Maybe you have to journal for a school assignment, or you want to start journaling for your emotional health. Maybe you want to write a book! Or you want to write about your experiences and memories in a travel journal. You want to journal (or you’re being forced to journal by a teacher or therapist), but you don’t know how to start journaling. These tips and questions for creative journaling will get and keep the ink flowing.
How do you feel about a group journal? 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 – 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 for women who want to be creative together.
If you want to journal but don’t know how to start journaling, consider joining a group. You should have your own private journal – but you can also literally create a group journal. I taught my grade 8 students (who had to write in their journals every day, mandated by the school) how to write a group journal. One student starts a story in her journal and passes it to the next student. The next student has a few minutes to continue the story. Then the journal gets passed, until everyone has had the chance to write in everyone else’s journal. It’s fun for most students – especially if they don’t know how to start journaling.
The following journaling ideas and tips on how to journal are based on my experience with my students, as well as the Writing Alone Together book. several questions for creative journaling. I also included three photos of different journals at various stages of my life.
5 Tips to Help You Start Journaling
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.
1. 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.
2. 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 Piccadilly Soft Leatherlook Celtic Knot Journal is what I’m journaling in these days. It’s also the journal I took on my recent trip to Nepal, Dubai and Hong Kong – it’s the perfect travel journal.
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.
3. Use creative journaling prompts (see below)
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.
4. 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.
5. Consider journaling 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: Journalling in a Circle of Women for Creativity, Compassion and Connection. The authors even share examples of each principle from their own journals. It’s a very helpful, practical book on how to start journaling in a group or even individually.
An excursion overseas, whether a solo trip or group trek, is an excellent way to learn how to start journaling. Read 10 Best Travel Journals for Solo and Group Trips to get started.
8 Prompts for Creative Journaling
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.
The first five questions are more emotional and spiritual in nature, requiring deep thought and self-awareness. The next five questions are more descriptive, designed for creative writing and journaling instead of self-discovery.
1. What do you dream about at night? What do you daydream about?
Here’s what I wrote in my journal this morning: “My dream last night! I dreamed of encouraging girls to grow healthy emotionally, physically, and spiritually so they don’t allow themselves to be consumed by men.” I often journal about my dreams, both daydreams and night dreams. I dream about what my heart aches for, what I wise for, and what I’m struggling with.
2. What did you used to journal about?
In the past six months, my journaling has changed 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.
3. What excites or upsets you about politics, culture, society, humankind?
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.
4. What would you write in a letter to someone you love or hate?
This creative journaling question is on my mind because my grandma’s birthday just passed. And the anniversary of her death is approaching next month; she died two weeks before my own birthday. I have so many regrets about the way I treated her, took her for granted, neglected and mistreated her. My grandma did so much for me – I even lived with her for a year when my mom was too sick to take care of me! She took me on vacations to Hawaii and Mexico, gave me a huge weekly allowance even though I did nothing to deserve it, and helped me achieve whatever goals I wanted. See how effective the right question for creative journaling can be?
5. What is on your mind, heart and soul right now?
Journal about something you’re struggling with, yearning for, or celebrating. What’s on mind? You saw from my previous question for creative journaling that my grandma is on my mind. Don’t think about what to journal about or how to write it; just put your pen to paper and write about something that is bothering you. Give yourself time and space. Get quiet, and allow your thoughts and ideas to bubble to the surface.
If you need to journal for school or an assignment, read 7 Ideas for Writers Who Have No Idea What to Write About.
6. What is your favorite thing about summer?
Summer is my least favorite season because it has no structure. It’s too distracting, beautiful, and hot to write. Lazy sunshine-y days lure me into daydreams, wandering through grassy fields, wondering what makes the summer breeze smell so delicious. If you’re a mom or even a kid in a family, your brothers and sisters may be underfoot, complaining they’re bored. Summer is the worst time to think about starting a journal or getting serious about journaling, right?
But wait a minute! Is summer the problem, or is it our preconceived notions that hold us back? For instance, as a child I survived summer by forcing my friends to play “school.” I don’t remember if I forced them to write in their journals 🙂 but I’d rather be in school than in the summertime.
7. Who or what distracts you from journaling?
As a freelance writer, distractions are everywhere. As a blogger working from home, I find myself more interested in dustballs than finding creative journaling prompts for you. So I picked up Robert Pagliarini’s book The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose – and it changed how I work and write and clean house (which is never, now). Last week I created my own “Goal Achievement Plan” (daily schedule) – and I can’t believe how much more productive, creative, and focused I am. In just a week! My new daily schedule frees me to be a better writer, blogger, entrepreneur, freelancer, friend, and wife. I’m not distracted by Twitter, emails, tweaking my blogs, reading other people’s blogs – those were the reasons I wasn’t writing as much as I wanted.
Distractions are a major reason people don’t do what they want or need to do – especially when they have the whole wide world literally at their fingertips. Can you creatively journal about what distracts you from journaling creatively?
8. What bores you about journaling?
Writers don’t write because they’re bored with the subject, characters, plot or setting. If you were enchanted, you would journal. Creativity might even come naturally. What do you know lots about? What are you fascinated by? Those are good topics to journal about. If you’re a student and journaling is part of your assignment, learn how to make a boring topic more interesting.
As you can see, creative journaling can be personal or professional, emotional or external. It can be for school or even business ideas, spiritual healing or self-discovery. My journal is very personal and spiritual right now and has been for a decade – but maybe some day I’ll journal about my political or social views on various events. Who knows? That’s the beauty of creative journaling 🙂
I mentioned that I love journaling in my Piccadilly Soft Leatherlook Celtic Knot Journal. Piccadilly also has a book of 300 Writing Prompts, which is perfect for writers who don’t know what to journal about or how to start journaling.