You’ve fished out your favorite pen and opened your brand new journal to its first spotless page.
Journaling is a wonderful way to work through your emotions and dive deeper into your everyday thoughts and behaviors. If you want journaling to become a habit that sticks, it’s important to find a method that will work for you in the long term. Some popular “journaling for beginners” approaches might not work for you, and that’s okay!
Even for the avid journal-keeper, starting a new journal can be intimidating. If you’ve never journaled before and have no idea where to start, use these journaling tips for beginners to get going.
1. Tackling The First Page
You’re not making it up – first page jitters are real. If you feel paralyzed by the blank page in front of you, give yourself permission to not write on it!
Get your creative juices flowing to avoid writing on that first page. Instead, you can scribble, doodle, copy out a quote, write your name, paste in a photo, or rip it out entirely.
If none of those ideas appeal to you, pick a random page in the middle of your journal and make your first entry there. Once your first journal entry is done, it’ll be easier to go back to the first physical page and fill it.
2. Keep a Prompt List
One of the worst feelings as a journal-keeper is wanting to write, but feeling uninspired. Create a running list of journal prompts that you can turn to in a pinch.
Popular prompt lists include questions you want to try to answer, quotes that made you think, realizations you’ve had throughout the day, emotions you want to unpack, or memories you want to immortalize. Some lists focus on different themes, such as self-esteem and confidence or the various relationships in your life.
You can keep your prompt list on the inside cover of your journal, on your phone, or on a bookmark for your journal. Make sure it’s accessible to you at all times. That way, you can quickly jot down your prompt idea when inspiration hits.
The best journal prompts for beginners will encourage you to write and flow as you dive into your thoughts and emotions.
3. Use a Guided Journal
For first-time journal-keepers, a guided journal can be the perfect way to dip your toes into journaling. Guided journals provide a host of prompts and pre-filled pages to help you get into the journaling routine.
Guided journals can have different themes or focuses, so you can find one that perfectly matches your needs. Guided journals let you explore different types of prompts and see which ones work best for you.
4. Find What Works for You
Journal-purists often say that putting pen to paper is the only way to go about journaling. In actuality, the best way to journal depends entirely on your preferences!
If physically writing out your thoughts is causing writer’s block, don’t force yourself to stick with it. You can type in Google docs or use your phone’s notepad application. Digital journals are easy to back up, access, and organize. And since typing is much faster than writing, you can end up with long entries without much effort!
5. Embrace Mess
Your journal isn’t here to look pretty. It’s here for you to explore your thoughts, work through big emotions, and encourage introspection.
If worrying about your journal’s appearance gets in the way of writing, it can’t remain a priority. Let yourself be messy!
A fun way to demonstrate this concept is to make two journal entries. The first, you’ll make as beautiful as possible: use your best handwriting and fanciest pens, paste in stunning photographs, and spend hours decorating your entry with drawings and accents.
For the next entry, do the opposite! Write as fast as you can and ignore how it looks. The point of this entry is to get out as many words as physically possible. Don’t worry about fancy headings or neat handwriting. Write until you fill the page.
Which entry felt better? Which entry helped you the most?
6. Don’t Edit as You Go
Similarly, your journal isn’t the place for perfectly constructed sentences and impeccable grammar, either. Go wild while you’re writing! If you make a mistake, scribble it out and keep going. ‘Mistakes” distract you from your train of thought.
This might be one of the hardest habits to break, particularly if you do a lot of academic writing. When the urge to touch up, rearrange, and perfect hits you, ignore it until you’re finished! You can always polish your entry once you’ve finished writing, although this isn’t necessary.
7. Carry Your Journal at All Times
When a thought hits you in the middle of the day, why not write about it in the moment? When your journal is with you at all times, you can write whenever inspiration strikes (and you have a few minutes to spare!)
If you can’t write the entry immediately, jot down a vague heading and some bullet points containing your thoughts and ideas. Later, you can remind yourself what you thought and write the full entry.
8. Write to Yourself
Writing to your past self is a great way to track your progress and growth. Try to remember what it was like to be 5, 10, or 20 years younger. What were you worried about? What were your dreams? After putting yourself in a smaller pair of your own shoes, write a letter to that version of yourself.
Write about the people you know now, your job, your family, your pets, your habits, things you’ve overcome, and areas where you’ve changed. Compare and contrast your life now and then.
Once you’ve written a letter to your past self, why not do the same for future-you? Write about your life currently and the ways you hope it changes or develops. Write about relationships you’re working on and projects you’re in the process of finishing. Ask your future self questions about how things ended up – after enough time, you’ll be able to read that letter and respond!
9. Write to Someone Else
Are you struggling to talk to a friend or family member about something? Write to them in your journal to organize your thoughts.
If you want to give advice, your journal is the perfect place to streamline it. When you start writing, your thoughts are convoluted and confusing. As you write, you find better ways to word what you’re thinking. This makes it easier to talk to people in real life because you’ve “practiced” your parts of the conversation.
