Learn How to Succeed With Journaling

Everything You Need to Know About Journaling: Why Journal? Journaling Benefits, Tips, Ideas, Advice, Prompts and Examples

There are many reasons you might want to start journaling:

  • Journaling is one of the best ways to improve your writing skills — and impressive writing skills could potentially help you succeed at school, at work, and in other facets of your life.
  • Journaling can help you achieve goals like losing weight, planning for the future, working through anxiety or exploring your spirituality.
  • Journaling can add important information to your scrapbooks and memory books, filling in details that might not be evident from your photos alone.
  • Life is never static; things change. You’ll evolve and change, too. Journaling can help you to remember the things you really want to remember about your life.
  • You can write journaling focused on any topic you want to explore or learn more about: You can make travel journals, nature journals, Bible journals or any other type of journals that appeal to you.

For Me, Daily Journaling Led to Solid Writing Skills That Made a Freelance Writing Career Possible.

I started freelance writing in the mid 2000s. I was able to jump into this career easily because I had already developed the necessary skills for the job. Like everyone else, I learned to write in elementary school — but I sharpened those skills by keeping a daily journal (which, at the end, morphed into a weekly journal) for more than a decade.

Furthermore, I never get writer’s block because I have developed the habit of writing; I can totally skip the step of staring at an empty document and drawing a blank about what to write.

If you’re hoping to improve your writing for any reason at all, daily journaling is a top-priority habit to develop.

Another One of Journaling’s Potential Benefits: Preserving the Memories You Want to Hold Onto Forever

I began daily journaling when I was in junior high. My journals from that time period didn’t survive – because when I later re-read them, I’d think, “GAH, I’m an idiot”, and then tear up all the text I wrote. My earliest surviving journals are from high school.
(The journal entries I wrote in those days still make me cringe and think “GAH, I’m an idiot” when I re-read them, but I’m now more adept at resisting the urge to tear them up).

I’m in my late 40s. When I read the journals I wrote in high school and college, it startles me to realize there are people, places and events I wrote about that I now do not remember at all.

I have evidence that these things all happened; I can hold those journals in my hands and plainly see that the text is written in my own writing voice and handwriting. Yet many of these pages describe things that the me of the here-and-now, in 2022, simply does not remember.

Your first impulse might be to write me off as a person who has a bad memory.

But that would be incorrect, because my memory is actually better than average. When I was a student in school, I habitually took notes in class, but I rarely studied much beyond that. I graduated college magna cum laude.

So I don’t honestly believe that my memory is that much worse than anyone else’s.

When I was younger, I took it for granted that my memory would always remain that sharp. It never even occurred to me that there would be people, places, events, moments that I would completely forget about.

The main takeaway: The older you get, the more details of your life you are going to forget. Journaling is the antidote to this forgetfulness. Journaling is a powerful tool you can use to hang onto memories you specifically want to keep. But in order to tap into this power, you really have to be proactive about using journaling to its best advantage. If you journal haphazardly, the way I did, it may not turn out to be all that much help to you.

I only know this in hindsight, because I overlooked a lot of the things that could have helped me be more successful in my journaling. But I’m here to point them out to you so that you can maximize the potential rewards that can be gained from journaling.

The 2 Most Important Keys to Succeeding With Journaling

Everyone has a different idea of what “success” looks like. When it comes to journaling, I have a couple of ideas that define success. It is perfectly OK if you decide that, for you, success with journaling looks different. I invite you to at least consider these ideas so you have some sort of benchmark for where you might like to set your own journaling goals.

1. Make Journaling Habitual

If you hope to succeed at journaling, it can’t be a once-in-awhile activity. You have to make it a habit. For me, it started out as a daily habit; then when I started college, it morphed into a weekly habit, because I got too busy to prioritize daily journaling.

You can, of course, decide how often you want to work on journaling, but you do have to make it a habitual part of your life if you want to succeed with it.

2. Make It a Priority to Journal About the Things and People You’ll Want to Remember.

Your future you will be most satisfied with your journaling if you write down the things you will want to remember. This sounds simple — but it’s all too easy to overlook if you take it for granted that you will remember everything.

You should never, ever, ever take it for granted that you will remember the important details of your life. It is possible that you might remember them, but it is also quite likely that you will forget them over time.

I wrote about interactions with my friends in my diary, and there are multiple entries that begin with the words “I will never forget…” and then further elaborate on some incident I totally forgot all about (and still don’t remember now that I’ve re-read the journal entry).

