How To Start Journaling When You Don’t Know How

by | May 29, 2024 | Journaling

Journaling is the best ‘almost’ free coach I know and has saved my life several times. In January 2018, my spine fractured, and I was, as you can imagine, in agony. Being diagnosed with osteoporosis changed my life, and I’ll admit I hit rock bottom, but by my side was my journal. In it, I wrote and wrote. I found answers and the inspiration for a book I wrote and never published. It was never my intention to publish more to document what I learned.

Writing in a journal is like planting seeds of clarity and peace that grow with each word penned, eventually blossoming into a garden of understanding.

Writing in my journal and researching kept me sane during a very tough time. Writing the book helped me focus less on what was happening and more on how to heal.

This and a recent skirmish with shingles, another bloody painful lesson in not listening to your body, sparked the idea for The Healing Book Project.

I’m often asked when I started journaling and why. To be honest, I can’t remember when I first started. It seems I came out of the womb with an attitude (my poor parents) and a journal. And now I couldn’t imagine not having one by my bed.

But it’s not the same for many people. Some have tried to journal and have found ‘the rules’ too hard.

The truth is that there are no rules, and we all have to make journaling work for us.

If you want to start or encourage your clients to start, this article is for you. I hope it inspires you.

Journaling Begins With A Beautiful Journal

Step one, buy yourself a journal (these are my faves) that speaks to your heart, none of this cheap exercise book nonsense, and get a pen that wants to work with you. That’s it. You are almost set.

Get Your Environment Right

Next, it’s about finding the best place and time to write. The bed works for me as it helps me unwind from the day and gives me something to sleep on. I usually find solutions after a good night’s sleep. You may love writing in the middle of the day with people milling around you. Shudders… Do what works for you.

Let’s explore. How and where do you like to write? In a crowded café, with hot chocolate and biscuits to dunk, or in a peaceful place with no noise or interruptions? Try them both. It may depend on your mood.

What about making your space comfortable? What do you need to make yourself a writing den? What about your desk and chair? What about the energy of the space?

If you have read my blogs, you will know I am the quiet writing type. When it comes to journaling, it is usually in bed, and there is no noise, save the dogs snoring.

Decide where you want to write. Is this in bed, on the sofa or somewhere else? Do you like smells, sounds, silence or something else? TV or radio on in the background? What about people? I find it a pain to be interrupted when writing, do you? And don’t even get me started on the dogs barking. As much as I adore them – please, no barking…

Being Grounded And Centred

When we are grounded, centred, in alignment, working from our heart and listening to the whispers of our soul, the Universe flows to us and through us. That’s when your writing will flow, and what you need to know will come out of you.

Imagine that you have roots growing from your feet into Mother Earth. Breathe that energy into your heart and out through your head. Send it down into Mother Earth, and breathe the energy up again. Do this a few times. When you feel calm, you can write.

Be Consistent

Consistency in journaling can bring emotional and cognitive benefits, as per a study by Smyth (1998). By dedicating even a few minutes each day to journaling, you create a habit that can help you understand your life more fully and identify the stories that need to be told. I journal most evenings; after all these years, it’s part of who I am.

Find a time and place that suits you and do it.

Embrace the Mess

Embrace the messiness of journaling. It is within the scribbles and the chaos that the most amazing truths often emerge.

Oh yes, scribble and get it all out. Journaling doesn’t require perfection. Don’t be afraid to ramble, repeat, contradict, and make mistakes. Be vulnerable and be real. As Natalie Goldberg puts it, “Through practice, you actually do get better…You learn to trust your deep self more and not give in to your voice that wants to avoid writing” (Goldberg, 2005).

Take this invitation and get messy and, yes, cry. Writing is cathartic, so expect to feel emotions being released.

Get Emotional

Journaling has therapeutic effects as it facilitates emotional processing and promotes well-being (Pennebaker, 1997). When journaling ready for your memoir, transformational journal or self-help book, don’t shy away from the unpleasant emotions. They form an essential part of your personal narrative. When my spine fractured, I would wake up in the night, immediately reminded of the pain I was in physically and emotionally and take it out on my journal. After which, I could get back to sleep.

Let your journal be a mirror reflecting your true self, unfiltered and raw, capturing the essence of your journey through life.

Memoirs and self-help books are often emotional. You will be taking your reader on an emotional journey. Practising in your journal and letting out the rawness will help you when you share your story. Your readers want an emotional connection with you.

