Whether you’re doing it for self-reflection, recordkeeping, or even just to pass the time, journaling can provide an incredible sense of relief you may not find elsewhere. Here’s how to get started with journaling, as well as five different methods to try.

By Megan Fu
Updated March 26, 2018
Journaling methods, woman sitting and journaling
Credit: Hero Images/Getty Images

Journaling can be important for documenting the inner workings of your mind, or cataloging the events and emotions you experience every day. But it can also be very difficult to keep up with, making what should be an enjoyable pastime a hassle. So, in order to gain all the benefits, it's important to find a journaling method that works for you. Here, a few tips and tricks to get you started:

1. Get the right notebook (and writing utensil): The notebook is everything. Think of it this way: In an ideal world, this is something you will be writing in and interacting with every single day. You might as well make it something you enjoy looking at and working with. Do your research and think about what is important to you when it comes to a great notebook. Design? Size? Cover? Color? Paper? No detail is too small. If you need a place to start, check out options fromMoleskine, Poketo, Muji, and &otherstories. While you’re at it, find a writing utensil, too. Pen, pencil, marker, or crayon—it’s all up to you!

2. Choose a time (and a place): Once you’ve picked out a notebook and a pen, you may want to choose a specific time of day to journal. Structure, especially early on, can help transform journaling into a routine rather than an occasional activity. Maybe you want to journal in the evening, giving yourself a chance to reflect on the day. Maybe you’d prefer the morning to mentally and emotionally sort out what lies ahead. Or perhaps you want to do it smack dab in the middle of the day to give yourself a break from the bustle of life. If you’re entirely new to the journaling lifestyle, it might be helpful to try a few different times to feel out what works best with your schedule and mindset. It also can be helpful to set an amount of time you would like to journal for. Ten minutes? Twenty? Start small and go from there. Just remember: Journaling should not feel like a chore.

Now that you’ve picked out a journal and scheduled your routine, now it’s time to explore your journaling options. Of course, you can mix and match different methods, topics, and approaches, but consistency might make getting in the swing of things a little easier.

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Journaling methods, woman sitting and journaling
Credit: Hero Images/Getty Images

1 Free Writing Journaling

Pros: This approach is exactly how it sounds. No rules, no guidelines—just pure stream of conscious writing in whatever way, shape, or form materializes in the moment. This might include long, drawn out paragraphs filled with thoughts about your day, your family, friends, coworkers, love interests, the person you met at the grocery store, etc.!

Cons: This method provides the ultimate freedom of expression, but it can also be the most daunting if you feel you don’t have anything to write about. Since it doesn’t provide much structure and is dependent on your mood, you might find yourself disappointed that you're not writing as much as you'd like or you feel like your entry that day lacks the meaning you were hoping for. The only way past this block is through it: Just remind yourself that any journaling is worthwhile.

2 Dream Journaling

Pros: The subconscious is a playground for discovery. If we can journal about our hours awake, we should journal about our time asleep. Dream journals can be fun and insightful. By documenting what goes on during our unconscious hours, we can get an inside look into our mind’s most bizarre and intimate creations. Wake up each morning and take a couple of minutes to jot down that you remember from your dreams.

Cons: To keep a dream journal, you will have to record your dream first-thing in the morning. If you wait too long, you are likely going to forget what you dreamed about.

3 One Line a Day Journaling

Pros: This is a more manageable version of the free writing journal. The idea is simple—each day you write one line in your journal. It could be three words. It could be 20. The length is entirely up to you. Over time, you will be able to flip through each day, reading each line and seeing how you’ve changed and grown over time.

Cons: You may not entirely capture the moment you are describing and it is easy to fall back on very simple blanket statements day after day (like “Good day!”) If you’re finding that you’re being repetitive or opaque, try giving yourself a prompt to finish a statement like “Today I learned” or “The most exciting thing about my day was.”

4 Doodle Journaling

Pros: Sometimes words are not enough. If you find yourself doodling more than writing it might be worthwhile to fully commit to a journal full of doodles and drawings! We each have our own ways of expressing ourselves and if you are more drawn to doodles than words, then so be it. Set aside some time each day to sit down and sketch whatever comes to mind.

Cons: Since it’s easier to doodle over an entire page than to fill the page with words, you might find yourself quickly going through notebooks! Also, if you’re looking for a written record of your thoughts and feelings to look back on over the next few decades (or to share with others in the future), a doodle journal might not translate as well over time as other journaling methods.

5 Goal Journaling

Pros: This journal can be made up of all kinds of goals whether they’re daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or even for five years from now. Each day take some time to think about what goals you want to set for yourself and put them in writing. Later, you can flip through to see how your goals and priorities have changed over time and see what you achieved.

Cons: Since this approach requires effort outside of your daily journaling session, you will need to be more motivated and diligent than in the other methods to keep this journal going.