Journaling is not a one size fits all.
In addition, there are a variety of journaling methods. While this list is by no means exhaustive, hopefully it will give you a few ideas of how to begin a journaling practice.
- Morning Pages – the brainchild of Julia Cameron, Morning Pages are the words we write upon waking up. Some choose to write while still in bed. I must first have a cup of coffee before I can think about writing a cohesive sentence. Morning Pages are nothing but a brain dump in order to free up your mind for more creative thought. Julia suggests writing three pages long-hand, but I prefer the website 750words to quickly recap the previous day as well as preview the day ahead.
- Diary – Most of us are familiar with this concept. At the age of eight I received my first diary, complete with heart-shaped lock and key. The idea is to document your life every day. The problem with this kind of journaling is its unrealistic expectation: if we miss a day we fail. This is RUBBISH! There are no rules in journaling. I am a big fan of documenting life stories – I’m not a fan of starting a project that sets myself up for failure. Say yes to keeping a diary, but say no to any kind of ritual or arbitrary demands.
- Gratitude Journaling – Cultivating an attitude of gratitude is key to finding joy and contentment in life. While this time of year naturally focuses on giving thanks, I would urge you to continue this practice beyond the holiday. Take time at the end of each day to reflect on its blessings.
- Expressive Journaling – This style of journaling was developed by Dr. James Pennebaker at the University of Texas. He advocates writing our feelings, rather than events, to find emotional healing. Limit yourself to only twenty minutes at a time, typically three of four days in a row. This allows you to dig deep without becoming overwhelmed. I will write more in depth about this style of journaling at a later time.
- Prayer Journal While I believe in prayer, I have always felt uncomfortable praying aloud (still do). Last year I decided to write my prayers, and it revolutionized my spiritual life. Not only do I look forward to my morning devotions, but I now have the opportunity to witness – in black and white – how God truly answers prayer. Sometimes He may answer in His timing and not mine, but He is always faithful.
- Travel Journal – Oh, I could write an entire blog post on travel journaling (perhaps I will…) Suffice it to say, the best book I have read on this subject is Dave Fox’s Globejotting. In essence, he advocates pre-trip journaling – on-trip journaling – and post-trip journaling. In the pre-journal, write about your expectations, anticipations, some historical references for the trip. While on vacation, keep a daily journal to jot down sensory details and highlights of the trip. Once home, and after you have had time to reflect, post-journal about the trip and the lessons learned.
- Legacy/Family History – I will be writing more on this in later posts, but for now I will just impress upon you the importance of writing family stories for future generations. If you enjoy genealogy, all the better – but not necessary. This involves no more research than talking with relatives and asking pertinent questions. Family values, beliefs, failures and successes are all meaningful to the next generation. Please do not allow these precious memories to fade away.
- Quotes/Song Lyrics – Sometimes a particular quote, or song lyric, or scripture verse has special meaning for us. Using these prompts to spark a journal entry is a wonderful way to dig deep and discover what you really think. It helps give voice to feelings.
- Scrapbook Style – While I love to write, sometimes I like to add a bit of embellishment. Often I will use a photograph as a prompt to write family history. I believe the story behind the picture creates a full, satisfying personal essay. Lately I have had fun using whimsical stickers as writing prompts. Journaling does not always have to be so serious, you know.
If you haven’t started a journaling routine yet, hopefully these ideas have sparked an interest. I’d love to hear which ones resonate most with you.