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Journaling 101: My Life’s Story Spread Across Pages

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at USFSP chapter.

Journaling is my inner compass, and it is the map to my soul. I absolutely love doing it.  

It is crazy for me to think that there was even a time in my life where I had not yet started to journal. Isn’t it funny how something new suddenly becomes one of the most important things in your life? Something you cannot go too long without doing? This is how journaling has turned out for me. It is one of the habits that I’ve implemented over the past few years that has changed my life in a magnificent type of way. 

I first began journaling when I was a junior in high school, and I vividly remember the scene when I grabbed my first journal and wrote for the very first time. It was on a January night, and I was lying on my bedroom floor, and there had to be some music playing in the background. I did not start by writing the typical journal entry, as it felt kind of unfamiliar to me back then. So, I began by writing down affirmations. A full moon was also coming up, so I also wrote my intentions for that current time – things I wanted to achieve or manifest. 

From that day on, I continued to write in that first journal. A little bit more each time, and before I knew it, I was writing down my thoughts, and about my life effortlessly. Journaling officially became a part of me. As I have been writing throughout my journals, it has also taught me so much about myself… because journaling has the amazing ability to do that. It has also shown me how much I evolve through time. Some things about me change, yet there are those certain things that constantly remain within me. 

My journals, to me, have been the safest place ever to write about whatever is on my mind. They are a place where I write about events from my life, my thoughts, feelings, and dreams. I think that the sweetest part about journaling is that I know it will always be there for me.  

I will share a step-by-step guide into how I began journaling, including some do’s and don’ts, and tips! 

My First Steps

Choose a journal/notebook that you love. 

Make sure that you really like it because you will be sticking to it for quite some time. My first two journals were spiraled. Now, I prefer using leather style journals in a pretty color. Some of the cutest and unique ones I have found have been in Barnes & Noble. Amazon also has similar options that are adorable such as this one: Writing Journal Diary. I just love journals that look interesting and have personality! At the same time, I also like the minimalistic and classic ones too, such as this one: Classic Leather Notebook Journal.  

Find a pen that you also love. 

I always write in black ink. Lately, I have been using felt tip pens as I feel I write better with them. There are also lots of options to choose from when buying pens that come in different quantities and styles. Use a pen that you really like and that is also comfortable to use. In the past I have used these exact ones: U Brands Ballpoint Pens. Now, I am currently using these: U Brands Felt Tip Pens. 

Pick a time and place where you will journal. 

I usually journal either right after waking up, or right before going to sleep. Sometimes I also journal at any random moment of the day if the inspiration strikes. I would suggest choosing the time that would work best for you to journal, because if you completely rely on waiting for “the right time,” you could be waiting for a while. Of course, if at one point you really do not feel like journaling you do not have to. There are days where I do not feel like doing it at all. However, to keep it as consistent as possible, I always try to stop by at least once every two to three days. 

Choose a designated spot for your journal. 

Where will you keep your journal? For me, it has always been on my nightstand. This works perfectly for me since I always write on my bed, and it is easily within my reach. I suggest choosing a place where it cannot go unnoticed, and you can see it. Maybe on top of your desk?  

Find your handwriting style. 

What type of handwriting will you use when writing in your journal? Find your authentic, one-of-a-kind handwriting and stick with it. I write in cursive (in my own way), and I believe that our handwriting can be a direct reflection of our personalities. 

Begin by writing. Anything. 

If it feels awkward at first- suddenly beginning to write a journal entry – just try to write anything else you may be interested in. Song lyrics, a list of favorites… anything! After doing this a few times, once you go write your first journal entry it will not feel as strange. 

Begin writing journal entries. 

Once you are ready for the real deal, begin by writing your first journal entry. It can be super simple. You do not need something huge to have happened for you to write about it. Write about your day. How is the weather outside? What did you have for breakfast? Did you do anything fun? What were your activities for the day? You can also search on Pinterest, my favorite place ever, to find journaling prompts you like and that can guide you. 

My Do’s and Don’ts for Journaling 

Do: Begin every journal entry on a new day with the date.

 This will ensure that all your journal entries remain organized, and if you are like me, you like to always know exactly what day it was when you wrote about something. I always write my dates on the upper left-hand corner of the page. An example of the format I write my dates in: Fri, Apr. 12th. This is the way it works for me. Also, you do not have to write the year on every daily entry. Simply, when writing the first entry of a brand-new year, I write it down like this: Fri, Apr. 12th, 2024. Add the year on the first journal entry of the year, then you will always know when your writings for a specific year begin, and when they end. 

Do: Take your time.

Completely finishing a journal, takes time. The dusty-rose journal I am currently writing in, I began writing in the summer of 2023. So, it will definitely be at least one whole year of me writing in it. Yet, there are journals that you could finish writing in the blink of an eye. This happened to me with one particular journal, not so long ago. I filled every single one of its pages in about six months. I remember staring at that journal when it was empty, before I ever wrote anything in it, wondering what would go on inside there? As it turns out, it is the one journal that led me to uncover so many new things that I never knew about. So, if you are writing on your pages unusually fast, it may be because you have a lot to say to your journal. There will be times when you will have so many stories to write about, and there will be times when you may not have as much to share and that is okay, too. 