10. Write About What You Want
Don’t force yourself to write about something that irritates you. Your journal is a tool meant for your benefit and growth. If you hate a prompt, get annoyed with a specific journal structure, or find an entire guided journal infuriating – you don’t have to stick with it.
The journal serves you, not the other way around!
11. Write In Different Places
Different places will trigger different memories and bring out different aspects of your personality. Writing in different places takes advantage of that effect and brings out interesting thoughts and emotions.
Write in bed, at your desk, sprawled on the floor, outside, at your favorite café, in the library, or even in your car parked outside the mall.
Practicing writing in a host of locations also trains you to easily transition into introspection and deep thought.
12. Turn Off Distractions
Getting into a journaling session can be difficult. Make it easier on yourself by removing as many distractions as possible.
Turn off your phone if you can, otherwise put it on silent and place it face down. Put away anything that will distract you as you’re writing.
13. Set a Timer
When you start journaling, it can be hard getting going. You’re still thinking about everything on your to-do list, your family, your boss’s cryptic comment in that board meeting… The list goes on.
To get yourself in a writing flow, set a judgment-free timer for 10 or 15 minutes. Write until the timer goes off. If it goes off and you’ve found a flow or are on a thought path you want to dive deeper into, you can continue! But you can’t stop until the timer goes off.
Forcing yourself to sit and write helps to put you into a writing headspace and intentionally push aside your usual responsibilities.
14. Do It On Paper
If you want journaling to become a habit, use it for big decisions, heavy thoughts, and large emotions. Worry, decide, process, and ponder on paper.
By raising the stakes, you make journaling an important part of your process!
For example, if you’re thinking of moving towns, you can make a pros and cons list, write about why you want that big of a change, and write about what’s making you hesitate. With all your thoughts collected in front of you, it can be easier to make your final decision.
15. Stream of Consciousness
A popular journaling method is stream of consciousness or train of thought writing. For this style, write down whatever pops into your head. Try to write as quickly as your hand can move to follow your thoughts as they ramble and roam from topic to topic. Don’t worry about finishing sentences – if your thoughts switch, your writing must too!
This unstructured and organic journaling style might not work for you every time, but is great for getting you out of a thinking rut and encouraging thought exploration.
16. 30 Day Journal Daily Challenge
A challenge is a sweet way to get yourself into a delightful new habit. Pick a month and make it your aim to journal every day. It doesn’t matter if you set aside time before bed, straight after waking up, during lunch, or at any other time throughout your day.
Set yourself up for success by clearing obstacles out of your way. Wherever you decide to write, make sure you have your notebook and pen easily accessible. Aim for a time of day when you’re least likely to be interrupted.
If you find sitting down to actually start gives you ants in your pants, remember Tip #13 and set a timer. Don’t leave until the buzzer goes! For a 30 day challenge, feel free to start small (a minute is fine!) and increase the time in small increments to develop your journaling muscles. Some days will flow, other days may feel like jogging through a patch of quicksand, but by the end of a month, you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve grown!
17. Write About Another 30-Day Challenge
If the thought of journaling for a month seems impossible because you’d have to figure out what to write each day, why not piggyback it on another challenge? There are plenty of 30-day challenges doing the rounds.
How about taking on a month-long exercise routine? Learn a new craft (macramé, anyone?) find out how to draw animals, or paint realistic ocean waves. At the end of the month, you’ll have gained a new skill and have established a lovely journaling groove.
Big life changes are a great topic for 30-day journaling. Starting at a new job? Going to therapy for the first time in your life? Have a new pet? Whatever you’re doing every day that is challenging you, write about your feelings! Journaling your way through a big change not only helps you adjust to the change, but it also gets you into a writing flow. You can look back at the end and see the character growth and change in your perspective.
18. Use Quotes As A Starting Point
If you love words and find inspiration in how other people phrase things, use their quotes as prompts! If a quote stands out to you for any reason, use it as a diving board to go deeper in your journal. You can expand on how you interpret the quote, how it applies to your life, or what you think and feel when you read the quote.
If you find the quote paralyzes you, take a different approach. Write the opposite of what the quote implies. Then you can write about which point of view resonates with you more and why.
19. Write About Books
If your current life and thoughts feel a little too mundane to document, revisit your favorite books by writing about them. You can get as structured as you want to here – from scribbled plot musings to in-depth and aesthetic analyses.
Analyze the characters, their motivations and flaws, write about how you relate to them and how you differ, write about the romances that felt most realistic and enticing.
20. Stay Honest
Sometimes, it’s easier to gloss over ugly thoughts while journaling. To get the most out of journaling, it’s important to be as honest as you possibly can. If you’re hesitant to explore an opinion or emotion – dig in! Start by writing about why you don’t want to write about it. Once that reason comes surfaces, face it, acknowledge it, and push it aside. Writing about the tricky stuff is the only way to progress and grow!
