How to Keep a Journal

Two Methods:Sample EntriesKeeping Your Own Journal

The window to your soul, keeping a journal can be a way of giving your feelings an outlet like no other, a place where your deepest thoughts can reside without fear of judgment, blame, or need of justification. Journals allow you to be just who you are, and are a place where you can travel through life's emotions with gentleness, compassion, and deeper understanding. While journal writing is a personal journey, determined wholly by your own thoughts, ideas, and meanderings, it can be helpful to read suggestions for making the most of your journal, as well as some ideas about getting one started. If you haven't tried journal writing yet, or you have but let it slip or didn't really get into it, there is no time like the present to start one and to let your consciousness flow through your writing, connecting you with your deeper thoughts and ideas.

Sample Entries

Sample Personal Journal Entry

Sample Reader Response Journal Entry

Sample Task Oriented Journal Entry

Keeping Your Own Journal

  1. Image titled Keep a Journal Step 1
    Find a journal medium that's perfect for you. Decide how you want to keep your journal, either on paper or in electronic form. Both methods have advantages and drawbacks, so you'll need to weigh up what works best for you. For example, a paper based journal can be taken anywhere, never needs electricity, and can be highly personalized with drawings, collages, theater-tickets and mementos. It also can give you more "pressure" to edit your feelings. However, typing can be faster and easier in the electronic format, and an electronic document can still be personalized in different ways. Both journal types can be found if measures aren't taken to hide them well, but it's probably easier to hide an electronic file than a paper book.
    • While there is no need to get a fancy journal, for some people the stationery used is a large part of the sensory experience of keeping a journal. You don't have to buy expensive or fancy versions but if they are something you really want and they're a treat to yourself, then work it into your budget.
    • Decorating possibilities are endless for cheaper journals and it's fun to personalize a journal rather than rely on someone else's idea of good design. Just keep in mind that it's not about using a fancy book; it's about tapping into the stream of thoughts and writing them down.
    • Decide on your writing implement if using paper. Choose a pen that feels good to you and works for your own aesthetic needs.
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    Decide what kind of journal you'd like to keep. There are different possibilities open to you when developing your journal theme or approach. You could simply use your journal to write down all the thoughts that come to you at any particular time, randomly, or you could make your journal more focused on a specific theme to draw out something that you're trying to develop more of in your life. And there is nothing saying that you can't keep both a random and a specific journal at the same time! Some ideas for themed journals include:
    • A gratitude journal – in this journal you record all the things for which you feel grateful each day, week, etc. and note the people, animals, events, and things that really matter to you.
    • A vacation journal – in this journal you record more than just what you see on your vacation; you also record your feelings, impressions, and emotions as they are challenged, changed, and illuminated by your travels.
    • An ideas journal – in this journal you record all the ideas and inspirations that flash into your mind at any time without warning, providing a place that you can come back to as an idea-storming resource when you have the time. The ideas can be for writing, for business, for play, for inventions, for anything at all!
    • A child raising journal – in this journal you record all the things that you think are special, wonderful, lovable, and memorable about your kids at different ages and stages. This is a great way to keep a record of those funny words, phrases, and comments made by kids as they grow up and see the world anew.
    • A transition journal – in this journal you record the transition you're going through, such as job hunting or loss, becoming a parent for the first time or again after many years, starting a business, going on a special journey, etc. This type of journal can document changing patterns in your life, and it is useful to ask yourself such questions as "What do I enjoy and not enjoy?", "What do I expect for the future in what I am doing now?", "Which people can help me as I transition?", etc.
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    Find the perfect place (or places) for writing in your journal. Journal writing is a time of reflection and requires solitude, peace, and no interruptions. It's important to feel relaxed, at ease, and not worried about someone else barging in on your reflection time. It's also important to feel comfortable. Select your favorite journal writing spot or spots keeping in mind all of these essential needs and experiment by writing in different places to see what happens to the content of your writing.
    • Take a seat in your chair by the glowing fire or lie down underneath a blossoming apple tree.
    • Find a quiet part of the house where you know you won't be disturbed.
    • The suitability of a place can change with the time of day. Keep this in mind when selecting your writing nook; for example, the kitchen might be hubbub and bustle all day long but come 10pm, it might be the quietest and most enjoyable part of the house.
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    Find a time that's right for you. Some of the advice on journal-writing tries to turn it into an effort by suggesting that you should commit to daily writing, or to some form of regular writing. This misses the point in keeping a journal, which is that it is an extension of you and how you're feeling. And if you don't feel like writing in your journal even though you made some commitment to yourself to write in it, it's possibly going to turn into something that you resent. Better than making a commitment to regular writing is to make a commitment to yourself that when you feel like using your journal to be creative, to vent feelings, to write down ideas, etc., then you will. And if that's daily, then good for you; if it skips a month or two or even a year here and there, then so be it. Many journal writers have journals spanning years with gaps of entire years between and pick them up again from where they last left off whenever they need the journal.
