Q & A About Keeping a Journal

Photo by Julie Jordan Scott

Journaling is one of the most intensely personal activities you can indulge in and one of the most powerful self-care ones, plus it's a gold mine of material for memoirists. Because it is so personal, there is no right way to do it, but many beginners still have questions. Below are a few of the most common.

Do I have to write by hand?

No. There is some evidence that writing by hand slows your thinking to an orderly pace, giving meditative-like benefits, but the edge is slight. If you are able to catch the gush of your thoughts better on a keyboard, go for it.

How should I choose a journal?

It doesn’t matter if you use a hand-bound volume covered in Italian leather, a composition book from the Dollar Store, a folder full of loose paper, software like LifeJournal. or a basic text editor. What does matter is that you choose something you feel comfortable with, and then use it.

When is the best time to write?

Many people prefer to write first thing in the morning, but that doesn’t work for everyone. Write when you can — during coffee or lunch breaks at work, on the bus, after dinner ...

How often should I write?​

To get the most meaningful results, you should write at least several times a week. In her multi-million copy best-seller The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advises writing three pages, first thing, every day, and millions of people around the world follow this advise. She does not specify page size. If you skip a day or few for whatever reason, Just pick it back up and keep going as soon as you can.

How much time should I spend?

As stated above, Julia recommends three pages. That may take ten minutes or an hour. Write for as long as you feel the urge and have the time.

What should I write about?
Anything at all. You can keep a log of the weather, record your comings and goings, rant and rave. You can keep a gratitude journal. One key to using it for enhanced health and enlightenment is to focus on feelings, emotions and reactions. The more you get your inner thoughts on paper, the more self-aware you become, the more alternate perspectives you’ll find, and the more stress you are likely to relieve.

Should I share my journal?
That’s a personal choice. If you think others might read it, you’ll filter what you write. You’ll gain the most insight if you keep it private. Hide it or keep it elsewhere if you don’t trust people you live with. Then always write the Truth as you know it, and watch that Truth transform.

What other tips should I know?
Two key questions have generated huge pay-offs of insight for me: “Is this true?” and “What can I learn from this?” After I write one of those questions on the page, I just write down the answer without serious thought. Writing dialogue with people from the past — or even imaginary people — is also powerful for surfacing hidden thoughts and wisdom.

Another tip is to write as fast as you can without concern for punctuation, grammar or even making sense. Just get it on the page and don't let your inner critic stop you!

Do I need lists of topics to write about?

No. But using them can seed some amazing essay material.

What if I lapse?
My advice about writing in your journal is the same as writing life stories: Anything you write, anything at all, is better than writing nothing. Even if it is just a few paragraphs a couple of times a year.

Where can I find more information?
My favorite websites about journaling:
     International Association for Journal Writing
     Writing Through Life
     Center for Journal Therapy

My favorite books
about journaling:
     One to One, Christina Baldwin

     Journal to the Self, Kathleen Adams.

Write Now:
if you don’t have a journal, find some paper or open a new file and start one. If you do have one. pull it out and write an entry.


loveable_homebody said...

I think every writer has answers to these questions. Preferences can be important to writers. I know they are for me. My diaries have stay open properly and the there has to be a certain amount of space between the lines. I don't like thin diaries as I like to have a longer relationship with one. I do believe that handwriting can slow thoughts and make you more thoughtful. Every word requires a bit of exertion. Every word counts. But typing is great too because you can get the words down as fast, or almost as fast, as they come to you.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Hi Homebody,

You sound like a real pro. You even have a preference for calling your volume a diary. Thanks for adding your thoughts.

Bhaswati said...

I can vouch for the therapeutic value of journaling--I have used it for weight and anger management, and the more progress I made, the more I got inspired to stay the course. Thanks for this post and those valuable links.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks for the testimonial Bhaswati. It's always great to hear of other's successes.

Matilda Butler said...

Hi Sharon:

Thanks for this post. So many people "know about journaling" but haven't actually kept a journal and starting one can seem like a daunting task. Your questions and answers will be helpful to seasoned as well as new journal keepers.


Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks Matilda. In an upcoming post I'll tell how Julia Cameron gave me the nudge I needed to switch from very occasional to regular journaling.