When I was younger, I could never keep a journal properly. I would buy shiny, new notebooks ready to fill them with ideas, stories and doodles. Inevitably, I’d keep up with it for about a week, then put it down and forget about it. The drawers of my childhood desk are filled with neglected journals. However, when I got to college, I felt like I was having sensory overload. I was adjusting to living in a new city, making new friends and changing my whole outlook on how to approach school. I was overwhelmed, to say the least. One of my friends mentioned in passing that she kept a journal as a coping mechanism, as way to stay sane. She showed me her journal, full of to-do lists, scribbled entries and stickers. That night I bought my first “real” journal. I’ve never looked back.
To start, forget all preconcieved ideas of how a journal is supposed to look or function.
Your journal is anything you want it to be. This isn’t a school project. Realizing that I didn’t need to follow any specific rules or hit any marks was really freeing. Your journal doesn’t have to be instagram-worthy, or aesthetically pleasing. You can bullet journal, write multiple pages on end or use it for doodles and crafts. Sometimes, I use my journal to scrapbook so I don’t hoard photos, tickets and other small, personal memorabilia in boxes forever. There is no right way to journal, what you create is your own.
Not every page has to be fully filled!
Filling an entire journal is hard, but it depends on your definition of ‘filling.’ You can write poems, create collages or take notes for class. You don’t have to literally fill every line to feel fulfilled. Use some pages for to-do lists or brainstorming. Some people use projects like vision boards to stay on track with their goals. A journal is a compact part of you that you can take on the go and help you stay on track with what you want to accomplish. When I have an idea for a project, homework or something I need to do, I just jot it down.
Journaling can be really therapeutic.
My journal has helped ease my anxiety and has helped my mental health immensely. When I’m feeling stressed, I turn to my journal to help me process my thoughts and feelings. Use your journal as your personal space. You can rant and write things that you would never show anyone else. That’s healthy and normal. I use my journal to hash out issues, to stay organized and to write creatively without the stress of having people read it.
Be patient with yourself and take your time.
Committing to a filling a journal takes a long time. Finishing my first journal took me over a year, but I was so proud of myself when I was able to see the entire, finished product in front of me. Plus, journals are a great marker of time. I’m able to go back and look at my past experiences and see what I thought about them in the moment.
It’s one thing to remember something, it’s another thing to read about how you dealt with it as it was happening. It can be scary and overwhelming to re-cap and process parts of your life, but future you will be happy you did. Reading past journals is like reading a book about your own life (but not in a weird self-involved way, in a “wow, I’m so nostalgic” way).
You can turn journaling into a great group activity.
Some of my favorite nights of college have been spent with friends collaging in our respective journals. Make some snacks, light some candles, pull out all of your old magazines and start creating! If you don’t feel like sitting and writing by yourself, this is a great way to have fun with friends and create something special.
Journaling changed my perspective on my life and accomplishments.
I have so many moments of my life captured in journals — my semester in Europe, my first relationship and even the small mundane moments like just waking up and going to class. Even writing about the less exciting times is important. Sometimes when you write down experiences that seem boring, embarrassing or catastrophic, they aren’t so bad anymore. Then, years from now, you can look back and laugh, reminisce and treasure your life. Your life is worth capturing — what are you waiting for?