Looking for some inspiration to start a journal? Or maybe you already started and are struggling with what to write some days? Here are nine personal journal ideas. You can settle on one approach, as the common thread in all of your journal entries. But if that feels confining, there is no need to limit yourself. Mixing and matching allowed! Whatever feels right. It’s your journal and no one else’s business, after all.
One line a day
The first approach to keeping a journal is ridiculously easy. With that said, the one-line-a-day way has its own challenges. Summarizing a day into just one line can be tricky because it’s so very few words.
Can’t choose? Hey, guess what: if so much has happened that day that one line isn’t enough to capture it, you won’t have any issues journaling that day either, right?! Then simply write more.
The other challenge is consistency. Even though we’re talking only one line a day, it takes discipline and determination to do as little as that, even when it’s inconvenient and/or you’re not in the mood.
What might help is a journal designed especially for this approach. Some pretty cool ones here.
|Tip: The hype around “one line a day” journals is understandable – it’s a great and very rewarding challenge that doesn’t cost much time. But do you absolutely need one of the pre-fabricated journals that have flooded the market since?|
A commonly stated issue in the reviews of “one-line-a-day-journals” is that there isn’t enough space unless your handwriting is really small. Also, after 2-3 years of consistent use, they tend to fall apart.
If that sounds like a draw-back, maybe just settle on a high-quality notebook for each year instead. This is about the concept and you don’t really need the strict layout to remind you every day that you’re doing a line a day. Plus, wouldn’t you rather have the extra space if you feel like adding a line (or three)?
Highs & Lows
What was the best part of your day? Write that down. And the worst? Dito. That’s it. One line or one sentence each will do; if you get carried away into a more long-winded description, that’s a bonus but not a must.
The challenge is to be consistent, on a daily basis, or whichever other time-frame you’ve made the mental commitment to. This means getting at least one of each on paper every time.
If you can’t choose, all the better! More than one it is. You’ll spend a bit more time writing… It’s called highs and lows for good reason, and nobody says there’s a limit of one per person per day.
The one thing not to do is chicken out of writing altogether because you can’t pick one. Or only have time for one and would want to add more. (Yup – speaking from experience, here.)
In that case, take the first one of each that comes to mind. Then stop thinking and write. Go. Three minutes tops.
Letters to a child
Write a letter to your child each day. Or a postcard-style note if short on time. Tell them what they did that was funny or special, how you feel about watching them grow up and work through their challenges, how the way that little curl pops out of their hat is just too much, or talk to them as grown-ups, about how intense sleep deprivation can be and how maybe one day they’ll experience it for themselves. Or maybe they’ll just get to be part of the third mission to Mars. Who knows.
This may not be a typical journal entry, since it isn’t centered on yourself. But let’s be real – your kid is quite likely the most important part of your life, in one way or another. These entries will definitely reflect what’s going on in your life at the moment as well. So looking back on them one day, I’d argue that they’ll be at least as valuable and insightful as a more self-centered approach, if not more.
Letters to a friend
If the previous idea does not speak to you, or apply, how about writing letters to an imaginary friend? If it worked for Anne Frank in her world-famous diary, it can certainly work for the rest of us.
Obviously, we’re going to imagine the best friend possible for this purpose. Nobody wants to be writing countless letters to semi-friends. This person has your back. Is a solid sounding board and always on your side (even when you’re dead wrong) but also not afraid to give it to you straight if you’re not making any sense.
Feeling all warm and fuzzy about our pretend friend yet? Good. Then start writing.
Address your future self
This one’s a little trippy, but it boils it down to what is the very essence of journaling for most of us. Aside from the direct relief it can provide to pour your heart out onto a piece of paper, the best thing about keeping a journal is… what?
Reading it years later, of course! Sometimes it makes me laugh, sometimes it makes my toes curl with ridicule, but I always love that peak into the past through the window of old journals.
In that light, why not talk directly to your future self, today. Jot down statements about where you stand today. Voice dreams and goals for the future. Describe what occupies your current thoughts. Ask questions.
How to apply this daily journal prompt is completely up to you. It can be more or less formal, as an actual letter would be. Addressed to your future self, starting with ‘Dear …’. Or you could go so much more informal, starting every day with ‘Hey you!’ Or quirky – make a daily “Note to self”.
