How to Start or Restart a Journaling Practice

How to Start or Restart a Journaling Practice

Somehow this past year I have felt overwhelmed by just the thought of putting into words what’s going on in my life. It just feels like there’s too much to tell and I just don’t know where to start anymore.

I haven’t written in my journal for over a year. Since August 12 to be exact, the day my beloved four-legged companion, Douglas, died after 16 years of friendship.

I have been keeping a journal all my life. In fact, it’s exactly when I’m not doing well, or when I have a stressful time, that journaling helps me. But somehow this past year I have felt overwhelmed by just the thought of putting into words what’s going on in my life. It just feels like there’s too much to tell and I just don’t know where to start anymore. And just like that, a decades-long habit of working through feelings through writing has disappeared. I am stuck.

First it was just an “I will catch up later.” But gradually that turned into “there’s too much to write about,” which then turned into “I can’t write anything anymore.” It’s a bit like having lost touch with an old friend, where the longer you leave it, the more difficult it becomes to pick up that friendship even though you desperately miss it.

This past weekend, my new puppy Bowie turned one year old. I can’t believe that I have spent 10 months with him, and I’ve not recorded any of it! Not all the cute things he did; not the joy he has brought me. And so I decided I need to find a way that works for me to start journaling again and rebuild the practice of checking in with myself, my happiness, and my mental health.

From previous experience, tons of research, and stealing some techniques from creative writing, here are four ways to ease (back) into journaling, so that you can join me in using writing to check in with yourself and your mental health.

Tip number one

A journal is a non-judgemental friend. To get started, it may help to imagine you’re writing a letter to this friend – even starting with “Dear Diary.” If you struggle to start the letter, imagine this friend asked, “How are you doing?” And your journal entry is the response. When you finish, consider how empowering it is to answer this question on paper, where no one judges your answer or expects you to answer a certain way.

Tip number two

Sometimes we are so focused on the quality of our writing, that we forget journaling is not about creating a masterpiece. A journal can help us reflect and learn about ourselves, especially over time.

Here is an exercise I’ve used in creative writing and that also helps me focus in journaling. I set an alarm for five or 10 minutes and then I start writing. I simply write down what comes into my head, even if it is “I have no idea what to write.” The trick is to write it down regardless and to not correct anything. Leave those typos, the grammar mistakes, and the thoughts you think should’ve stayed in your head. Usually if I’ve been on a break from writing, this can help me get back into the flow. It empties your thoughts, so that you have an open mind for letting new thoughts in.

Tip number three

Do you sometimes feel like a particular song resonates with you? Use it for your journal! Listen to the song and then write why this song resonates at that moment. Write down the lyrics you connect with and then write about why they speak to you. It’s an easy way to use someone else’s experience to trigger your own personal reflection.

Tip number four

Sometimes words are all mumbo-jumbo in our heads. Putting them down on paper can help organize those thoughts. Write down a word that pops up and then circle it. Repeat the procedure without thinking much until the sheet is full. If there are words that pop up several times, for example sad, or angry, or insecure then write them multiple times, grouping them together. Leave that sheet for a day. Then come back to it and pick a word. Write in your diary only about that word. Perhaps you can be more specific. If “angry” was a word you picked, can you be more specific? Are you bitter? Do you feel let down? Frustrated? You can use a page in your diary to see if you can identify reasons for it. For example, if you were angry, it may be because you were frustrated at yourself for something. It’s good to label those emotions so they lose their power. Once you know the “what” and the “why,” you may be able to do something about it. And even if that isn’t the case, it can be liberating to let it out.

These exercises are working for me, and I hope that they can help you, too. And as for having a year-long hole in my diary, I’m planning to catch up with all the good stuff, all the little things I want to remember and savour. So it doesn’t become overwhelming, I’m going to just write down a memory when it pops up. It may be messy, but that’s sometimes also part of life.