How to start a journal—and stick with it

I‘ve kept a journal since the first grade. I started it because my Great Uncle Jack told me that it was important to write everything down, even the things that seemed boring to me like my brand of toothpaste. He’d forgotten many of the details of his childhood. I was shocked at the idea of one day using different toothpaste because I lived a monotonous suburban life where things never seemed to change.

It’s a habit I’m proud to have kept. I love having a written record of important events as well as the more mundane aspects of my life like my unrequited high school crushes and descriptions of my friends.

This one time at the beginning of junior year in high school, I attempted to reinvent myself by carrying an expensive red and black book bag. Only I could barely fit any of my books into the new bag and walked around dropping things. I gave up and returned to my backpack after a week.

I am happy that I remember the small details of my life like this incident and probably wouldn’t without my journal. I also like the perspective my journal gives me. This particular incident was embarrassing to me at the time, but now that I’m older, it’s funny and a bit sweet.

It’s through keeping a journal that I’ve learned to understand my strengths and weaknesses. It’s through my practice of self-reflection in writing that I’ve learned what I want out of life.

With this in mind, here are some of my own tips for making the most out of writing in a journal:

Let the words flow out of you

Writing is a cheap form of therapy. For me, the process of writing is cathartic because it allows me to vent my problems out on the page. And then, later on, I can read what I’ve written and gain perspective on my life by looking at my problems from the outside.

Write whenever you’d like

I think sometimes people stop journaling because they feel like they need to do it all of the time. A journal doesn’t have to be for every day. It can be weekly or monthly or even just reserved for special events or occasions that you want to remember later.

Keep it honest

I’ve always kept a private journal as opposed to something that I share with others. I tend to be more honest and less self-conscious because I’m not worried about a judgmental, potential reader. I think it’s important to never worry about how you come across when you write in your journal. Later on, it can be nice to share writing with others, but initially it’s nice to have a place just to get all of your thoughts out on the page.

I suppose even if you intend to keep a journal private, there is always the risk of someone else reading it like in Harriet the Spy or Girls. For this reason, it might be good to get a lock or simply not advertise the fact that you keep a private journal to the type of people who might read it.

I have really bad handwriting, so I’ve never personally worried about this. My cousin read my journal once in fifth grade. I wrote that she was so bossy (there were multiple o’s in the word so) and that wasn’t embarrassing because I was right. That type of situation is never as bad you think it’s going to be.

It can be whatever you’d like.

Feel free to write whatever you want, however you’d like. Add pictures. Go crazy with the gel pens. Nobody is ever too old to make a collage or to appreciate a good scratch’n’sniff sticker. As long as you’re expressing yourself there is no harm in anything.

Write in a specific place

It’s sometimes easier to have one specific place like a coffee shop or even just a corner of your bedroom that you always go to write. That way when you want to write, you can go somewhere that automatically puts you in the mindset to do it

Everything is worth writing about

Like my Great Uncle Jack told me, it’s the little details that we all sometimes forget and those details often prove to be the most interesting. The social dynamics of my middle school are still fascinating to me as an adult. My ability to apply everything that happened to me freshman year of high school to Joni Mitchell’s music is still highly impressive. Everything is journal-worthy.

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