Journaling 101

Journaling 101

Why I Started Journaling

I’ve always been very emotional, struggling to identify what I feel and how to manage it. It has caused so much stress and confusion in my life. And because of this, for as long as I can remember, I viewed being emotional as a weakness. However, this past year I’ve learned that having a heart with the capability to feel so deeply is the greatest trait I can have. I just needed a place to nurture those emotions, and that place became my journal.

When my mind is too loud or the world is too chaotic, it’s my escape. It’s the lending ear that doesn’t have the mouth to tell others. It’s the place where you can feel EXACTLY how you feel without fear of judgment. It’s a dark place, a sad place, a grateful place, a reminiscent place, but most of all, it’s a safe place.

A safe place that every one of us deserves to have. Many people avoid journaling because the concept seems so intense and complicated, but I promise you it’s not. It’s honestly as serious or laid back as YOU want it to be. After all, it is YOUR safe place. There is no right or wrong way to journal. However, I doubt reading that eased all of your doubts. When I began journaling, I had someone to encourage and guide me, and I wanna be that person for you.

What Type of Journal Do I Need?

A common reason people don’t start journaling is that they don’t have a fancy journal, but ironically, I don’t think you should start with one of those. When I decided I wanted to try journaling, I dug in my bookbag, found a math composition book I wasn’t using anymore, and starting writing on the blank pages. I didn’t think it made sense to order a $20 journaling notebook when I might not have even stuck with it. So for about three months, I wrote in that half-used statistics notebook.

Did it look perfectly aesthetic? No. Did it get the job done? Yes.

So if you want to go and spend money on a popular aesthetic journal, go for it. But lined sheets of paper or the notes app on your phone can get the job done. However, if you write on sheets of paper, I recommend using a binder clip or paper clip to keep them all together.

It wasn’t until I realized journaling was an amazing release for my feelings that I started buying journals. But you still won’t catch me spending $20 on one. I get them for $5 at Marshalls. I go through journals way too fast to be spending that type of money.

My first three journals, all bought from Marshalls.

What Do I Write?

As I said, there is no wrong or right way to journal. I recommend you try out different ways and see what works best for you. The two ways I have tried are prompt-based journaling and free journaling.

Prompt-Based Writing

Prompt-based journaling is when you write answering a prompt. Usually, someone uses this method when trying to prompt self-growth or awareness. Some people buy journals with pre-written prompts on each page, while others write the prompt themselves. If you don’t have a journal with pre-written prompts, you’ll need to find a list of prompts yourself. The good thing about this is you can find prompts on specific topics. Whether it’s self-awareness, anxiety, self-reflection, or gratitude, it’s as simple as searching “journaling prompts” on Google.

I recommend as you answer the prompts on the list, go in order. A lot of the time it’s the prompt you skipped that would’ve helped the most. Even if it seems boring, even if it seems repetitive, answer every prompt.

Prompt-based journaling example

Free Journaling

Free journaling is when you journal what’s on your mind. There’s no prompt or instructions, just you, your notebook page, your thoughts, and your feelings. This type of journaling gives a release. Whether you are overwhelmed and need to decompress or want to recount a good day.

How Should the Inside of My Journal Look?

No matter what type of journaling you are doing, there is no exact amount you need to write. If you write half a page, great. If you write five pages, great. The point is you’re making an effort to journal, and that’s something to be proud of.

Also, a lot of people think that your journal has to look perfect. It has to have beautiful handwriting, flawless grammar, no spelling issues, etc… Guys, this isn’t a research paper.

My journal is a complete MESS.

When I’m angry, I scribble all over the place, spelling everything wrong. When I’m sad, the page gets soaked in tear stains. When I’m happy, maybe, it will look a little neater. Your journal is supposed to be one of the places you can be completely vulnerable. Let your writing showcase that.

Happy journaling
Angry journaling

Lastly, I’d recommend writing the date at the top of every journal entry. It’s super cool to flip back and see what you were feeling a year ago. Reflecting on past feelings and perspectives is a huge part of journaling. You’ll start to notice what kind of situations trigger specific emotions, limiting beliefs you have about yourself, and subconscious habits.

How Often Should I Journal?

Once again, there is no right or wrong answer. It’s just whatever works best for you. When I was doing prompt-based journaling, I journaled every morning. If I had a busy schedule, I would write for five minutes. And on days I had more free time, I would write for hours. I picked journaling in the mornings because I noticed I would have a better day when the first thing I did was challenge my mind and release some thoughts. However, I know some people that do their journal prompts every night or randomly throughout the day.

When I free journal, I have no specific schedule. Over this past year, I’ve learned how to identify my emotional triggers, so I’ll journal when that occurs. However, if you are a beginner, I recommend using a schedule. This way, you can hold yourself accountable, and it’s easier to form a habit of journaling.

Start Journaling Today!

I think it’s essential to share that although I love journaling, sometimes I’m just not in the mood. Sometimes I’ll go weeks or a month without picking up my journal, but I always encourage myself to continue. It sounds contradicting, but it can get tiring nurturing your thoughts and feelings. It can get tiring answering journal prompts to work on yourself. But in moments I get lazy, I remember how much lighter I feel after I journal.

Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do to, to feel how you want to feel.

So I encourage you to give journaling a try. To stop overthinking it and just start. And please give it a real try. You won’t see the benefits after one week. Commit for at least two months and after that, if you don’t feel it’s for you, then stop. You’ll never know until you try. Journaling has provided me peace, and I bet on the chance it will do the same for you.

Alyssa Mullings
Alyssa Mullings

Alyssa Mullings is a senior at the Medical Academy for Science and Technology at Homestead. Her love for writing developed as she took AP Seminar and AP Language and Composition. She is a full-time writer for The Caduceus Times, the school’s newspaper, where she focuses on feature articles and personal columns. When she’s not writing, you can find her reading self-improvement books or spending time with her family.