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Humans have been journaling for centuries, writing down great works of prose, chronicling historical events, recalling intimate personal details and retelling serendipitous occurrences. But there really is no secret to great journaling, as all you need to do is put pen to paper.
Journaling has long been used as a method for managing feelings like stress and anxiety and keeping track of progress on personal goals. It also keeps your mind sharp by boosting your memory and comprehension, according to an article published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Sounds pretty good, right? But where do you start?
We talked with journaling influencers to get their advice for creating a functional and sustainable journaling practice. Check out their top tips for beginners, plus tools and products you can use to personalize your journal at home.
How to start a journal
The No. 1 rule of journaling is that there are no rules. It’s about creating an experience that is curated to you, your goals and your life.
“It does not have to be what you know your favorite Instagrammer does; it does not have to be what your best friend or mom does,” says Elizabeth Ghekiere, founder of the Elizabeth Journals blog. “It is what you do with [it] and that’s literally all it has to be.”
The possibilities for your journal are endless. It can be a daily planner, a goal tracker or a place to collect your thoughts and work through problems. Really all you need to get started is a plain ol’ journal or notebook.
This journal comes in 18 different colors and has perforated, numbered pages for easy tracking.
If you like having lines to write on, this Moleskine notebook is a great choice and comes with inner storage folders for little notes and reminders.
If grids are your thing, this hardcover notebook can easily lay flat and comes with a pen loop holder so you’ll never waste time looking for something to write with.
This dotted goal journal comes with numbered pages, an index and two separate calendar sections to keep all your important dates in one place.
Don’t give yourself rules
Sticking to a journaling schedule is good, but don’t fret if you miss a day here or there.
“Don’t give yourself these rules that you have to write every single day, or you’re gonna just be disappointed and not do it,” says Marlena Larson, a licensed psychologist and founder of A Pen and a Purpose blog.
Pick a time of day when you know you have a few minutes to sit down and focus on your journal. It might be first thing in the morning or right before you go to bed.
You can also set a reminder on your phone to keep you on track or store your journal in a place where you’ll see it every day, like right next to your bed, so you can easily write in it.
Make it functional
Again, this journal is for you, so make its purpose and layout fit your lifestyle.
“Keeping layouts that you use regularly and things that you actually return to is really important to keep up interest because if it’s functional, you’ll keep doing it,” Ghekiere says.
The original concept for a bullet journal was very simple: just a bulleted list of thoughts or tasks, hence the name. Today, bullet journals might have more intricate and artistic interpretations, but like with most things, there is nothing wrong with the original.
Sometimes simple just works better. “If you’re tracking everything, you’re not really doing anything,” Larson says. “People can learn to use journaling to kind of talk to themselves, and then actually track the things that matter and see their changes over time”
If you never know when or where you might be journaling, try out this weatherproof notebook that repels water, sweat, grease and mud.
If your life revolves around your horoscope, pick up one of these personalized, astrology-based notebooks. You can have your name or initials beneath a gorgeous engraving of your zodiac sign.
This sustainable cork-covered journal is also made with acid-free paper, making the pages recyclable and pollution-free.
Want a little more personalization to your journal? Pick up one of these chic monogrammed options from Papier.
How to use guided journals
Journals can last a long time, but you don’t need to plan the whole thing out in one go. Ghekiere recommends planning your journal out about a month at a time. That way, you have the freedom to change layouts or designs and track the improvement in your skills.
There are no limits to what you can write in your journal, whether you want to use it as a daily planner or a place to jot down your to-do list or weekly schedule. If your journal is more of a place for self-reflection, start by just making simple lists.
“[That’s] kind of how I started. I was like ‘100 things that make me happy,’” Larson says. “I just would sit and list those things because the first ones that you list are really easy and then you have to really dig.”
It can be daunting to feel like you have to chronicle a day in your life every time you sit down because sometimes, let’s be honest, the days just aren’t that interesting. Making a list of just a few sentences about your future goals is a great way to get in a daily entry.
If you still have no idea what to write about, guided journals and prompts from books or online can be a good place to start.
This interactive journal prompts you not only to write but to act as well, with tasks like coloring in maps of places you want to visit and sending your dreams off to sea in a glass bottle.
Take each day one line at a time with this colorful journal that lasts for five years.
If you loved Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming,” this could be the journal for you. Focusing on personal growth and self-discovery, this journal helps to chronicle your life’s story.
The Simple Elephant planner is perfect for those who want to organize their goals and daily agenda. The planner comes with monthly calendars and spaces to express gratitude and affirmations.
Another good pick if you’ve got a busy schedule, this journal takes only five minutes to complete every day and focuses on all the good in your life.
This five-year journal asks you an array of questions from ones as simple as “What did you have for lunch today?” to more thoughtful ones like “Can people really change?”
Journaling accessories and pens
While YouTube and Instagram can be great places to get journaling inspiration, some of the design can seem overwhelming for those starting out. “I always recommend: Start simple,” Ghekiere says. “That kind of artwork you see on Instagram and on Pinterest is not what happened the first try.”
Your journal is solely for you. Feel free to try out new designs and ideas, but don’t be afraid to make a mistake. “I say just open your book and scribble on the first page,” Larson says. “Then you don’t have to worry about ‘How’s my first page going to look?’ because you messed it up.”
Sometimes whiteout can be your best friend. In the worst case, you can always just rip out a page and start again. And if you want to quickly add more visual elements to your journal, you can easily utilize stickers, stamps and stencils.
This set comes with 20 different stencil sheets that allow you to quickly create consistent boxes, banners and designs.
If you don’t have time to draw out an entire calendar, use a sticker instead. This set includes month labels, to-do lists and goal tracking stickers.
Washi tape is an easy way to add color to your journal with simple designs and prints.
These simple stickers give subtle decoration to journal pages for those who want a mostly minimalist theme.
If you’re constantly traveling or enjoy journaling on the go, this carrying case can hold all of your journaling essentials.
Keeping all your supplies together makes daily journaling easier. This bamboo holder is durable and large enough to hold your favorite design materials.
These stamps will help keep your journal in order. Sold individually, you only need to buy the stamps that work for your use.
A favorite of Ghekiere’s, these markers have both a brush and fine tip, which are perfect for illustrative designs or writing short notes.
You don’t need expensive pens or markers to have a colorful journal. This affordable 100-marker RoseArt set has every color you can think of.
If you like the clean look of simple black and white, these smooth black gel pens are all you need.
These highlighters are perfect for adding emphasis to dates or phrases, and with both broad and fine tips you can mark with as much detail as you need.
Larson likes to journal using a fountain pen like this one. This slick-looking pen creates smooth lines with the ink color of your choosing.
This bargain pack of fine point pens is perfect for daily writing or for tracing stencils and doodling.