Yes, seriously.

Reading my old diaries is like viewing my past through a streaked and dirty window.

I fervently wish that I could hop in a time machine, travel back in time and clean the window, so to speak, by writing with more intention and more clarity about the things I truly want to remember.

I wasted huge amounts of time writing about trivial things that don’t matter at all in the larger scheme of life. I devoted relatively little time to writing about the things that have lasting importance.

With that in mind, I give you the following advice for approaching your own journaling:

  • When you sit down to journal, focus the vast majority of your efforts on writing about whatever things exist in your life that provoke feelings of intense joy. Anything else, just let it go; it probably isn’t worth the effort it would take to write it down.
  • Focus on writing about the people in your life who mean the most to you.
  • Capture and record exact quotes — even if you can only manage to remember small snippets of exact quotes. DO NOT resort to paraphrasing. Write down exactly what your loved ones said.

Here are some examples:

Don’t Write This: Dad and I talked for half an hour after dinner, and it was a great conversation. Then I went to bed early.

Instead, Write This: Dad and I talked for half an hour after dinner. He told me, “I am proud of how you handled the situation at the park yesterday. Grandma and Aunt Elizabeth were having a petty disagreement over the details of what we should do during our upcoming family vacation. You stepped in to diffuse the situation with a relevant anecdote and suggestions that they both found helpful. They responded by apologizing to each other and carrying on the conversation in a more constructive way. Your mom and I were really impressed with your diplomacy.”

Then Dad and I worked some more on finalizing our plans for the family vacation next month. After that, I went to bed early”.

You can see that it will take a bit more effort to include this level of detail in your journaling; it requires you to sharpen your memory to the point that you can remember the actual words other people use when they speak to you.

This is not easy to accomplish.

When you start journaling, you’ll most likely find that you are prone to paraphrasing what people say, because it is not easy to remember exact quotes. But if you’re going to invest any effort at all in journaling, it’s worth making the extra effort to write down the details that matter.

Should You Include Pictures in Your Journal?

It’s up to you whether or not to include pictures in your journal, but if you’re taking a poll, I vote yes. Yes, definitely include pictures in your journal. In fact, consider making it a scrapbook, not just a journal.

Up until recently, I always kept separate journals and photo albums. In hindsight, I think that was a mistake.

Now I keep my scrapbooks and journaling all together. I think it is most meaningful to put photos and journaling together on the same page.

One of my latest projects is redoing my old photo albums. I have to do this because I used crappy photo albums with magnetic pages, and those pages are now failing. I’m using it as an opportunity to “marry” photos and journaling from my journals. This is a monstrous project that is giving me a headache.

If you’re just starting with journaling, I’d advise you to think ahead to the future. Someday, you will grow old; perhaps then you will be interested in looking back and reflecting on your life. What format would you most like to view your memories in? Will you want to read stories about your life presented in a journal? Will you want to look at pictures of your life presented in a photo album? Or would it be most meaningful to you to have photos and stories together, presented in memory books or photo albums? If you think you might want pictures and journaling together, the easiest way to have that is to create it that way in the first place.

Travel Journals and Travel Scrapbooks: Learn How to Make a Travel Journal With Pictures

If you travel, it's a great idea to keep a travel journal. Make sure to include dates, times, street names, and any other details you'll want to look back on and remember later. Check out our page on travel journals to find more suggestions and ideas for how to make a travel journal. Photo courtesy of Oxana V.

If you travel, it’s a great idea to keep a travel journal. Check out our page on travel journals to find more suggestions and ideas for how to make a travel journal. Photo courtesy of Oxana V.

Art Journaling: What You Need to Know About Making Your Own Art Journal

Art Journaling -- Photo Courtesy of @olly_p

Art Journaling — Photo Courtesy of @olly_p

Journaling Prompts

Need some ideas for what to write in your journal? This page of journaling prompts could help. Although I actually wrote this for scrapbookers, I think these journaling prompts would be just as suitable for journal writers.

So there you have it: Those are the most important basics you need to know about journaling. I hope this information will be helpful to you as you work on your journaling adventure.

Over to You:

Have you started journaling yet? Have any helpful tips to share about journaling?

Do you have questions about journaling?

The floor is open for comments — so if you have questions or insights to share, please don’t be shy about posting them. I am happy to help if I can, and I am always interested in reading others’ perspectives on the topic of journaling.

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Posted By: Amy Solovay

This page was last updated on 10-18-2022.

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