Write when you like! A real-life journaling guide
Updated: Nov 8, 2022
You might have given up journaling because you didn't do it 'right.' You didn't write enough, in the 'right' book, or often enough. So I've created this real-life guide to get you going again. It's full of tips and suggestions and permission throughout to be messy, unreliable and haphazard in your approach. There really are no journaling police, I promise.
My real passion lies with Creative group journaling and I talk a little more on that in the guide but do give me a shout if you'd like to know more.
If you’d like me to email you a PDF of the guide – drop me a line with your email and I’ll send it over.
Write when you like!: A real-life guide
We all need a way to manage life, an outlet; a way to process all the shit and shinola that life throws at us, so we can have a better quality of life - one that is healthy, happy, satisfied and enjoyable.
Journaling is the perfect answer to that need and its uses are endless.
It soothes, it heals, it enlightens.
It can improve your well-being, mental health, your relationships and even your memory.
It externalises the internal, giving you freedom and relief. It helps you to make sense of the world and yourself; to answer the questions, "Who am I?" and "What do I want?" It gives you a way to know and express yourself, make decisions and solve problems.
It’s not just your mental health that gets in on the fun, the very act of journaling makes you mindful, which in turn can lower your blood pressure, reduce cognitive decline, and strengthen your immune system amongst other things.
It’s there for you day and night and aside from pens and paper, it’s free.
Best of all, no grammar, spelling or even sense are required for journaling.
Think nothing interesting happens in your life?
Trust me, writing about the mundane will always surface other ‘stuff’ (technical term for the thoughts that scramble around our brains 24 hours a day.)
You may think what you do isn’t interesting but I promise, what’s going on behind the scenes definitely is.
“Remind me, what is journaling exactly?”
It's writing about your life, what's happening, how you're feeling, etc. It's journalism - and you're reporting on our life, your outer and, more importantly, your inner world.
It’s more than, ‘I did x, y, and z.’ It’s noting how you’re feeling, your wins and your struggles, your hopes, your joys. It can also be a way to work through challenges - in the moment - the thing I find journaling most useful for.
By communicating with yourself, you’re reminded you’re not alone, so your journal becomes your confessional, your boardroom, your way to communicate with the person most important in your life, which should be you by the way.
As well as writing, you can express yourself with doodles, mind maps, colouring - it’s all information that you can review and learn from.
Benefits - Journaling can:
Build the most important relationship you’ll ever have - with yourself - By being more honest with yourself, and understanding what motivates you and makes you happy you can have a better, easier and happier life.
Connect and ground you - It’s not just ‘you’ and the critical voice on your shoulder, there are lots of parts of you just dying to get their say and journaling can give them a way to express themselves.
Give you a sense of identity – an opportunity to find or come back to yourself and answer the question, 'Who am I?' and 'What do I want?' This will help you to develop your voice, be more authentic and happier.
Help with Personal growth - there’s no better self-development tool, and I’ve really tried them all. Journaling is great for confidence, spotting patterns, gaining perspective and insights and promoting action.
Reduce stress, worry and anxiety - writing is self-soothing and journaling about how you’re feeling can help you acknowledge and work through what’s happening, You can also just go ahead and write about happy things to calm you - or just for the joy of it.
Give you headspace - just getting all the ‘stuff*’ out on the page can be incredibly cathartic, even if that’s all you use journaling for.
Give you clarity on what you want - define and focus on the things you want so you can make better decisions for yourself.
Give you a way to care for and nourish yourself - even heal yourself – journaling is great for processing what’s going on, acknowledging and accepting feelings, letting go of the past. It can lift your mood and change your energy.
Lead to creativity - writing opens the tap to your mind and gives your creativity a place to jump out onto the page. Writing may not be your creative outlet (you will have one of some kind) so don’t let this become an expectation. Journaling doesn’t have to be creative.
Why and how does it work?
Writing loosens the soil and accesses deeper thoughts. We almost always write more than we would say because we’re not editing ourselves in the same way. I've seen this in coaching and workshops time and time again. People often go "Oh, that's interesting," in response to something they've written.
Writing distracts our busy minds. Engaged in the physical activity of writing, 'stuff' from our inner world escapes onto the page when we're not looking.
We can be more honest on the page, research has shown that writing by hand helps us to be even more honest.
It externalises our inner world which helps us to see that what we’re experiencing is not who we are, it's what we're experiencing. This raises our awareness to what’s really going on, gives us choices and leaves us feeling more empowered.
It can compartmentalise and contain our feelings. If feelings arise when we're writing, we can self-soothe by writing into the feelings, describing them, etc. This often leads to us passing through them.
Information can come to us in all kinds of forms. It can be hidden in how we're writing as well as what we're writing. It's there in how writing is making us feel, or it can be overtly stated in what we write. There are clues everywhere from how fast we go, how long we stop and think for, whether we have resistance, or enthusiasm, energy, or are dragging our pens across the page reluctantly. It's all information.
Journaling and therapy
Journaling can be massively helpful if you’re in therapy, receiving coaching or working with any other mental health/well-being professional. Using journaling as a way to reflect and dig deeper between sessions gives you a greater chance of keeping momentum. If you’re in particularly difficult territory, for example, deep in grief, working through trauma etc., speak to your therapist about how you might use journaling. If you’re not getting help and are struggling, do think about it, it’s a hard road to walk alone.
