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How I Actually Made a Habit of Journaling

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wisconsin chapter.

Journals are like diets: they seem great going in, they might be part of your New Year’s resolutions and you swear you’re going to commit to them. However, it’s easy to burn out before you’ve made any real progress. In both cases, it’s often because we set so many rules for ourselves. But when it comes down to it, the best journal (like the best diet) is the one that you’ll do

I’ve tried traditional journaling: penning wordy entries about my experiences and emotions in a pretty, bound journal. I would write every day for a week or two, but then three months would pass without so much as a word. I jumped on the bullet journaling trend, too, complete with specialty colored pens and markers and a dot-grid notebook. I even learned calligraphy. Of course, it wasn’t long before I couldn’t keep up with the meticulous layouts and this also fell by the wayside. I’ve tried journals with pre-written questions and prompts, keeping a visual sketchbook and using an app on my phone to write journal entries. None of it stuck.

For the most part, I had given up on journaling. I loved looking back at the entries I created and immersing myself in the way I once thought. But it just wasn’t plausible, I decided, to create a habit like journaling in a busy college lifestyle. 

Then I noticed a friend of mine haphazardly scribbling words into a small, beaten-up notebook that she had pulled out of her pocket. I asked her about it and found out that she carried the notebook with her everywhere she went. In class, at work, hanging out with friends — she always had this notebook.

As an aspiring writer and artist myself, I’d heard many times about the benefits of keeping an idea notebook or a sketchbook with you at all times. Because of this (and because I have an unhealthy addiction to buying pretty journals), I had a collection of half-finished sketchbooks and scribbled idea notebooks lying in my closet at home. Inspired by my friend’s commitment but considering my own issues with journaling, I decided to take a new approach.

Last January, I selected a small, plain black notebook from my closet and decided I would take it everywhere with me. I kept it in my backpack or purse with my favorite gel pen so that it was always ready when I had something to record. But rather than categorizing it as a sketchbook or a journal or an idea notebook or a planner or anything else, I made it all of those things. I began to fill it with unfinished bits of poems or songs, short but traditional journal entries, sketches of ideas or my surroundings and checklists of things I needed to do. But I didn’t even limit myself there. I wrote down spontaneous thoughts and observations, quotes from movies or real-life dialogues, lyrics to whatever song was stuck in my head, notes from classes and even ideas for Her Campus articles. I crowded unrelated bits and pieces of my life together onto the pages, scrawled in quick chicken scratch or drawn out in loopy cursive. 

I let the little notebook be whatever I needed it to be at the time. And because of that, I actually found myself using it frequently. I had no preconceived notions or restrictions about what would or wouldn’t go in the notebook. I didn’t worry about making it all pretty, but if I felt like spending time on the aesthetics, then I did. A few days ago, less than a year later, I found myself nearing the end of the notebook’s pages. 

In reflection, I decided to look through everything I had written or drawn in the notebook since the previous January. When I first started with it, I was worried that this scattered form of journaling wouldn’t record things as well as a traditional journal might. But looking through the strange collection of ideas, thoughts and inspirations, I found that they still told a story of my life. I could relive the emotions I’d experienced in the past year based on the lines I’d written, remember what music I had been listening to from the quotes I lettered and recall what I was working on from the to-do lists I’d scribbled. 

Most importantly, I learned that the key to sticking with journaling was simply to stop setting so many rules. When I allowed myself to drop my expectations and record whatever I wanted, I found my notebook a lot more inviting.

If you are someone who has had success with traditional forms of journaling, I applaud you. But if you’re like me (interested in journaling but unable to maintain the habit), consider giving up your expectations and simply writing, doodling or scribbling whatever comes to you, whenever it comes to you. You might be surprised by what you find!


Rachel Betters

Wisconsin '22

Rachel is a junior studying graphic design at UW. In her free time, she loves traveling, writing, and talking about fonts.
I am a senior at the greatest university— the University of Wisconsin. I am in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, double tracking in reporting and strategic communications and earning a certificate in and Digital Studies. I am a lover of dance, hiking, writing for Her Campus, the Badgers and strawberry acais. I am also a president of Her Campus Wisconsin.