    • Keeping your journal by your bedside can be helpful if you find yourself forgetting to write in it. Often thoughts come before sleeping time and writing in a journal can be a helpful way to wind down at the day's end, provided it's a comfortable place for you.
    • Remind yourself whenever you feel down, antsy, brimful of ideas, etc., that your journal is the perfect outlet.
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    Relax. Every person differs in what helps them to relax and feel contented, and it is no different when getting in the mood for journal writing. Some people enjoy having music to get them in the mood, others need total quiet, while others need the constant drone of city life to stimulate thinking. Choose whatever methods aid your escape into journal writing and doesn't make it feel like too much effort.
    • Don't fuss about grammar, spelling, or other perfection in your journal. This is your place, and if there are boo boos, then so be it. Wanting to erase errors while working through deep issues of feelings or having a wellspring of ideas can hamper your flow and also tends to suggest that you're trying too hard to control the situation you're writing about rather than to learn more about it and to find new ways to perceive it.
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    Find sources of inspiration. It's often easiest to start with your current feelings. Transfer them to paper and see where this takes you next. There are no rules at all about journal writing and you may find that your starting points vary every time you begin a new entry. Sometimes it is easier to begin with a narrative about something that happened to you during the day, something that is burning right through you and that you want answers to but feel confused about. Writing down the mundane facts and events can open up a whole stream of consciousness as you're writing, leading you to insights you would not have been able to bring forth without arranging your thoughts in the journal. Other spurs to writing can include:
    • Try movies, books, or TV shows as a starting point sometimes: for example, you can consider the philosophical implications of your favorite movie, or write an essay about why you find this or that character compelling... or not.
    • Pretend you have an audience and you are the professor; give a lecture in what you want them to hear. Sometimes writing down events in your life that have taken place or writing down questions and answering them can waken the creative juices simmering in your mind.
    • Discuss something you bought or made during the past few days. Is it something that you're going to use for a new hobby, to help you complete an essay, to woo a person with, to decorate your home, etc.? Take the reason for buying or making it and proceed to write about the motivations behind it.
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    Use a journal to work through the hard stuff. Journals come top of the list when venting your troubles; many therapists rubber-stamp the journal as a key part of recovery from emotional distresses that patients are seeking to work through. A journal soaks up your anger, your rage, your vengeance, your jealousy, your whole plethora of negative emotions and doesn't judge you, doesn't shout back at you, doesn't curse you, and doesn't tell you to get a life. It sits there passive in one way but very revealing in another. Getting negative feelings off your chest and into a journal can liberate you from having to vent the feelings anywhere else, and can give you the necessary breathing space to try to see the facts beneath the emotions and to stand in the shoes of others involved in your feelings to see whether or not they have a point.
    • Feel free to curse, to call people names, and to let it all out. It's better here than anywhere else and it is a way of giving vent to frustration, anger, and attitude that needs an outlet somewhere safe.
    • Keep writing until you feel spent. This gives you the best chance of freeing yourself from the feelings that are haunting you and preventing you from moving on to more positive feelings.
    • Write about the guy you never think you'll get to date, write about the girl next door who keeps telling secrets about you, write about your parents or parents-in-law, or your family in general, write about your ambitions, your callings, your skills, your favorites; the list can go on and on.
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    Fill your journal with whatever you like. Of course, doodles are totally acceptable. Lyrics to songs, poems, book excerpts and newspaper clippings are also encouraged. It's sometimes fun to glue in little tidbits of your life, like the ticket stubs from a movie or play you saw on Friday night or the picture you took of a breathtaking sunset. The journal is the real-life manifestation of your mind, so make it something that's completely yours!
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    Reflect over what you've written now and then. It's not all write and no read; comparing where you are now with where your were several weeks, months, and years ago is a beneficial exercise in growth. Think about what things have become clearer to you from one journal entry to the next, and think about what hopes and dreams once written in your journal have now turned into reality. Think about the things that are yet to still happen and whether there are signs or patterns you can discern that are somehow blocking your intended progress. Use your journal to assess your life's journey.
  10. Image titled Keep a Journal Step 10
    Keep your journal safe. No one will see this journal but you have to make sure of that too. You'll only feel free to truly express yourself if the journal cannot compromise your relationships with others or how you're viewed, so be sure to find safe places to keep the journal.
    • Find perfect hiding places for your journal. Vary them regularly if you have concerns about anybody prying. Be clever about the cover too; perhaps make it appear like a chemistry textbook or accounting principles to throw off snooping siblings or spouses.
    • Learn how to lock access to electronic documents. If you're keeping your journal in electronic form, password protect your computer and your document. Be careful of cloud computing just in case some slip-up happens.
    • Write a simple beginning note for any prying eyes, just in case. Write something along the lines of "Before you feel compelled to read my deepest thoughts, consider how you would feel if somebody did the same thoughtless and uncaring act to you. The karma be with you."
    • Read How to hide your diary for some more ideas.