Here are some tips to get you going and help you to make the most of your practice. Whatever you do, don’t make it into ‘work’ - it should be interesting, nourishing and enjoyable. If you’re beating yourself up about not writing every day or writing enough, you’ll take the joy out of it, and guess what, you’ll do it even less.
Why do you want to keep a journal? Let that inform the what/when/how. Some things to consider:
· To just get ‘stuff*’ out
· To get in touch with your feelings
· To monitor progress for a particular goal
· To clarify and manifest goals
Allow yourself not to know too. It’s not compulsory to have a journaling goal, just seeing what comes is perfectly fine, it’s just worth checking in with yourself, especially if you identify that it’s a ‘should,’ in which case, don’t do it.
The most common question I get asked is - should I write by hand or on my computer? My answer is always, "If it helps you get writing, do whatever works." However, there is research to show that writing by hand connects you more, helps retain information, helps you to be more honest and more, so if you can, go old school.
Allow yourself to change your mind, to chop and change... There are no journaling police - if there were, I’d be in jail - with no chance of parole.
Use a small notebook to reduce expectations. This is also helpful if you want to carry it around with you.
A 5-year diary for a sentence a day can be a fun way to start.
Top Tip: Don’t let the pressure of ‘the perfect’ notebook stop you. In the beginning I found that using cheap and cheerful exercise books, or whatever scrap paper was about, gave me permission to write whatever came, as messily as I liked.
Allow yourself to be playful and try different materials to write on/with.
Writing with a pen is hard on your hand. You’re probably out of practice mainly typing on a keyboard. Consider something softer for a smoother experience and make sure whatever it is feels comfortable in your hand.
Top Tip: I recommend using felt or fibre tipped pens as they’re easier on the hand and allow you to select a colour depending on your mood. I recommend Papermate Flairs – I’ve tried everything else and these are the best. Others love the Papermate Inkjoys. I promise I’m not on commission from Papermate.
What to write?
Allow yourself to be positive - journaling isn’t just for problems. Allow yourself to be mundane - often the little simple things lead to more interesting insights.
Draw, doodle, stick things in - write about them/from them/to them.
Capture things like: I noticed/ felt / did / heard / saw / am grateful for / felt went well / need to do or ask questions. What: excited me, bored me, drained me, went well, could be better, can I appreciate, can I learn?
If you're writing around a specific intention/goal, write about what helped/hindered achieving it.
Use a different prompt for each day, e.g. ‘If I felt satisfied after this week, I’d…’ or ‘This week’s been…’ on a Friday
Focus on capturing dreams, moods, nature, people, food, it’s really up to you.
Use prompts. There are plenty of Apps, email sign ups and things that will provide you with regular prompts.
Top Tip: Keep a note of things that pop up in your own writing. It could just be a word that catches your attention or a sentence. Keeping a note of these prompts means you always have something to write from when you sit down to get started.
How much to write
Allow yourself to write only one word if that’s all you feel like.
Start small - write for less than you’d like. If you think you’ll write for half an hour, try 10 minutes instead. This leaves you wanting more but also, if you get into it, there’s nothing to stop you carrying on.
Top Tip: Set yourself a timer for an amount of time you know you can do, even if that’s 2 minutes. You can then let go into the writing knowing the time is held for you. If music doesn’t put you off, set yourself time via an amount of tracks.
Where to do it
Allow yourself time to try out different places, be open minded.
Don’t get caught up in the fantasy of the perfect chair, with the perfect view etc. Try out different places.
Top Tip: Try somewhere that feels the opposite of your ideal conditions. I love writing in very noisy, busy places, for example a motorway service station. Somehow it brings me into the moment.
When and how often
Allow yourself not to write. If you don’t feel like it, don’t do it – or if you must, write about not wanting to write.
Set yourself up for success. Think about the present moment when reviewing ‘when?’ otherwise you’ll fantasise about a Sunday afternoon for example, when really on a Sunday afternoon it’s your time to do absolutely nothing.
Ask yourself: Does it have to be every day? Does it have to be a regular time?
Top Tip: Write when you’re tired/hungover/jetlagged. Trust me on this. Your brain is sluggish and less likely to get in the way. It can be surprising what you write if you can muster the energy to put pen to paper.
Allow yourself to be as protective/sensitive as you need – not what you think is acceptable.
Write over other words – get a cheap novel from a charity shop and just write over it – disguises what you’ve written.
Write in pencil and then rub out.
Lock it away or destroy it once you’ve got what you need.
Top Tip: I used to have a piece of paper on top of all my writing saying 'If Anything happens to me, please destroy all of this and don't read, many thanks, and bye!'
Taking things to the next level - Creative group journaling
Journaling with other people takes things to a whole other level. To write and to share (as much as you're comfortable with,) in a group of like-minded souls can be liberating. To witness and to be seen and heard is a beautiful thing.
That's why I do what I do; run creative group journaling sessions so people can have this experience on a regular basis.
When we write with others, we write differently, and I promise, writing with people you don't know is in no way an obstacle, sometimes I think it actually helps. We share, we connect, we laugh, sometimes we cry. We can often be heard saying, "Oh that's interesting," or "Where did that come from!?" All music to my ears.
It's not about the writing and whether it's 'good' or 'right.' The writing is simply a tool to share a bit of ourselves that we wouldn't normally.
If you'd like to find out more about my regular sessions 'Write for your Life' click here or feel free to give me a shout.
Good luck, hold it all lightly and enjoy it. CP