Don’t: Leave your journal on the dining table.

Do not ever leave your journal in places where anyone else could grab it and open it. My journal never leaves my bedroom. And when traveling, always leave it inside the suitcase. Simply put, always keep it by your side, or in sight. 

Don’t: Stress over making mistakes.

Do not stress about trying to make everything look perfect, either. I can sometimes be just a teeny tiny bit of a perfectionist, and in the past, I used to stress about making every single little detail in my journals look perfect. This includes the spelling of words, not skipping over lines if not necessary, etc. Nowadays, if I ever misspell a word, I’ll just find my own creative way of fixing it. My aunt, who is an artist, would tell me that there is no such thing as a mistake in art. It’s true! Journaling to me is a form of art. So, if you ever do something that looks like a mistake, think outside the box for a solution. 

What I Do 

I am super selective with topics. 

When writing in my journals, I have always been very picky about what I decide to write in them. I view my journals as a special place where I only write about things that are very personal, meaningful, or that make me happy. My journals are never a place to write about annoying, mean, or scary topics. I also realized that every single word I write onto the pages, whatever they might be, holds power in them. So, I am extra mindful of my words and how I use them. 

Adding an emotion for the day. 

I like to write the name of the emotion I am feeling next to the date of a journal entry. This is an idea I got from a friend, where she showed me how she created her own “emotion meter” in her journal, very detailed and with colors. She uses it to state how exactly she is feeling on a particular day. I take inspiration from those around me when I truly like something, and soon as I saw this, I loved it and decided to do something similar! 

Re-reading my past journals. 

I go back from time-to-time and re-read my old journals. It never fails to amaze me whenever I go back and grab a journal from years ago. It is just like having a conversation with my younger self. Literally. I want to keep writing in journals for my entire life, until I have about fifty of them (or maybe more!).  I want to put all of them next to each other and see my life’s stories and experiences spread within all of their pages. 

Writing lessons to welcome the new year. 

On every New Year’s Eve, I sit down with my journal and list every single “life lesson” that I learned over the course of that year and expand on it. I then also include what I want to achieve or learn for the next coming year.  

My Best Journaling Tips 

Tip: Marking the start of new beginnings. 

After I graduated from high school, it was a very bittersweet moment for me. But I also knew this would be the start of something major and new. So, after graduating, I wrote and wrote about how I was feeling, and my overall experience revolving around high school and everything I learned. Then, to mark that start of a new beginning, I folded the pages and created a triangle. The result was pretty cool since now the pages were in the form of a small boat, with my written words all over it. That marked the start of something new for me. Graduating from high school was a highlight in my life. Whenever I go back to that particular journal (my very first one), I always know at what point during writing I was already finished in high school, and when I went off to start college. One chapter ends and another one begins! 

Tip: When something special or memorable happens, write in the day OF.

When a special moment occurs, write about it in your journal as soon as you get a chance. Of course, we will not always have an opportunity to write about something just as it happened, but what I am saying is, I do not wait weeks to write about something that happened today. Because, whenever I write with a feeling, I like to believe that that feeling also stays there with the words I wrote, just as I was feeling it. 

Tip: Take your journal with you on trips.

This is something new for me that I am also trying to incorporate, and tie into the last tip of not holding off writing about experiences for too long after they happen. I have always left my journal at home, in my bedroom, in my nightstand. This is where I feel it is the happiest. I have a thing where when packing for a trip, I do not like the feeling of taking things that are always in their one usual spot and taking them away from home. I have always liked the feeling of knowing that everything is tidy and exactly where it is supposed to be. However, from now on, I will definitely be taking my journal with me if I am going away for too long. Just as I had mentioned about writing about events as they recently occurred, and the power that written words hold, part of me believes that if you are feeling super happy about something that just happened, that energy felt in that moment is somehow “recorded” into your journal. Let’s say you are on a trip to California, having just seen the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time, and you have your journal there with you to write about it. Your emotions from that day remain forever within those pages… 

Tip: Include memorable items. 

Save photos, notes, or anything else you have that may be able to go inside your journal from past experiences. For example, save a plane ticket for a trip that you wish to remember and tape it into your journal. I think that by doing this, extra life and sparkle is brought into your journal. I will seriously save even the tiniest little detail of an experience I cherish. I have not gotten into fully doing this, but this is something I wish to incorporate soon. I have found super cool ideas on Pinterest, and you can do the same, and find some inspo that you like for your own journal. 

This is how I journal. It has been such a fun, interesting, and eye-opening journey for me, and I think it safe to say that I will continue to journal forever and ever… 

Sofia was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and is a student at the University of South Florida. She is currently completing her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in creative writing. Sofia aspires to heading towards the pediatric psychology field, starting her own practice, and publishing books on the subject. Outside of her studies, she has a lifelong dream of traveling the world. Sofia has a passion for music, loves reading, acquiring new knowledge, discovering new things, and writing from her heart.