11 Journaling Tips For People Who Are Absolutely TERRIBLE At Keeping A Journal

by Charlotte Ahlin
Giorgio Magini/Stocksy

Journaling! It's a mindful practice that's been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, so naturally there is massive pressure to be good at it. To begin with, let's do away with that: try keeping a journal if you want to keep a journal. Never mind all those picture perfect bullet journals clogging up your Instagram feed (how do those people have so many different colored pens? How are they always balancing mugs of tea on their bedspread with minimal spillage?). Your journal is for you, so find a practice that makes you feel relaxed, or engaged, or mindful or cathartic or whatnot, and stick with it. Never mind what you think a journal is supposed to look like. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Now, when I say "here are tips for journaling if you are absolutely terrible at journaling," I'm going to assume that you (like me) are a genuine nightmare diary-keeper. I'm guessing that you have a shameful stack somewhere of beautiful, leather-bound journals, with one to three pages of each filled out and the rest left mortifyingly blank. But never fear: here are some new strategies to give journaling a second chance, because you just might like it this time around:


It doesn’t have to be a literal journal

Here's the thing: there are no actual rules to journaling. Let go of judgment. Yes, I know the bullet journals on Instagram are pretty. There are many pretty things on the Internet (Cakes! Makeup tutorials! Upcycled toddler dresses!) that seem deceptively easy but are actually very difficult and time-consuming to replicate in real life. So by all means, buy yourself a nice faux-alligator skin journal if that's your thing. But if you find it easier to record your thoughts on a Word doc, or on a legal pad, or on index cards, or on a voice memo, or in the note-taking app of your phone, that is 100% fine and still counts as journaling.


Start small

You can start by writing one sentence every day. Heck, you can start by writing one word every day. If it's helpful to you, buy a journal that already has a clear, labelled slot for writing every day, so you don't even have to bother writing down the date (you can even find one with daily writing prompts if that's your jam). The next time you pause to write a to-do list or a tweet or to check your email, take ten extra seconds to jot down one single thought you've had so far today on a post-it note. Congratulations! Journaling is just that but a lot more of it.


Use social media

If you're having trouble with a paper and ink journal, you can start a blog. Many blogging sites will allow you to set your page to be accessed by a password, so you don't even have to share it with the world. You can also get together a group of friends and start an online group or email chain to share weekly or monthly life updates. Or you can find a pre-existing group on a site like Facebook or Reddit that exists expressly for other writers/dog lovers/fans of the same Twitch streams to vent about their lives. Just exercise a little caution here: make sure that whatever friends you're involving want to be part of a frequent info-dump. And make sure that any new groups you join are well-moderated and welcoming to personal life stories. Also, be very certain that you're always posting private thoughts to the appropriate closed group, and not to your aunt's timeline.


Make it yours

If you go the traditional journal route, pick one that you really like. That sounds obvious, but too often we feel obligated to write in journals that were gifted to us by well-meaning relatives. You don't have to use that blank flower-and-puppy diary you own unless you genuinely enjoy flowers and puppies. Pick out something that you think is cool or pretty, decorate it yourself, buy a nice pen, and feel free to journal in public so that people think you're mysterious and interesting.


Set reminders

Look, I'm generally against setting timers and reminders for things you enjoy, because that's a great way for pleasant distractions to turn into overwhelming chores. But if you're the kind of person who thrives on structure and schedules, then set a literal alarm or timer or reminder to carve out five to ten minutes a day for journaling. Just be sure not to beat yourself up if you skip it sometimes.


Bring your journal everywhere

Sure, it's easy to say things like "I will journal every morning before I leave the house" or "I will journal every night before bed." But most likely you will be rushing out of the house while still eating breakfast, or you will conk out on the couch while binging The Good Place, and you will not journal. Bring the actual dang thing with you, and try to jot down a few thoughts while stuck in line, or on the bus, or waiting for the dentist, or whenever else you have awkward gaps of time throughout the day.


It’s not a calendar

I mean, fine, if what you really want is to keep a beautiful, hand drawn calendar of all the things you have to do and the money you spend, that's all well and good. But if what you want is to keep a journal that records all your thoughts and feelings and screenplay pitches, don't get hung up on writing out your daily schedule in your journal. Keep it separate from your planner or your Google calendar. One is for scheduling, the other is for free-form expression.


Write (or draw, or rant) about whatever

You also don't have to write about your thoughts and feelings. You don't have to write about what you did that day. You can fill your journal with doodles and day dreams about being married to Jason Momoa. The point is to take a moment to write or draw and unwind, not to meticulously record every last thing that happens to you.


...or follow prompts and rules

On the other hand, if you prefer to follow daily writing prompts, or answer the same five questions every day, or just write a three word summary of how you feel that evening, that's also fine. Again, it's about the process, not the product. Unless you become a famous person or a serial killer, no one else is ever going to read this without your permission.


Create rituals

End your day with journaling and a mug of tea! Have a special journaling blanket that you like to snuggle under! Put on your carefully selected journaling playlist! Write with a fluffy pen! Make journaling a nice, relaxing activity, not just another item on your to-do list.



Most important of all: Relax. Have fun with journaling. If you're not enjoying it, you can always stop. You don't have a moral obligation to fill out every page, and you can always pick it back up again. If you try to punish yourself into keeping a daily journal, there's just no point. The more you let journaling be a fun way to unwind, the more you'll want to journal.