I originally started journaling in 2012, in hopes that it would nurture my self-conscious mind and help me understand myself more. I didn’t keep up with it back then. Between 2013 – 2015 I think I had one journal entry per year. Last year however, I started to write in my journal more frequently.

I finally managed to fill up my first journal last month and now I’m onto my second one. I can tell you that keeping a journal is liberating. Whether you use it for productivity, thought dumps, personal logs, ideas or all of the above, journaling has some serious psychological benefits.

There’s a misconception that journals are only for artists or creative people, but that’s not the case. Journaling is accessible to everyone, and the best thing is that there’s no right or wrong way to do it.

We already have a Journal Generator to help you with writing prompts, but here’s a guide on how to get started journaling.

Types of Journaling

Journaling can literally be whatever you want it to be. Many newcomers get lost figuring out what they want theirs to be like. Here’s a basic guideline on the types of journals that are popular. But remember, you don’t need to be restricted by sticking to any one type of journal.

A picture of a bullet journal – Picture from mccombs blog

Bullet journals

Though many see bullet journals as a micro-journal, it’s actually quite complex. Bullet journals are essentially list based journals where you can track your to-do lists, goals, habit tracking, medication taking and more. There’s an entire convention to bullet journaling and there’s a huge online community for it.

I actually do my own type of bullet journaling for work as it’s a good way to stay organized. You don’t actually have to adopt all of the rules and guidelines set by the community; but those options are there for you if that’s what you want to do.

Writing down your tasks and objective by hand in this way makes them real, and as you continue to tick off your objectives you’ll likely begin to feel a warm glow inside.

Dream journals

Have you ever woken up from a dream that feels significant? A dream that remains vivid in your mind for a short window of time before completely evaporating? That’s why people like to keep dream journals. By writing down your dreams they’ll be with you forever and you’ll be able to analyze them to figure out patterns.

Sometimes dreams are a stream of sub-consciousness that tells us our inner-fears, thoughts and concerns. So being able to track them is an ideal psychological exercise.

A picture of a journal with nice handwriting

Thoughts journal

This is perhaps the most common type of journal. In this journal you will freely write whatever is on your mind without worrying about grammar, spelling or even making sense. Your journal is your place to dump your thoughts as incoherently as you like. Sometimes these thoughts may be negative, or they may be about an ex-lover or friend. Whatever the subject matter is, you’ll feel much better after you get these thoughts out of your mind and on paper.

Once you have these thoughts on paper, why not do a little evaluation? For example, you could write a short paragraph afterwards suggesting what you could do next to overcome something. Or you could try to explain why something happened to make sense of it. Basically, anything that gives more clarity to your thoughts and how you could move on from them.

If it was something positive, then you could simply continue the stream of positivity by writing about what you hope will happen next.

As always, there’s no right or wrong way to do this.

Gratitude journal

This type of journal is about reflecting on things you are grateful for. This is ideal for those who find it hard to be happy. It’s easy to get caught up on the little things that happen in life, and because of that we can forget about the good things. In a gratitude journal you can talk about all the wonderful things in life that you’re grateful for and this will help you develop a more positive state of mind.

Notes Journal

Some people may journal without even realising that they are. Throughout our daily lives, there are many times when we’ll want to record notes. A notes journal is simply a base to write down all those things you want to remember.

For example, those who read often may want somewhere to write notes on every book they read. This is particularly useful for non-fiction reference books. It allows you to log all the important information from the book so that you won’t need to keep flipping through the book every time you need to look it up. It’s then also easier to share this information with others. This can work for literally anything, whether it’s cooking, movies, documentaries, museums or video games.

As someone who writes reviews for a number of websites, I’m always taking notes like these.

Other types of journals

  • Travel journals
  • Project journals
  • Art journals
  • Religious journals

All of the above
Everyone’s journal is different; and as I keep saying, there’s no right or wrong way to do this. There’s no reason why you couldn’t have a journal that mixes a little of everything.

With my journal, I divide it into sections. Currently, one half of my journal is for whatever I feel like and the other half is entirely dedicated to book notes. If I feel like it, I may dedicate a few pages to bullet journaling; then I may have a few sections where I sketch, then I may have a few sections where it becomes a gratitude journal, followed by a chunk of pages that are a short story.

Some people are fine with having an entire journal focused on one thing, but if you want to mix a bit of everything then go for it!

Recommended Journals


Types of paper

There are four main types of paper that are ideal for basic journaling. Here’s a breakdown of each.

