I’m 100% obsessed. I also love the journals at Anthropologie and Paper Source, if you need some ideas.
To close, let’s reiterate my number one rule when it comes to journaling: Only write what you want to write.