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How to Journal if You Don’t Know What to Write About

I have always kept a diary or journal throughout my adolescence, but until recently, my notebooks have only existed as boring catalogs of my day-to-day and somewhat truthful accounts of crushes, arguments with parents, and/or anxieties about the future. After following Sophia Rose (@wellnesswithsoph) on Instagram, I began to reimagine how I could structure my journaling, as Sophia’s weekly writing prompts provide the perfect amount of guidance and freedom for amateur journalers like myself.

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Whether you are just beginning to experiment with daily or weekly journaling, or you are searching for new ways to practice this habit, here are some quick tips and tricks that will make reflecting on your day or week less daunting and more fruitful. So, grab a notebook, or a pad of paper, and your favorite writing utensil.

Set an intention for when and how often you want to journal

Journaling has always been a part of my nighttime routine, but the time of day doesn’t matter as much as the mindset you have when you sit down to write. Whether you prefer writing down your thoughts alongside a cup of coffee or tea before starting your day, or ending your nights with some self-reflection, the key is consciously marking this time in your schedule so you are present.

I so often forced myself to sit down and write every night, even if I didn’t have anything to say. Although journaling each day does make a habit of this practice, I find alleviating the pressure of checking this activity off my to-do-list each day makes me appreciate journaling that much more. Instead of forcing yourself to write, listen to your mind and body. Did you have a particularly stressful day and need 10 minutes to vent? Are you having a poor body positivity day and need a moment of self-love? Or did you have a really productive day and want to celebrate your successes? All of the above are perfect moments to take out your notebook and write. 

Sometimes it is hard to take time out of your day to practice self-care, but it is often the moments when you feel like you don’t have the time that you could benefit from this practice the most. If you are unsure whether you want to journal in the morning or at night, you could also dedicate pages in your journal where you can drop morning thoughts. Or, you could conversely have pages to write to-do lists for the next day if you are more of a night owl.

Use guided prompts when you are in a writing rut

As previously mentioned, Sophia Rose introduced me to integrating prompts into my journaling practice. As someone who has enrolled in various creative writing classes throughout my academic career, prompts are not new to me. However, for some reason, I had always separated this practice from my everyday journaling.

If you are new to this idea, I recommend flipping through Sophia’s Instagram highlight: “Journal.” In this highlight, she documents various prompts she uses. My favorite prompt, although rather vague, is: “mind dump.” I often lean on this one during frantic days when my mind is racing. But she also shares more specific prompts such as “where are you feeling stuck?” and “where are you feeling growth?” Sophia also uses journaling to write out her weekly to-do lists and her weekly reflections, which are both easy ways to start implementing journaling into your routine if you are a beginner. You can also use fill-in-the-blank sentences such as, “It is a new year. I am releasing ___ to make room for ___” to start off a journal entry.

Get creative with how you journal

In addition to prompts, there are other creative ways to structure your journaling practice. As an English major, I will sometimes write short, free-verse poems as a way to release pent-up emotions, or I’ll even doodle a small image when I am craving a more organic release. It is also relevant to mention that you don’t have to journal in a notebook. You could use the Notes app on your phone or a blank Word document.

YouTuber Katy Bellottee (@katybellotte) is my personal inspiration for bringing my journal game to the next level. I fell in love with her approach to journaling when she shared her journals chronicling her semester abroad in Florence, where she cataloged her adventures in written, drawn, and collaged entries. Her creative approach to journaling welcomes a more accessible way to reflect, regardless of your interests in writing or art. You can combine the two or focus on one to capture your life within the pages of your notebook. Similar to Sophia, Katy also has a “Journaling” highlight on her Instagram. While I used to picture journaling as writing-focused, Katy’s entries depict quotes, black-out poetry, sketches, and photographs — all of which allow for free-flowing thoughts to surface in a creative manner. 

Cairo-based writer and lifestyle blogger Dee writes in her blog post on journaling tips, “Your journal should feel like it’s yours and it should fit your personality.” She goes on to say, “Make some messy doodles or scrawl some quotes into the margins to further break that ice and smash those high expectations. Your journal is your tool –– not an Instagram flatlay waiting to happen.” 

 Be gentle and honest about what surfaces as you journal

I used to censor my journal entries out of fear that my mom or college roommates would happen upon my notebook and discover my innermost secrets. Although I still have this fear, I have begun to embrace the vulnerability that comes with being honest in the pages of your journal. 

Rather than keep entries to the mundane aspects of toasting bread and going to the testing center twice a week, following open prompts and embracing the flow of creativity has helped me be more honest with myself. Consequently, journaling has become a cathartic practice that is so necessary during this isolating time. I am a stan for leaning into feelings and releasing them into your notebook. But remember to be gentle with what surfaces and view journaling as one step to healing, whether it is in relation to a poor grade, a breakup, or your mental health. 

In an article for Self, Sophie Gray shares that journaling helped her rebuild her life after an awful panic attack. She writes, “It’s important to allow yourself to journal freely without the fear of judgment. When we censor ourselves, we significantly limit the impact that journaling can have in our lives. It’s essential to be honest with ourselves while writing in a journal, and judgment can often get in the way.”

Regardless of whether you journal in a notebook or in a Word document, with a pen or a pencil, in the morning or at night, as long as you do your best to stay present and be honest with what flows from your fingers, your mind and body will reap the rewards of journaling.

Elizabeth Berry

Conn Coll '21

Elizabeth Berry is an English and Italian Studies double major at Connecticut College with a passion for journalism. She enjoys overnight oats, traveling to new cities, and reading the night away.