Starting a journal is simple, but it can seem quite daunting.
It’s simple because there is no right or wrong way to do it, but this is also why people are intimidated by it. Where do you start? How do you start? If you’ve ever sat down with a new journal, you know how real “first-page anxiety” is, the pressure to not screw up or sound like an idiot before you’ve even begun.
Well, I’ve got good news for you: people journal for so many different reasons and with as many different styles, and the truth of the matter is you can’t mess up. Once you start, you can only get better, and getting better will only come with practice.
So here’s how to start: start.
What Do You Want to Get Out of Journaling?
Before you put pen to paper, you’ll have to answer an important question. What is it, exactly, that you want to get out of journaling?
For example, my journal is used primarily for personal growth and peripherally as a therapeutic outlet (it depends on the severity of the issue I’m dealing with). When I first started journaling, however, I used to write down everything that happened to me each day; now, I find it excessively grating to document the small details of my everyday life. As I developed, the focus of my journal entries changed to reflect what was most important to me.
Your personal answer to this question is going to determine what you should write about in your journal. Of course, it’s alright to write about more than one thing—and it’s likely that you will—but an awareness of what you want to get out of journaling will help you focus your efforts and not lose your motivation.
Getting Over First-Page Anxiety
Any writer can tell you that a blank page is daunting. But the first page of an empty journal reaches a new level of intimidation. The first page of a new journal is where you’re going to feel—all of a sudden—that you are the most uninteresting and selfish person, that all of the ideas you wanted to get on paper are no longer urgent.
When you go to face the first-page dragon, I recommend taking armor with you. Below are a few strategies to help you slay that dragon:
Lay a foundation
One way to approach the first entry of a new journal is to clearly spell out what you’re hoping to get out of the journaling experience. Earlier, you were asked to consider a few purposes for journaling. Did you resonate with one more than the others? Laying a foundation in your journal can be as simple as scribbling, “I want a therapeutic outlet where I can express my most intimate thoughts,” or “I want to document my life and preserve my memories.” Whatever your motivation, write it out on the first page as your journal’s foundation. Later on, it may serve as a helpful reminder of what you want to get out of the experience.
Set the scene
The first page of a journal is a great opportunity to give context of your current circumstances. Where you are in life at this moment? Where do you live, and who do you live with? Are you working or in school? What’s the state of your health? What are the most recent major events of your life? You don’t have to write a memoir; whatever is important to you in this moment is the perfect place to start.
Let someone else speak for you
If you need inspiration to come from outside of you, write out a quote or song lyric that inspires you. This is not cheating! In fact, you get bonus points if you explain afterwards why that quote is so important to you.
How to Write a Journal Entry
- Date your entry.
- Write a sentence or two about where you are and your current mood.
- Get to the point. Why do you want to write today? What happened, and how are you feeling?
- Follow the trail of your thoughts for at least one page.
- Write until you find an answer (or until you run out of things to say).
Seriously. It’s that easy.
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should I journal?
I’m not an advocate of forcing yourself to journal every day. If daily record-keeping doesn’t come naturally to you, it can be boring and cause you unnecessary guilt. For a beginner, I’d recommend writing a page-long entry twice per week in order to create a habit. Once a habit is formed, write whenever the mood suits you.
How long should each entry be?
Starting out, I’d recommend writing a minimum of one page per entry. You’ll find that some entries will easily fit on a page, while others will quickly exceed that minimum. Some topics require a “warm up,” meaning that it may take more time and more words to get to the heart of what you want to say. If you have something important to write about, set aside at least an hour in a quiet place so that you have uninterrupted time to get the right words down.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Stop
In my experience, new journalers quit just a few entries in. They get stuck before they get to the good stuff, and so they tap out. Of course, everyone wants to see immediate results when they start a new project! But unfortunately, journaling is a lot like getting in shape: it takes time to see change. The more you practice it, the better you’ll get.
So I beg you: do not cut yourself short before you’ve even begun the journey.
If you find that you’re really stuck, check out How to Stick With Journaling When You’re Bored, Busy, or Otherwise Unenthused!
I wish you the very best on your journaling endeavors. Be on the lookout for the next guide to journaling (for intermediate-level journalers)!