How to Start Writing a Journal

by TonyB on February 8, 2010

If you’re a person who enjoys good pens – and really, who doesn’t? – then it’s a shame not to do as much writing as possible. A great way to do that: Start and maintain a journal.

Every day, you’ll get to spend a few minutes savouring the feel of your favourite pen in your hand, laying down fluid, sleek lines of ink on richly textured paper. Those are sensations we get to experience too infrequently these days as it is. Plus, your writing, both the content and appearance, will get better with all that practice, guaranteed.

Besides, our brains are like hard drives. They can only store so much data before it starts getting corrupted. Go ahead, try remembering what you were doing on Feb. 8, 2000. Better yet, try remembering what you were thinking and feeling that day. Not there, is it? That’s the beauty of a journal. It keeps all of that information right where you can easily access it, and pass it on to your loved ones, if you wish.

If you’re unsure of how to get started, not a problem. We’ve got some suggestions.

1. Find yourself the right journal. You might be more likely to stick with your journaling if you had to spend a little money on the journal. Any stockist or office supply store will carry them, or you can order online from any number of outlets. In fact, there are so many choices, it might be easy to get confused.

We recommend that you start with one of the two most popular types, the standard Moleskine or the Rhodia webnotebook. The Moleskine is available in black and red, and the Rhodia in black or orange. Both have elastic closures, inner pockets and hard covers (although the Rhodia “leatherette” is a little sturdier and has a better feel to it). You can get them with ruled or unruled pages.

The Moleskines are a favourite of people who journal, but the Rhodias seem to have a reputation for being a little bit nicer all around. The Inkophile has written a brilliant Moleskine vs. Rhodia review that may help you make your choice.

2. Choose a comfortable, smooth-writing pen that you can use for extended periods. Personally, I recommend the Pilot G2 Pro in black with 1.0 mm refill. It feels good in the hand and writes a thick, bold line, giving the words in your journal a sense of gravity. The broad tip writes a little wetter than usual, but dries relatively quickly. Overall, the G2 just can’t be beat for smoothness and reliability. (Note: I wrote this before discovering my current favorites, the Pentel EnerGel and Stabilo EASYgel.)

That said, however, there are many other pens that would do quite nicely, including a few Uniball models. Particularly, the Uniball Signo 207 in .07 mm or the Uniball Jetstream Premier in 1.0 mm. The nice thing about them, aside from the great gel writing experience, is that they use Super Ink, which is supposed to be acid-free and fade-resistant, so your words will stick around and hopefully still be legible many years from now. Sandscribbler has written an excellent, comprehensive review of journaling pens at his site (you’ll see he’s no fan of the Jetstream, though).

You also might want to add a little colour to your journal from time to time, and Uniball has a some nice pens for that, as well. When I’m writing something I want to emphasize, I’ve got a pack of Signo Gelsticks that I use. The pens come in purple, pink, orange, red, green and two shades of blue.

If you’re a fountain pen person, you may want to stick with the Rhodia webnotebooks because the Moleskines have a reputation for feathering with fountain pen ink. They also tend to have bleed-thru with wet pens, as Inkophile’s review demonstrated. You can check out Journaling Arts for a display of Fountain Pen Friendly Journals.

3. Create a journaling routine. Now that you have your supplies, you need to set up a time and place to do your journaling. Having a set routine will help ensure that you stick to it. The key here is to make it easy because the easier it is to do, the more likely that you are to actually do it.

Choose a place to keep your journal (and make sure your pen stays with it) so that it’s always in the same spot, somewhere you’ll see it before you go to bed and close to where you will do your writing. At the same time every day, turn off your cell phone/TV/computer, put on something comfortable, make yourself a cup of tea and go to your writing spot to spend a few minutes gathering your thoughts and putting them down in your journal.

Remember, don’t treat it like a chore. This is something you want to do. Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day…you’ll start to dread it.

4. Write, write, write. The first thing you need to write in the inside cover is your name and the date you started the journal. When you get to the last page, go back and put the ending date. That will help you keep them organized when you start filling up journals.

For your very first entry, you might want to explain a little about where you are in your life at that point, why you’re starting starting a journal, and what you hope to accomplish with the process. That way, anyone you allow to read your journal in the future will have a better understanding of the context.

Then, not sure what goes in your daily entries? Start with the 5 Ws – who you saw and spoke to that day, what you thought and did, where you went, when you did it and why. Obviously, you just want to pick the significant moments, rather than a chronicle of your entire day. Finally, add an H, for how you felt about the events of the day.

At some point, you’re going to sit down to write and realize that you’re stuck and don’t know what to say. When that happens, write that you aren’t sure what to write, then keep writing down whatever pops into your head, until you get unstuck. Sometimes you have to prime the pump to get it flowing.

There’s no set length for how much you have to write. The story takes exactly as long as it takes. Just say what you have to say, then stop writing. It might be a few paragraphs, or it might be five pages. Sometimes, the most powerful feelings can be described in a sentence. When Teddy Roosevelt’s wife died, he wrote only a large X and the words, “The light has gone out of my life,” in his journal.

Again, if you miss a day, or several, or even a few weeks or months, don’t get down about it. Just go back to your journal, write a little recap of what’s been happening while you’ve been gone, then keep going day to day.

Hopefully this is enough to get you started. Good luck, and happy writing.

We’d love to hear from any of you who are just start journals, or those who’ve been journaling for years.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stephen Lloyd Webber February 8, 2010 at 9:49 AM

What a great post! I’m glad to see the growing trend of people who journal. Good call on the Rhodia as well.