Remember that your journal is a private, judgment-free zone. If you’re anxious someone will snoop and see your private thoughts, find a secure place to put your journal or use a journal with a lock and key.
21. Write Lists
If sentences are eluding you, make arbitrary lists instead! To-do lists are the only exception here, unless the point of your journal is productivity and organization. To-do lists draw you away from your emotional side, making it more effort to introspect.
You can make a gratitude list, a list of favorites (movie, book, food, etc.), a list of names you like (perfect for expecting parents), days you want to experience again, places you want to travel to, and more.
22. Bullet Journal
If you want a journaling style that lends itself to organization and productivity more than it does to creativity and expression, give bullet journaling a try.
Bullet journaling is a popular way to keep track of daily, weekly, and monthly tasks. It’s simple, intuitive, and easily customizable to meet your needs. This step-by-step tutorial gives great steps for starting your own bullet journal.
23. Dream Journal
If you want journaling to be part of your morning routine, why not write about your dreams? As soon as you wake up, scribble down as much of your dream that you remember. Once you’ve got the random details down, you can try to sort them into the order that they happened in.
This is a great way to train your brain to remember your dreams.
24. Pretend You’re In a Therapy Session
If you’re working through something, get objective and try to picture things from a stranger’s point of view.
Imagine what questions a therapist would ask you, or remember questions that they already have and then answer those questions as you journal.
25. Write About Now
What does your room look like? What are you wearing? Get really specific. You can start with ‘the walls are white and there’s a desk’, but then take it further. What’s on the desk? What type of pens? Does the plant have patterned leaves? What do the patterns remind you of? To practice using this concept, write about each of your senses.
- Sight – See everything around you and write it down
- Hear – Close your eyes in between paragraphs and listen to your world, then capture it in words
- Smell – You might want to go on a walk around your neighborhood, pausing to breathe and capture the scents
- Feel – Emotions? Fingertips? You decide!
- Taste – What flavors are actually in your favorite soda?
Investigate the world around you through the magnifying glass of the written word.
26. Write About Religion
If your religion is close to your heart and you want to dive deeper into your faith, write about it! You can write down prayers, discoveries, or testimonies.
You can also write about several religions to explore each of their approaches and philosophies. Which one resonates with you most? Why do you think that is?
Write affirmations to work on your self-esteem. These can be about your appearance, your qualities, or things you’ve done that you felt proud of.
Write about yourself as you would a friend. Brag a little about everything you’ve achieved – you deserve to recognize progress, growth, and effort!
28. Talk to Your Inner Child
Your inner child is an unconscious part of your mind. It acts as the source of emotional, relational, and behavioral difficulties in your adulthood.
Writing to your inner child can be an incredibly cathartic and healing experience. Talk to your subconscious in the second person (use you and your) and see what comes up!
29. Get Creative
Bring other methods of expression into your journaling – doodle, write poetry, draw, paste in stickers, paint a landscape, use charts and diagrams, stick in photos, or press flowers.
Multi-media pages can help you dive into self-expression and encourage creative exploration
30. A Different Point of View
Write from someone else’s perspective. Put yourself in their shoes and take a walk around their thoughts for a while. Write about their motivations, fears, and dreams. Try to figure out why they acted the way they did and why they have the knee-jerk responses that they do.
This is a great way to develop and practice empathy.
31. Write About Your Values
What values do you hold dear? Where do they come from? How do they shape your decisions? Which values are most important to you? Which have you compromised on?
Writing about your values solidifies them for you, making it easier to act according to what you believe. Getting critical is a great way to weed out which values you believe in because you’ve been told you should.
32. Unsent Letters
Journaling is a cathartic way to work through grief and regret. Whether you’ve lost a loved one, had a relationship sour, or been disappointed, write them a letter.
Your words are for your eyes only, but as the unspoken aches of your heart take substance on the paper in front of you, healing can begin. Allow emotion to flood through you and pour out through your fingertips.
If you feel numb and cold, write it down. So angry, you want to rip the page to shreds rather than write on it? Put it in words. There’s no right or wrong, but acknowledging what’s going on inside is a step towards freedom. You can do this!
Journaling for Beginners Has Never Been So Easy
Your reasons for journaling are completely unique. You may want to journal to relieve stress and anxiety, practice speaking kindly to yourself, practice speaking to others, work through big decisions or work through childhood trauma. Whatever your reasons, the result will be a confidence in yourself that no one can deny.
With these 32 tips for journaling, you can confidently start your journaling journey. Whether you make journaling a daily habit or just use it for the big things, journaling is the greatest tool for self-reflection and creativity.
What are you waiting for? Get a journal and get writing!
If you found this post helpful, be sure to check out the rest of mental wellness articles for more tips on journaling for beginners as well as other techniques for living a healthy, mellow, and stress-free life.