How to Write a Journal: 7 Practical Tips

how to write a journal

Journal Writing Made Easy

By: John D. Moore, PhD

A common question that comes up in therapy is how to write a journal. While the process of journal writing may seem intuitive, there really is way to go about recording your thoughts that promotes the maximum therapeutic benefit. As counselors, we frequently encourage our clients to keep a journal as part of their own personal journey of self-discovery and growth.

What follows are 7 tips to help you get the most out of your journal writing experience. These suggestions have been based on the collective input of the various therapists at 2nd Story Counseling. Some of the information listed here may seem like common sense while other points make you think more deeply about this topic.

Before moving onto the specific journal writing tips, we want to share a few thoughts in advance to answer common questions. First, you really only need three elements to begin the process of journaling. These include (1) a notebook, (2) a pen or pencil and (3) a quiet and calm environment in which to collect and later record your thoughts. That’s really all that’s required!




Journal Writing: When is Best?

Some clients have shared that journaling at the end of the day seems ideal because night time helps them to put their experiences into perspective. Others engage in journal writing first thing in the morning as part of a larger ritual of creating positive energy.

We suggest that you try journaling at different times and see which one works best for your situation. Be flexible here as journaling should be thought of as part of a self-discovery process. In other words, what you thought might work best versus the reality may be two entirely different things. Be open to this as a possibility.

Journal Writing: How Often?

Generally speaking, you should try to dedicate 15-20 minutes each time you journal. A good goal is to aim for is 3 entries per week. If you want to do more of course, that is fine. Typically, most people start out writing with a couple of paragraphs that mainly focus on events of the day rather than perceptions of these events. We like to call this the “warming up” phase.

Over the course of time, as your journaling efforts intensify, you will likely begin to “feel” different aspects of your day and be able to record them appropriately.

OK – let’s move on to those 7 journal writing tips!

7 tips for journal writing
Credit: Pokerplayer 365

1. Center yourself

Before you put pen to paper, take a few moments to relax. An effective way to do this is through mindful breathing. The goal is to focus your attention on the here and now and avoid distortions.

Some people find it useful to play soft music or make a pot of tea to help encourage relaxation. By clearing the mental residue of the day, you will better position yourself for writing what you are feeling in your journal.

2. Label your journal entries

Mark each entry with the day, date and year. Some people even jot down the time of their entry however, this is not required unless it holds significance to you. The reason you will be writing down the date is simply because you will likely be reviewing your entries in the future.

FYI: Some people even record their weather conditions outside. Again – not required.

3. Don’t edit yourself

Write whatever comes to your mind and don’t edit anything. Let your thoughts flow from your head to the tip of your pen – even thoughts that may seem disturbing. Remember, journaling is essentially transcribing your conscious dialogue that encourages the psychological concept of catharsis.

As an aside, avoid worrying about what your writing looks like. Who cares it its sloppy? The important thing is that you can read what you are recording. Don’t let penmanship drive your purpose.

4. Be spontaneous

There’s no need to write in one sentence paragraphs. When you journal, you can jot down phrases that hold meaning to you. It is OK to record something that isn’t perfect under this step. Sometimes, when we strive for perfection when writing, we dilute the deeper meaning unintentionally.

If you experience a mental block along the way, draw some boxes and list a few thoughts inside of each. Variety in writing is good anyway because it helps to spark creativity.

5. Have a special place

You can theoretically journal anyplace you want however, some environments are more conducive to the writing process than others. Think of the place you write in your journal as part of a larger conduit to self-insight.

If you live in a weather-environment where you can journal outside, consider using this as your special place. Scenic views also can help encourage the deeper thought. If you live in a cold weather environment or a large city, consider using the skyline as your mental backdrop.

6. Keep it private

What you write in your journal is obviously private but that doesn’t mean others will respect that boundary. Do you live with family members or in some way share space? Keep this in mind and think of a good hiding place to store your journal.

Some people invest money in an inexpensive safe to keep entries private. On this note, think carefully about what information you share with friends and family members about what’s inside of your journal. No need to give busy bodies a reason to snoop – particularly if they are narcissistic and think you are writing about them!

7. Be OK with the uncomfortable

One of the things that can happen when you start journaling is uncapping emotions that have long been bottled up. This is a very normal part of the writing process. When this happens to you, do not be afraid. Journaling should be a process that stirs up feelings while encouraging you to confront long held fears.

After you get more comfortable with these feelings, intra-psyche conflicts can be better resolved because you will be emotionally stronger. Some people find it helpful to write down exactly what they are feeling while journaling. If you are depressed, anxious or just feeling empty – record it!

Summing Things Up

Once you have a handle on how to write in your journal, we think you will find it to be one of the most rewarding activities you will ever engage in. Many of our clients like journaling so much that they buy special books to record their activities. We are including a link below as an example.

Finally, many people use their journal as fodder for psychotherapy. Be sure to update your therapist on your journaling activities. We have a feeling your helping professional will appreciate your efforts and be able to use some of the material you are recording to help you achieve greater insight!

We hope you found the information discussed here on how to write a journal helpful. Be sure to vote in our journaling poll below.

If the spirit moves you, please share with others on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter! Thanks for visiting 2nd Story Counseling where we truly believe that every life has a second story!