The 5 Ws is really helpful too. Just start anywhere. Once you begin, you’re already doing the right thing. Time wasted on deliberation is just that. Make a mistake and correct it later. If it’s in your personal journal, how bad could that possibly be? There’s not much at stake — whenever possible, act. Or relax. One or the other.

We just started a handwritten journal snapshot experiment – visit the online lit magazine Di Mezzo Il Mare at http://dimezzoilmare.com to submit yours. It only takes a sec.

2 Tom February 8, 2010 at 3:22 PM

I’ve had a journal in my life ever since I was about 9 years old. It started with a black & white marble composition notebook and now it’s a Moleskine. I sometimes didn’t keep up with it for months or years in between, but I always came back. There was always this desire to slow down time and sort out my thoughts on paper. Not only does it record the past, but it helps me stay sane in the present and plan for the future.

3 Anton Ninno February 8, 2010 at 4:34 PM

I recommend journaling with a Pilot Varsity fountain pen. You can buy them in a one, two, three, or seven pack – with 7 different colors. A single pen runs $3-4. I get the 3-pack with black, blue, and purple at the local Staples store for $6. That’s only $2 for each pen – cheap! Fountain pens need quality paper, like that found in Rhodia notebooks. Don’t use them in the now-made-in-china Moleskine books. That paper will bleed and soak through – terrible stuff. Claire-Fontaine notebooks are also fountain pen worthy.

Join my Pilot Varsity Fountain Pen group on Facebook. Big fun!

Anton
Syracuse, NY

4 TonyB February 8, 2010 at 6:49 PM

Hey, thanks for adding that…the Pilot Varsity (called a VPen in the UK) is an excellent choice, and I forgot about all the colours they come in.

5 TonyB February 8, 2010 at 6:51 PM

A few years ago, when I decided I was going to start journaling, I bought four of those composition notebooks. Journaling didn’t happen, and I ended up using the notebooks to raise my monitor a little higher on my desk. Now, I’ve just been using little reporter notebooks to keep track of my days.

6 bob February 9, 2010 at 4:52 PM

Good post Tony.

I have been journalling for about 4 years and find it extremely therapeutic. Getting some ideas, thoughts and the occasional rant is a good way of relieving stress. Sometimes, it’s simply a way of getting ones thoughts in order. I like an A4 notebook just to have plenty of space and like Anton, find the Claire-Fontaine good. Personally, I don’t stick to one type of pen or even the same colour of ink, it just makes it more individual. Having said that, I don’t use green ink as I read somewhere that this is used primarily by would-be assassins and those guys who write crazy 50 page rants to newspapers or politicians!!

7 TonyB February 9, 2010 at 5:44 PM

LOL. Note to self: Green ink = nutcase. I’ll have to remember that one. Bob, if you remember where you saw that, can you send it to me? That’s definitely worth some follow-up.

8 inksreporter February 10, 2010 at 3:35 PM

I’ve always held that using a pen is great for the creative process – though it’s easier to produce careful constructions on a computer. Something about the fact that when you delete in a Word document, the mistake is permanently gone! So in practice I find myself switching between pens and PCs depending on where I’m at creatively.

Great post – really enjoyed it.

9 TonyB February 10, 2010 at 7:33 PM

Yes, you’re right. Using a pen is much more visceral, which feeds creativity, I think.

10 bob February 26, 2010 at 11:43 AM

Hi Tony, not exactly sure where I heard of the ‘green ink brigade’ but it was some years ago and likely to be from The Guardian newspaper. It does seem fairly well documented as can be seen from the following:

http://www.thefreedictionary.com/green-ink+brigade
Green-ink brigade
n
Informal a collective term for people who write abusive or threatening letters to people in the public eye
[from the idea that only the eccentric would write in green ink]

Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged 6th Edition 2003. © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

11 Bella Simpson May 17, 2010 at 9:04 AM

It was extremely interesting for me to read this post. I would like to read a bit more soon.

Bella Simpson

12 elizabeth May 24, 2013 at 6:43 AM

I am gland to have known how to write a journal and i now can train my other friends, pupils and children how to do a perfect journal.
Thanks

13 danny July 2, 2013 at 10:34 AM

i don’t understand..!!!!!

14 Steve July 6, 2013 at 9:10 AM

I would never write a journal – even typing it I hear a nasal twang.

A diary is more my kind of street.

15 thương huế September 19, 2013 at 12:50 PM

hello everyone!
I have a exercise, “suppose you feel a sleep today and awankened 20 years from now, write a journal to reveal your feelings and attitudes towards the changes around you”. I have learnt “Rip Van Winkle” in American literature. This is the first time I have written journal so I hope that you can help me, please. Thank so muchhhhh :)

16 joan October 29, 2013 at 11:46 AM

am so happy with this post
am soon starting my news journal too
i started writing one when i was 12yrs old
thanx

17 YS November 26, 2013 at 2:03 AM

hahaaa, i like use pen and paper, but i still want to show one software, that is efficient diary, it is nice and worth to have a try http://www.efficientsoftware.net/diary/

18 Ava January 1, 2014 at 12:10 PM

My new years resolution is to start a journal again. I wrote pretty often between the ages of 9 and 13. Then I found out my mother was reading my journal and I stopped completely. I’m now 30. I was looking for tips how to start up again. Being a huge fan of fun office supplies like notebooks and pens I find I can really relate to this post. Thanks for the tips.

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