Journaling 101

Buckle up ladies and gents. This is going to be a ride.

I’m very passionate about journaling. I believe journaling can solve most problems. Unsure of how you’re feeling about something? Journal it. Can’t make a decision? Journal it. Feeling anxious? Have you heard of this thing called journaling?

I’ve been journaling since I was a kid. I used to check out books from my school library that were like journals of girls who came across on the Mayflower and other ships. Those books discouraged me a little bit, nothing in my life was ever that interesting. I wasn’t sailing on a ship to a new world. I wish I could remember the title of those books because I’m pretty sure they were fiction even though I thought they were real as I read them. Still, regardless of the fiction status of those books, I stopped journaling sometime during elementary school. My life wasn’t interesting like those girl’s whose “journals” I was reading. I didn’t know what to write about even when I did journal. When I first started journaling, I didn’t care what I wrote about, I just wrote. I enjoyed it. Once I started thinking about what I was actually putting in the journal, I got self-conscious. I started comparing what I was writing to what I was reading in the books. I doubted the importance of what I was writing. I struggled with writing because what did it matter what I did on June 4th? Who really cared? I wasn’t sailing from England to America, trying to make sure I didn’t fall ill to whatever was circulating around the ship. I have it easy when you put it in that perspective.

Journaling, even when I wasn’t actively doing it, has always been there for me. Even as a teenager, when I didn’t know how to deal with something big, I would write about it. I might not have had a designed journal, but I would still write how I felt. Sometimes, I would turn it into a story and save it to my computer. I still find bits and pieces of random writing. Some of it, I can place what triggered the piece. Other pieces, I have no idea what caused it and I wonder what happened. Some of the pieces might have just been random writing. I’ve always been a writer, even when I didn’t tell people. I never realized I could do something with writing. It makes me laugh when I say that because I have bookshelves full of books of authors who have done something with writing. This is why it has probably taken me so long to finally be pursuing my passion, but I digress.

Journaling is for your mind what exercise is for your body. Exercising helps keep your body healthy. I feel like journaling keeps your mind healthy. There is some notion that journaling is sitting down, with a notebook and a pen and starting with,

“Dear diary,

Today, I ate a piece of toast. I think I like Tom. But Brad has been giving me glances across the hall lately and I’ve been digging it. Also, yogurt is cool. Maybe I should dye my hair.”

No. No. No. No. Stop. No. Do you walk into a gym, pick up a couple of weights, move them around nonchalantly, put them down and maybe stare at a treadmill and hope your body will be healthier? No, you go in with a plan of attack, parts of your body you need to work on. You spend time at the gym. You don’t take ten minutes and hope for the best.

The same approach needs to happen with journaling. You need to spend time with yourself in journaling. You are checking in with yourself. It’s almost like yoga when your instructor is telling you to listen to your body, but instead, you are listening to yourself. You are checking in with you. How are you really feeling? This isn’t superficial. If you are feeling crummy, let the pages have it. They aren’t there to judge you. What is the paper going to do? Laugh? Tell you that you have no right to feel that way? It’s paper, let the blankness of the page be filled with all your emotions. The paper can take it. All the thoughts that you push away during the day because you tell yourself you’ll deal with it later, this is the later. This is where you deal with it. One of the reasons I love journaling so much is because through writing, bearing my soul to paper, I learn how I’m truly feeling. I process situations fully. I can look at a situation where someone may have hurt me, and maybe even see it from their perspective. If I can’t, I can at least start to forgive them. Journaling frees my mind from all the crap. I’m allowed to hope and dream. I’m allowed to be mad and sad. I can praise and rejoice. Journaling also gives me a peek at my past and I get to see how far I’ve come. I get to see how I’ve gotten through things and where I am now. Sometimes, I’ll go through old journals and see how things were just a year ago and be amazing at how different they are now. Actually, I could just go back a couple of months and be amazing at how different things are. Life is always changing and journaling helps me see that better. Day to day we don’t see the changes, but when we look back, a lot of things are different.

But Ashleigh, I don’t know how to start! I want to journal but I don’t know how to start! You might be thinking. Well, that is why this is journaling 101. I want to help you get started. I also want to help you alongside your own journaling journey. Try saying that 5 times fast! (I just did, nailed it!)

First, get rid of any ideas you already have about what journaling is. Journaling is different for everybody and looks different for everybody. Journaling doesn’t have to be pretty. If you’re an artist and want to doodle in your journal, awesome! You go, girl! If you cannot draw a stick figure with a ruler like me, you’re not alone and rest assured, your words are enough. If you really want your journal to have something special though, you can always tape pictures inside of it. That’s what I do. When we do fun things, I’ll tape pictures, movie tickets, concert tickets to my journal pages.

Second, just write. You don’t have to start off any certain way, like with “dear journal,” just start writing. A few of my recent entries have started with “Night one with…”, “I had to….”, and, “I write this….” There is no formula to it. I just sit down and write. I’ve been journaling for a few years now. When I first started, I felt like I was pulling teeth just to sit down and write. Now, the words cannot get out fast enough. You just have to stick with it. Just write.

Third, get a notebook and a pen. This can be a cute notebook, a spiral notebook, a legal pad, a stack of printer paper you stapled together. My point is that you are physically writing and not typing on your phone or computer. Could you journal on your computer? Sure, there are probably apps that would help you do it. There is something about the act of physically writing though, that slows you down, that allows your thoughts to process a little bit better. You can actually feel just a little bit more when you physically write. Your fingers can almost keep up with your thoughts when you type. When you are physically writing, your hand cannot keep up with your brain and it allows you to fully go through each thought. I think physically writing is just better. It makes the journaling experience better. Journaling is a form of self-care and you don’t want to cheat yourself out of anything. Take the time to spend with yourself and just write it all out.

Now, I will leave you with a prompt, in case you need it, and if you want more, I have a writing Instagram where I do prompts on Sundays.

journal prompt for journaling 101

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