When I taught grade 8, my students had to journal every day. These journaling ideas and tips on how to journal are based on my experience with my students – and inspired by a beautiful new book about journaling alone, together.
In Writing Alone Together: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection, Ahava Shira, Wendy Judith Cutler, and Lynda Monk explore how they journal, what they journal about, and how their journaling helped shaped who they are personally, culturally, politically, and spiritually. They also describe how to cultivate the practice of journaling in your life, through journaling ideas and prompts, quotations from women writers, and suggestions for creating your own circle of women writing together. This is a wonderful book, especially if you’re new to journaling or are getting bored of writing in your journal. It’s “how to journal” with a group twist!
I started a writing group when I lived on Bowen Island, BC, in 2007 – and that’s when I wrote 7 Tips for Starting a Writers’ Group – Writing Alone, Together. A writers’ group is different than a journaling group, and Cutler et al’s book inspired me to start a whole new group! It’s not a writers’ group or a group of women who journal – I’ll describe my new group at the end of this article.
Here are a few tips on how to journal, inspired by Writing Alone Together, plus a bunch of journaling ideas for you. I also included three photos of different journals at various stages of my life.
How to Journal
Journaling is often thought of as a solo practice – as is writing. But, Writing Alone Together – and my own experience with my writing group – has shown me that gathering with other writers creates a sense of community that inspires us to write more, and more deeply. Journaling helps you change, process changes in your life, and reflect more deeply on yourself.
Get a journal that inspires you to write
I wouldn’t recommend buying an expensive leather journal, because it may be too intimidating for you to start journaling. I’ve journaled in cheap notebooks – and I always buy hardcover ones because it’s easier to write in any position or on any surface. I’ve even journaled in artists’ sketchbooks, narrow accounting ledgers, and graph notebooks. There is no specific answer to the “what is a journal” question.
Ask people how and why they journal
Knowing why people spend time writing in their journals will help you learn how to journal. In Writing Alone Together, Cutler et al describe their experience with writing in their journals – which will give you ideas for your own journaling! To me, journaling has always been about personal growth, self-exploration, and learning what you really think and feel about your experiences, memories, and life.
A Hardcover Black Journal is what I’m writing in currently — the photo towards the end of this article shows how I’ve glammed it up a bit 🙂
I think I started journaling because I was lonely. I had a very difficult childhood (foster homes, schizophrenic mother, no dad) and there were very few people I could rely on. My journals were my buddies, my companions, and my outlet for pain, grief, confusion, and crushes on boys.
Use journaling prompts
Most of my grade 8 students had a difficult time journaling, so I gave them a quotation or story prompt to write about at the beginning of every class. These journaling prompts are a great way to get the “journaling juices” flowing, especially if you’re new to journal writing. Writing Alone Together has several journaling prompts for group and individual writers to use in their journals.
Write about the past
Some writers need to process painful memories so they can heal and move forward in life. A journal is the perfect place to be honest and authentic, and express what happened to you and how you feel about it. If you’ve experienced a traumatic event that feels overwhelming, talk to a counselor or someone you trust. Share your journal with him or her. Secrets are only destructive when they’re kept secret.
“It’s not forgetting that heals. It’s remembering.” – Amy Greene. If you want to write your memoirs, read 10 Tips on How to Write Your Life Story.
How to journal in a group
In Writing Alone Together, Cutler et al share their Seven Principles for journaling as a group. “Through our journey of Writing Alone Together, recurring themes and benefits kept surfacing within our individual writing and in our shared conversations,” they write. “We refer to these as the Seven Principles.”
- Grounding in the Moment
- Slowing Down and Paying Attention
- Developing Intimacy
- Trusting Your Own Experience
- Unleashing Creativity
- Acknowledging Conflicts and Differences
- Exploring the Personal as Political
The principles are fully described in Writing Alone Together, and the writers even share examples of each principle from their own journals.
If you have questions about how to journal, please ask below.
A Bunch of Journaling Ideas for You
The beauty of a journal is that you can write about whatever you want to write about! Just like there isn’t one right answer to the “what is a journal?”, there aren’t any clear-cut rules on how to journal.
Journal about what you dream about – both at night and in the day
Here’s what I wrote in my journal yesterday: “My dream last night! ‘We need to make our girls stronger, so they don’t dedicate their lives to men’ The women on my blog, so consumed by unhealthy ‘love’, obsession, blindness, dedication to men who don’t respect or even love them. They are filled with emptiness and they think a man will fill their needs. My heart aches for our society, which encourages appearance, fashion, sex, possessions, shopping, buying.”
By “the women on my blog”, I was referring to the readers on Quips and Tips for Love and Relationships who are stuck in bad relationships and can’t let go of men who disrespect or abuse them.
Allow your journaling ideas to change and grow
In the past six months, my journaling has morphed into talking to God. I pray in my journal now, and never seem to struggle with finding journaling ideas. I used to be bored with writing in my journal because I got tired of writing about the “same old” stuff all the time. It’s much more interesting to talk to God, and I feel so much healthier and happier after journaling with God.
If you want to use your journal to become “more” of a writer, read How to Write When You Have No Ideas. You’ll find inspiration and motivation to keep journaling even when you feel like you have nothing to say.
Get political in your personal journal
In the “Exploring the Personal as Political” Principle of journaling as a group, Cutler et al offer tips and ideas for tying your writing in with your culture. For example, they encourage writers to connect their life stories to the current social, cultural, and political context. They also encourage writers to celebrate the women whose voices and activism have made a difference in your life.
As you can see, journaling ideas don’t always have to be personal. My journal is very personal and spiritual right now – but maybe in a year I’ll be exploring my political or social views on various events. Who knows? That’s the beauty of journaling.
My new group of writers, artists, painters, sketch artists, and more
CWEST – Creative Women Expressing Soul Together – a free, open group for women to write, knit, draw, paint, scrapbook, or otherwise be creative together! Meets the 2nd Weds (7-9 pm) and 4th Sat (3-5 pm) of every month at a private home in North Van. Email lauriek (at) yahoo.ca for more info.
If you live in the Vancouver area and want to be creative with a group of women – and yes, you can journal with us – leave me a comment below. The above isn’t actually my email address, as I want to avoid a barrage of spam.
I welcome your thoughts on how to journal – and if you have any journaling ideas, please share with us!