  • If you are ever stuck and don't know what to write about, then just think of any topic or come up with a simple story. For example: "Doctor, it's like this...", a trip to the moon, a near death experience, time travel to the age of dinosaurs, a magic fridge, etc. Be creative and you can come up with a lot to write about!
  • Having your journal at hand is always a good idea too; you never know when the opportunity moment will come when you want to write something down. Even just a random thought like, "Why do people always look at their tissue after they sneeze?" comes around, you'll be able to write it down, and show what you really think throughout the day, instead of just reflections of what happened that day at the end of the day. If this seems to risky to carry around, keep a small "ideas notebook" and transcribe the thoughts from it back into your journal at a later time.
  • Consider getting a notebook with unlined pages, to make way for doodles and avoid cramping your style. However, if you primarily want to write, then lined pages may be better for you.
  • Be very careful about starting a warts-and-all diary blog. There are non-public settings on some diary style blogs but you need to be vigilant to keep it private. If you do make a public blog, be very careful about what you say about other people, or making it easy for them to guess who they are. The repercussions can be endless and not pretty if you say unflattering things about people. Also, talking a lot about your inner pain or your ideas exposes you to a lot of people if you do this publicly on a blog; do you really want that level of knowledge known by all forever more?
  • If you're having trouble getting started, think of what you might post as a status update on Facebook or another social media site, and write it in the journal instead. Then use that as a jumping-off point: what other memories, associations, or ideas did it make you think of? Follow tangents for as long as you like.
  • Get a page done daily. After a while it will become habit and seem strange when you don't write.
  • Tape record yourself if you must and transcribe it later. You'll want to remember everything you think of for future reference.
  • If you like writing stories, then why not write it in your diary?
  • Other types of journals are little notebooks, private blogs, a journal in the back of your Bible,(such as a timeline of your life) a scrapbook, even a journal of doodles in your math book!
  • A collaborative effort could be a unique way of exploring new ideas. The Notebook Girls is a good example. Get a couple of your best friends to whom you tell all of your secrets, and start writing! Beware that collaborative journal-writing can backfire on you though if one person decides to spill the beans.
  • Handwriting may prove more therapeutic than typing, as it can allow deeper access to emotions. Try both ways; you can print pages from the computer and put them in a box or binder, or you can scan handwritten pages to add to a computer diary. In any case, consider keeping a paper copy, which will carry on to future generations if you want your descendants to know and appreciate you after you're gone.
  • If you have a lot of thoughts cluttering your brain, try writing letter style entries. Address it to a person or to yourself and write everything you'd want to say to that person but have been too afraid to or unable to.


  • Don't write in your journal if you don't want to. It's there for an escape, not as an assignment. Some people ignore it for months on end before they write a new entry, and that is perfectly fine.
  • Be careful with writing your journal on the computer, because someone can hack into your computer and read your journal. If you can, password protect it (there are ways to do this using most writing programs) so that others cannot get to it as easily.
  • Be careful about where you store a paper journal. No encryption means anyone can read it. Locking it in a cash box or safe means the contents remain private. Also keep in mind that cheap locks mounted on the book itself can be picked or broken easily and are pretty much useless.

Things You'll Need

  • A suitable writing implement
  • Decorative elements (optional)
  • Materials depending on the type of journal you choose

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