Ideas To Get Started

Just write

Ha! I can hear you say, that’s easy for you. Really? I have days when I look at my journal and can’t be arsed. These are the days that I need it most. I ground and then start writing rubbish, and as that flows and I am engaged, what I need to write comes flowing out.

So, yes, just write. Trust me, I’m a seasoned journaler who knows how to write rubbish.

Write One Word

I was once told by someone that they had no time to journal. So, I suggested that they do this.

Start the day with one word in your journal and leave it. At the end of the day, reflect on how your day went with that one word in your mind.

The same person told me that even that was too time consuming – there’s no pleasing some people!

Mind Mapping

When I am stuck on structuring something, I simply create a mind map. A mind map is a collection of thoughts around a central idea. It is quick and simple and ignites my imagination. I also use it to create plans and develop ideas.

I often use this if I have created a timeline for a book. I’ll talk the timeline through and mind map what I hear while listening to the recording.

5-word mind-map

This is very simple and is similar to the mind mapping idea, except the word is a word for today.

Write a word in the middle of the page and then allow five other words to come, and on each branch, five and five more until you run out.

Try this: Put SMILE into a mind map and see what words come up for you.

Then, you can write about what comes up for you.

Write The Mundane

This will help you overcome blank page syndrome. Write about the most boring part of your day, and soon, your unconscious will share with you what needs to be written.

Use Journaling Prompts

Of course, things are so much easier if someone asks us questions. If you struggle with free writing, then try one of these prompts:

  • Think back to a pivotal moment when everything seemed to change. What happened? How did you feel? What did you learn from it?
  • What’s your earliest memory? Describe the people, places, sounds, and feelings associated with it.
  • If you could write a letter to a younger version of yourself, what would you say? What advice, warnings, or words of encouragement would you offer?
  • Write about a relationship that has significantly impacted your life. It could be a family member, friend, or even an adversary. How did this relationship shape you?
  • Describe a challenge or hardship you faced and how you overcame it. What were the key moments of struggle, resilience, and triumph?
  • What was a moment when you felt truly proud of yourself? Dive into the details – why was it significant, and how did it define you?
  • If you could go back to any event in your life, which one would it be and why? What would you see, feel, and do differently?
  • Write about a hobby, passion, or interest that has significantly influenced your life. How did you discover it, and how has it changed or shaped you?
  • Share an experience when you had to make a tough decision. Describe the options you had, the path you chose, and the outcome of that decision.
  • Reflect on the legacy you want to leave behind. How do you want to be remembered? How have your actions and decisions so far aligned with this legacy?

What Else?

Look for Patterns and Themes

After journaling for a while, you will notice patterns and themes. I promise they will leap out at you. These could form the backbone of your transformational journal, memoir or self-help book. Journaling consistently helps uncover these underlying threads. Doing this is useful when planning to write a book and certainly something we cover in The Healing Book Project.

Be Honest

Authenticity is crucial in any writing. It’s your story and experiences in your own words. Your journal is a safe space for raw honesty—you can lay bare your fears, triumphs, failures, and lessons learned.

Through the act of journaling, we learn to trust our deepest selves, finding courage in vulnerability and strength in honesty.

Enjoy the Journey

Journaling can be both a reflective and enjoyable process. Writing has been associated with increased happiness, reduced stress levels, and enhanced mental clarity (Pennebaker & Seagal, 1999). So, as you journey towards writing, ensure to enjoy the process.

It might not feel like it, but if you spent next week following the above tips and prompts, you are officially keeping a journal. How about that, then?

After a week, let me know how you feel. Do you see any benefits yet? No matter the answers to the above, commit to another week and ask yourself the same questions again. It’s too early in the journey to quit yet. Just take things one week at a time. Eventually, you will know exactly how powerful a tool journaling can be.

About The Healing Book Project

The Healing Book Project provides a structured approach to journaling and writing, helping you gain the clarity needed to move forward. By engaging with guided prompts, reflective practices, and community support, you can process your emotions, gain insights, and find the clarity required to create meaningful content for your book.

If you’re inspired to start your own journey of healing through writing, I invite you to join The Healing Book Project. Our community is dedicated to supporting each other in using words to heal and grow. Sign up for the waiting list and be part of a transformative journey where your words can lead to deeper understanding and lasting change.

Let your journal be a mirror reflecting your true self, unfiltered and raw, capturing the essence of your journey through life.

Dale Darley