[See the end of this post for one month of free journal prompts!]
Since I was very little, I’ve kept diaries and journals on and off to record events happening around me and my personal thoughts. Consistency, however, was not a strong point in this area for me until recently.
I have a drawer full of old journals that I never filled, because I would stick with one for a time, then take a break, and then start over in a new notebook.
Usually, this wasn’t for lack of interest. Almost every year, I would make it one of my resolutions to journal every single day. But it never lasted as long as I intended.
Why I Struggled to Write Every Day
Looking back now, I can identify a few factors that hindered me:
Problem #1: I tried to force myself to write in a certain style. Often, I would start off a new journal by establishing a specific format for the entries. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but I took it too far and boxed myself in. Whenever I may have wanted to write something that just didn’t fit the style I had started writing in, I felt as though I had to change everything from then on to match the new style. I left no room for experimentation or variety.
Problem #2: I tried to make myself catch up on all the days I missed. As a result, I often put off journaling even longer, because the thought of filling in all that missing information was exhausting. Sometimes I wouldn’t let myself start a new entry until I had finished the previous one. That’s how I wound up just not writing anything for long periods of time.
Problem #3: I tried to do too much. I had this idea that I needed to write paragraphs and paragraphs for every entry. So any time I felt too tired or too distracted to write that much? That’s right — I didn’t.
Bullet Journaling Helped Me Write Every Day
Starting a bullet journal changed some of those restrictive mindsets. Since I was already creating a new “entry” every day for my to-do lists, it was a lot easier to let go of days I missed and just start in wherever I was.
However, even then, I still tried to force myself to write a certain amount or write within certain bounds. I made up categories of journal entries (such as interesting things that happened, or ideas I was thinking about, etc.) and color-coded them accordingly. This was fun, but not very useful, as it felt like much more of a commitment to come up with something to say that fell within one of the categories. I wasn’t letting my thoughts flow freely. And I still had this idea that I needed to write something that mattered, that was worth putting down on paper.
For about a year now, I have finally kept up with writing in my journal (just about) every day. I credit two major shifts with my success in this:
Shift #1: I moved across the world. I admit that I had the advantage of a huge life change to help me out. I had to set an entirely new routine already, so I think I was able to make this new practice a daily habit much faster than I would have otherwise. Of course, that’s not to say that you must have a major life change in order to start a new habit. It just made this one a little easier for me.
Shift #2: I made things easy on myself. I got rid of those categories and the pressure to write something “meaningful.” Then I decided that I would write at least one sentence in the morning when I was making my to-do list for the day, and one sentence when I was reviewing my work at the end of the day. Setting a minimum goal like this makes it so much easier when I’m tired or not in the mood, because it’s just one sentence. That’s not much to have to think about.
Sometimes I write more than one sentence, and sometimes I even write more than one paragraph. And yes — sometimes I miss a morning or an evening, or both. But having two times a day when I think about writing a sentence or two makes it that much more likely that I will follow through. And to be honest? Sometimes that one sentence is, “I don’t know what to write today.”
Some of My Favorite Journaling Styles
For all the ways that certain styles of writing can restrict, they can be a lot of fun, too. So I thought I’d end this post with a few of the styles I have really loved, and that I enjoy returning to when I have the time.
Fiction writing prompts. I use these as practice, and sometimes as inspiration for my own fiction.
Timed freewriting. I actually use this during my weekly review time. I’ll set a timer for 5 minutes, and write whatever is on my mind as fast as I can. It’s a great way to get all of the thoughts out of my head without filtering them.
Describing a scene. I’ll choose something that happened that day and describe it like I would a scene in a work of fiction. Sensory details, dialogue, etc.
“Snapshots.” This is a nickname I gave to something that is actually very similar to the original Bullet Journal system. Basically, it’s a journal entry in bulleted list form. Instead of writing out my memories in prose paragraphs, I simply make a list of events or feelings that I want to remember. This is how I journaled about most of my travel experiences while living in China. There isn’t so much pressure to write out every detail, it’s much faster to cover a long period of time packed with activities, and I don’t have to stick to any kind of order.
One Month of Bite-Sized Journal Prompts
Still a little stuck for ideas of what to write about? I’ve put together this list of 31 journal prompts to keep you writing for an entire month. Each prompt is designed with the idea of “at least one sentence” in mind. Feel free to answer the questions with as much or as little detail as you see fit.
To download the list, sign up below with your name and email. That will get you access to my library of resources, where you’ll find this list of journal prompts, as well as all the other organizational and planning resources I’ve made for other posts.
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