New Notebook, Who Dis: Five Tips on How to Start Journaling for Beginners

Did you get a new notebook? Are you a journaling newbie and not sure how to get started? Then maybe these five tips will help you start filling those pages today!

How to start a new journal.

I love a new journal, especially if it’s handmade. Every journal comes with fresh energy with its crisp blank pages, straight spine, and pristine cover. When I started journaling after a long hiatus, I felt intimated to start writing again. I didn’t want to make spelling errors; I wanted my handwriting to be perfect; I wanted my sentences to be elegant and profound — ala Virgina Woolf. I used to skip writing on the first page because it was easier to tear out the second page if I made a “mistake.” I’m here to tell you that there are no mistakes in journaling. Writing for perfection is counter-intuitive to the purpose of a personal journal. When I became more comfortable with keeping a notebook again by using these five tips that I will share with you, I abandoned my anxieties and became an avid writer.

Did you know that the origin of the word essay stems from the French word essayer, which translates to “try”? Your journal is a place to try out new ideas. Your entries are first drafts of personal essays, and opinions that you have of yourself and the world around you. Notebooks are a place to express yourself freely. It’s normal to feel hesitant to start journaling if you’re a beginner. Like most things in life, we are anxious when starting something new. Especially if it’s a practice that’s not familiar. But the operative word in that last sentence is practice. Writing in your journal is a practice of creativity, reflection, and communication. If you follow any of these tips, I know they will help you start writing today!

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Tip One: Set Your Intentions on the First Page of Your Journal

When you’re looking at a book in a store, the first thing you notice is the cover. There’s imagery, a title, and other elements that give you clues on what the book is about. If the designer did their job right, the rest of the contents will support the cover. Before I begin a journal, I always make sure to set my intentions on the first page to communicate what my journal is about, similar to what a novel’s cover would do. Beginning your journal by writing your intentions will also help you keep writing new entries when you’re feeling stuck.

Think of this tip as a writing prompt to help you get started. Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself while setting your intentions:

  1. How will I use this journal to improve myself?
  2. How am I going to use this journal to achieve my goals?
  3. Why am I starting this journal?
  4. What do I want this journal to mean to me?
  5. What kind of energy do I want to give to my notebook? What’s the vibe?

I want to remind you that no matter the style, or way you want to write in your journal, it’s all valid. Also note, if your intentions for the journal change from the original entry, let the change happen! Maybe instead of writing long-form entries, you end up writing lists or one sentence observations. Your journal grows as you grow, and there’s no shame in that, which leads me to my next tip.

Tip Two: Your Journal is a No Judgement Zone

There are plenty of places where you can receive judgment, even when you’re not asking for it. Your journal shouldn’t be one of those places. Sure, judge others and situations in your journal entries, and critique the behaviors that you want to improve. However, spare yourself criticism about your writing style or penmanship.

My journals are rife with spelling and grammar errors because they are first drafts of articulating my emotions and ideas. Journaling is like unscrambling a puzzle, and the pieces are all of your experiences and feelings that you are trying to parse out. Be loose. Write in shorthand. Don’t finish sentences, be as hyperbolic as you want, and spell words out phonetically. The eloquence of your sentences shouldn’t matter unless it’s a journal dedicated to precisely that. Don’t let your need for perfection stop you from writing.

Tip Three: No Pressure, Go at Your Own Pace

#Selfcare has been a trend on social media for some years, and I love that our culture is making mental health and wellness mainstream. If you’re reading this post, it’s probably because you recognize that journaling has benefits to your mental health and self-care. However, I often see people who are working on their self-care treat these tools like jobs. I’m guilty of it too. Phone calls with my sisters almost always lead us to shame about how we need to do more yoga, meditate, and journal more to become better people. Pressuring yourself and getting down about not using these tools is the antithesis of their purpose. The frequency in which you write is not a measurement of its value to you. No matter if you write every day or once a month, your journal is a place to explore and sometimes play when you feel moved.

Tip Four: Don’t Let Your Past Experiences with other Journals Stop You

Don’t let your past experiences with journals stop you from starting a new one. If you’re like me, you have many journals that you started but never finished. Don’t let your guilt of not completing a journal cover to cover stop you from starting a new one. As I’ve mentioned earlier, journals have energy. Maybe that journal from last year doesn’t inspire you to write in it anymore. That is okay! Perhaps you’ll only write a few entries in the new journal and then forget it on your nightstand. If you’re a completionist, maybe try a smaller journal or one with fewer pages.

Tip Five: Write Anywhere and Anytime

There’s a lot of romanticism in pop culture about keeping a journal. I think this is why so many people struggle with perfectionism when starting a journal. You don’t need to be Henry David Thoreau and take your journal out into the woods. You don’t need to be an angsty teen like Winona Ryder in the movie Heathers, locked away in your bedroom as you write ferociously. You don’t need the perfect place or time to write. I write during my work breaks in my car. I write in bed, and I write at two am and sometimes at noon. I write when I feel like it’s the only way I can organize my thoughts. The perfect place doesn’t exist, although there are magical places that make you want to pull out your pen.

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I hope this list of five tips to help you start writing in your journal inspires you to start today. Journaling is a powerful tool that I’m an advocate for. Join our email list for more journal inspiration!

Above all else, I want you to remember to relax and have fun with your journal. No matter how expensive or simple your notebook might be, remember they’re just pages bound together, and their value is worthless without your scribbles.

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Bryonna Sieck

Scrapbooker, book artist, and stationery lover. She co-owns 1134 Press, an indie publisher and stationery shop. Visit 1134press.com for more!