On Journaling: Sam’s Tips

By Sam F.

I received my first diary when I was nine. I loved the writing exercises we did in school, and while I wrote silly poems at home, I had never before considered keeping a journal. Soon, I was hooked. I haven’t stopped journaling since.

In high school, I was embarrassed by it (then again, I was embarrassed by everything in high school), but when I got to college, I realized that a lot of people kept journals. Now I talk about it openly, and I often encounter people who would like to keep a journal, but aren’t sure how to go about it. So here is some advice from a self-declared pro:

What if I don’t have anything to write about?

Chances are you probably do. As a History major in college, I sloughed through a lot of personal diaries that reported little more than what the writer had for breakfast (although one William Byrd II has plenty of entertaining—if sometimes alarming—entries. Highly recommend). You may not want to write about breakfast, per se, but you certainly can.

Sometimes, having “nothing” to write about can be therapeutic. I find that if I start with something small—like breakfast—I branch out. That’s the beauty of stream-of-consciousness writing. Once you find a starting point, it grows and grows, for we often have memories associated with the smallest things.

There are also plenty of prompt books. For journaling, I like 642 Things to Write About Me, which is full of thought provoking prompts. Some examples:

Write a diary entry for the best day you’ve never had.

If you’re at home, reach over to the drawer closest to where you are right now, and write about each object in the drawer, conveying its meaning to you.

What are the stereotypes about someone like you? Which of those do you consider offensive? Which do you think have grains of truth?

What if I can’t write every day? 

Totally fine. Some people go for months—even years—between entries. Personally, I think it’s good to settle into a rhythm that fits your lifestyle. Some people write every day. Some write only on weekends. I tend to write three to four times a week.

Why should I write?

Everyone has different reasons for keeping a journal. Some people want to document their lives so that they can look back on them later. However, I’ve found that most people who keep journals do so because want a private space to sort out their thoughts. Writing can be extremely cathartic. As my roommate quipped, a journal is a therapist without the price tag.

Can I read your writing?

No. While you can do whatever you want, I personally feel that journals should be kept private. If you start to share it, then you will start to self-edit your entries, even if you don’t realize you’re doing it.

Some other pro tips: 

Pick a journal that’s portable. Too big, and you’ll be discouraged from taking it outside the house. I highly recommend journaling outside, in coffee shops, on trains—pretty much anywhere!

Write in pen. You will probably want to look back on your journals later. Pencil tends to fade quickly; pen, however, will still look sharp decades later.

Combine journaling with scrapbooking. I keep small items like ticket stubs and business cards taped to the pages of my journals.

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