Ruled: This is great for those who want a more writing focused journal. Many people journal because they want to improve their handwriting, so writing on ruled paper may be ideal, especially if it’s what you’re used to.

Plain: On the other hand, some people see ruled paper as too restrictive. I used to favour ruled paper myself, until I saw all the wonderful things people did with their journal entries because they weren’t restricted by lines. I now see journaling as a way to express my creative side, so I’ve come to prefer plain paper so that I can use every bit of space on the page to express myself.

Grid journal notebook

Grid / Dotted: Grid and dotted notebooks are favoured by skilled sketchers and designers. It makes it easier to work out spacing, which is important in art and design. Lately, I’ve even seen people who have predominantly written journals favouring grid or dotted notebooks as it makes their writing look much neater. I’ve already told myself that I’m going to try one of these journals myself one day, so if you happen to give it a try then let me know what you think in the comments.

Which Notebook Should I Buy to Begin Journaling?

Here are the notebooks I recommend for journaling. My preferred size is A5 but you can go bigger or smaller if that’s what you’d prefer.

MOLESKINE
Moleskine journal

Moleskine generally makes well-crafted and durable notebooks. They come in different types and serve all needs. I recommend this Moleskine sketchbook because it’s slightly larger than A5 and provides more page space than your average A5 notebook. For those who like to paint or use markers, the page weight may be a concern, so perhaps a Leuchtturm will be better.

This notebook comes with 192 pages.

Buy in the UK | Buy in the US

LEUCHTTURM

Leuchtturm notebooks

Many people swear by Leuchtturm. Their journals are well tailored and come in a variety of colours. They tend to be wider than their Moleskine rivals and the page weight is greater. The only gripe that I’ve really heard is that the outer ribbon is looser than the Moleskine ribbons. That really is a minor thing.

This notebook comes with 249 pages.

Buy in the UK | Buy in the US


PENTALIC SKETCH BOOK

Pentalic sketchbook

This sketchbook is bigger than A5 but smaller than A4, meaning it’s still nice and compact to carry around. What’s great about this sketchbook is the hardbound embossed cover, making it extremely durable. I recommend this sketchbook to anyone who plans on carrying their journal around with them regularly as it will be able to handle all the knocks and slams that come with the outdoor lifestyle. You also get a ton of page real estate with this sketchbook so it’s likely to last you a long time.

This sketchbook comes with 220 pages
Buy in the UK | Buy in the US

Recommended Pens

I like having pens of all colours and types so I can alternate them based on what I feel like. To me, my journal looks boring if it’s all the same colour and ink type. I like having ball-point pens for everyday writing, then a fancy fountain pen for when I’m writing something special (like creative writing). I also have markers for highlighting or decorating.

Here’s some basic pens I recommend to get you started.

Pilot G2 pens

Pilot G2 Rollerball Pens

These pens are perfect for everyday use. They’re smooth on the page and bring out my handwriting nicely. In this pack you get the 3 main colours you’ll need to make your writing stand out.

Jinhao


Jinhao 8802 Fountain Pen

Fountain pens are hard to recommend as it’s a case of different strokes for different folks. I recommend something with a good grip and something that supports an ink refill converter. Something like the Jinhao 8802 is perfect for journaling.

Sharpie pens
Sharpie Markers

Markers make great headings, and its hard to find markers that are better presented than Sharpies.

Final Tips

By now, if you’re still reading this, I’m hoping you’re super enthusiastic to start journaling. These final tips will simply be a few segments I have in my own journals.

  • Short stories / Flash fiction
  • Memories: Basically I write out all of my precious memories in separate segments, in hopes that these memories will never be lost. I like to imagine that I am John Watson writing about Sherlock Holmes when I recall these memories. I go into as much detail as possible.
  • Lyrics: I’m a huge Hip Hop fan.
  • Things I did today: a list summarising my day
  • Inserts: This is where I insert a ticket, newspaper article, leaflet, press badge or any memorabilia that represents something special I did. I stick it in and then write a summary about it.
  • Hip Hop stories: Like I said, I am a huge Hip Hop head. Many of the artists have interesting stories and backgrounds, and many of them are connected. I like to write down all the interesting stories they tell in their interviews. Sometimes it serves as inspiration for my own stories.
  • Ideas: Whenever I have a new idea about something I want to do, I always write it down and consider it

These are some of my common journal segments, along with the book notes I mentioned earlier. If you’d like more ideas about journaling then I recommend an awesome YouTube personality named Clark Kegley who often provides new journaling tips.

Once again, there is no right or wrong way. Just do it!

– Featured image is from Kaizen Journaling