Note to self: Working on a blog post about daily journal prompts today. I wonder if it will do well, and help or inspire at least one person. Time will tell. Also trying to eat less sugar. If I’m reading this years from now, and haven’t ditched sugar yet, start now. If I have, very curious how much better it has made me feel. Baby is still not sleeping through the night AT ALL. (She must be so grown-up now!)
I’ll admit this approach isn’t the easiest and it may take some getting used to. What I like about it, though, is that is sort of forced you to snap out of the current events and look at yourself and your life through another lens.
The written time capsule
You know how school kids make time capsules, in which they put drawings and random stuff? Do exactly that, with words.
Of course, any journal entry is basically a time capsule of some sort. However, if you like the written time capsule idea, you’ll probably enjoy seeing a few more details included in your journal entries than mere feelings. Those feelings can be part of the written time capsule prompt. And yes, they are very important. But how about also including:
- The weather
- Major events that make the news (if you’re someone who watches/listens to the news)
- What family members or friends are doing
- Which items are laying on the floor in your room right now
- What your last store run looked like
- What has been on the menu lately
- How you spend a typical day
- And so on…
Not every one of those details every day, oh no! Who’s got time for that? Rotate through them at will, or on a schedule, or do whatever makes it work for you.
The Daily Journal Prompts Jar
There are so many different daily journal prompts one could use… If you don’t want to choose or zone in on a specific approach, let’s just do them all. Incorporate each and every prompt or idea into your journaling – yes, it’s possible and super fun, too. Make a daily journal prompts jar!
You’ll probably not want to hand-write each prompt, which is why I’ve created this handy printable.
The Good Ol’ Gratitude Journal
Ah, there it is – just when you thought the self-help movement has squeezed every last drop out of this concept. While that may be true, there is still something to be said about focusing on the blessings in your life.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of this prompt. As a side-action notebook prompt, sure. But as the one and only way to keep a personal journal? Nah. Writing only what you’re grateful for, it seems, would make you miss out on some crucial other facets of your life.
If you’re someone who likes to read back what they wrote in old journals, do you want to explore what was actually preoccupying your thoughts, or be served a thin slice of those, in a sauce of compulsory gratitude?
The daily gratitude list is a poor substitute for a more well-rounded and in-depth personal journal. It simply lacks authenticity and realism. Or put bluntly: just because you write like a person who seems elated every day, doesn’t mean you actually are that person. So it creates a polished image, keeping a large part of your day-to-day experiences in the dark.
Please note I’m not arguing that keeping a gratitude journal is not helpful in any way. It has been proven to some extent that doing so can help you feel better and perhaps even alleviate depression. If that is your main goal, then this is precisely what you should do! All I’m saying is it’s really a personal journal. It’s something that could be confused with a personal journal but it’s exactly what the name says: a gratitude journal.
So if you’re looking for ideas on how to keep a journal and the gratitude prompt sounds nice, how about doing both? Or include the gratitude piece into your other musings, daily, weekly, or however often you feel compelled to.
Write about the past
Unless you’ve consistently kept a journal since being able to write, there are probably things in the past you could write about. Things that you want to remember certain details of, years from now, when those intricacies have slipped away from your memory even more than today.
Memories become less vivid as time passes… So the best time to chronicle experiences from the past is now. Now. Now. That’s right, let’s get crackin’.
Think milestones. Remember your graduation, childhood play dates, everyone you’ve ever had a crush on, pets you’ve had, and their quirky habits? How you felt on your wedding day, the first time you took a plane ride, a train, or a hot air balloon. What childbirth was like (for each child, if applicable), the smells in your grandparents’ house, your parents’ vegetable garden, the way the fog rose up from the meadow in September where you once lived… Random trips and vacations that only still ‘exist’ in your head. Anything. Everything from your past, one thing at a time.
And if it’s too hard to pick or settle on a memory, start a jar. Write down each idea as they come to mind until you have a decent amount. Pick one each day or session, and replenish with new prompts as you go. How awesome is that – a memory jar, that you gradually expand into a journal of personal memories?