5 journaling tips for beginners 

By Sarah Cannata

Like the idea of journaling but can’t quite commit for some reason? I get it. People typically fall into one of three camps when it comes to having a daily writing practice:

Camp 1: Avid writers who treat journaling as a sacred practice

Camp 2: People who like the idea of journaling but can’t quite get themselves to stare down the blank page each day

Camp 3: Those who have no interest in journaling because they could be doing so many other things with that time

Which of the above best describes you?

The bad news is that if you have no interest in writing, I can’t help you. I hope one day, you feel inspired to write and experience the tangible benefits for yourself. The good news is that if you’re keen to write but are a little rusty, or find yourself falling on and off the bandwagon each time you start, the following tips can help you to establish a daily writing habit. Before we begin…

So, what is a daily writing practice?

Good question! When I refer to writing daily, I’m speaking about putting aside 10 minutes each day to sit and write. This doesn’t have to be at a particular or regular time each day. Treat this time like a work meeting or appointment in your schedule. Your time to go within, feel into what’s happening in your body and to write like no one is reading (because no one is — besides you).

Here’s how to move from liking the notion of writing to actually writing daily.

Tip #1: Contemplate if you intend to destroy or save your work before you begin

If you plan to write daily, I recommend keeping your writing so that at the end of the week, month or year, you can reflect. When I engage in this practice, I ask myself three questions:

  • What has energised me this week/month/year?
  • What has drained me this week/month/year?
  • What is within my power to change for the better?

Meanwhile, if you intend to explore a past experience through writing that may prove triggering, I suggest you destroy your work. This frees you up mentally to get everything out and onto the page. After all, given it’s destined for the shredder or fireplace, no one will ever see what you’ve written. Your work is for your eyes only.

Tip #2: Avoid censoring yourself

When you stare down your blank page or screen each day, be present. Try not to pre-meditate what you’re going to write about. In the beginning, to establish your rhythm, I recommend you use simple writing prompts. Once you are a couple of weeks into your daily practice, you’ll find topics come to you naturally. You’ll likely flow between writing about seemingly insignificant things and far more serious topics. What we’re trying to do is to empty your mind of the surface level gunk. Here’s a snapshot of the topics I’ve explored in my journal to give you an idea of the range of ideas that typically arise:

  • Why isn’t there a blue teletubby? Is there a blue teletubby?
  • I’m so tired today, why can’t I sleep?
  • James Hird was my favourite Australian Rules footballer as a kid
  • There will never be a better television show than Buffy: The Vampire Slayer
  • Something feels off today

Tip #3: Don’t judge what you write

At times, what you’ll write won’t be pretty. A client one shared she wrote this in her journal and felt incredibly guilty afterwards:

I hate being a mother. This isn’t what I had imagined.

This was this woman’s truth at that particular moment. She honoured herself by writing the words and allowing herself to feel what she needed to. 

Every now and again, you’ll write things that are hard to swallow or even do anything about. Sometimes, you just need to sit with something until a way forward appears. At other times, you simply need to express a feeling and doing so is enough to propel you forward. Life is messy. If your journal wasn’t filled with messiness at times, I’d say you’re likely censoring yourself.

Tip #4: Forget about creating a masterpiece

When it comes to this kind of writing, we’re not trying to construct the next Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter series. Your writing is not going to be pretty or polished and that’s perfectly okay. Often, the sentences won’t even make sense. This is all part of the process. 

Here are some of the questions I am asked by people all the time about journaling:

  • Does it matter if I haven’t done much writing in the past?
  • Does it matter if I’m not a very good writer?

No and no. Remember, your writing is for your eyes only. That means putting an apostrophe or comma in the wrong place is no big deal. When you compare yourself to a published book or professional writer, you lose each time. Your favourite book has been through endless counts of developmental editing, proofreading, line editing and so on. It’s not the raw or even third version.

Tip #5: Never miss two days in a row

This is the closest thing to a ‘rule’ that I advocate in my work. Really, there are no rules when it comes to writing. You can:

  • Handwrite
  • Type
  • Write before work
  • Write before bed
  • Write in between meetings
  • Write once a day
  • Write twice a day

Writing is simple. However, simple doesn’t mean easy to stick to. When you’re consistent, writing becomes like brushing your teeth or taking your dog for a walk each day. Part of your routine and effortless. That’s why I’m a big believer in doing your best to never skip more than one day in a row of writing. Let’s be honest: life happens and we might lose track of time one day and completely forget about writing. No drama. Get back to it the next day.

Like so many things, ultimately, what you put into writing daily is what you’ll get out of it in the long-term.

Need help developing and maintaining a daily writing practice? Try the Write to Thrive 5 Day Challenge for just AU$7. Click here to read more.

Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!