How to Start a Diary

Keeping a diary can help you record your life so that you can reflect on it later. Even if you never reread your journal, though, the act of writing down your thoughts can be therapeutic. There are many benefits to keeping a diary. However, many people are unsure about how to start.

This guide will tell you more about the benefits of keeping a diary and give you tips for starting one.

What Are the Advantages of Keeping a Diary?

Journaling is a writing exercise that encourages you to explore language, observe your thoughts, and achieve goals. Many people assume that a diary is a place to keep track of events in their life. But journaling goes deeper than that to benefit you in several ways.

Organize Your Thoughts

If you get overwhelmed by the thoughts that are always swirling in your mind, writing them down can help you feel more clear and relaxed. Some people recommend that you do a brain dump every day. Doing this involves throwing all of your thoughts, ideas, to-dos, and concerns. It’s similar to free association writing.

As you move through your journal entries, seeing the dates, and reading what you wrote can help you understand how far you’ve come. You can even develop better time management skills by recording what you do every day.

Enhance Communication Skills

Whether you write or speak, you use language. Writing is directly connected to speech. Even though you’re only engaging in written communication with yourself, you’re honing your ability to verbalize your thoughts.

If you focus on your writing skills when you keep a diary, you may even boost your IQ. Writing can make you smarter. Looking up new words and exploring language expands your vocabulary.

Handwriting and typing on a keyboard activate different areas of the brain. In this day and age, though, many people type much more than they write with a pen. The act of writing by hand may boost brainpower more than typing on a computer. The cognitive enhancements that come from keeping a diary may help you communicate better with others.

Promote Mindfulness

When you keep a diary, you must be mindful of your thoughts. You notice what’s going on in your head and translate it onto paper. Mindfulness involves paying attention. When you keep a journal, you improve your ability to do this amid the chaos of daily life.

Mindfulness is a practice of noticing. Doing it can enhance your creativity, help you cope with intense emotions, and actively engage with your psyche.

Accomplish Goals

You might not even realize that journaling helps you work on your goals and the action steps that you need to take to achieve them. Whenever you write something down, you use different neurological pathways than you would if you just thought about the action or idea.

Therefore, keeping a diary helps to solidify your goals. You’re 42 percent more likely to achieve your objectives if you write them down.

Even if goal setting is not part of your practice, you’ll probably write in your diary about the things that you wish to accomplish. Many people reflect on what went well during each day. As you do this, you’re subconsciously tapping into your desires and keeping track of your ability to go after them.

Become More Disciplined

Building better habits can help you succeed in life. Keeping a diary is one of those behaviors that enhances your well-being. You need discipline to return to your journal consistently.

You may not always feel like writing. You might lose momentum and motivation if you drop the routine for a while. The act of writing, though, can help you hone your ability to be consistent. When you start this habit, you might notice that the rest of your life becomes more aligned too.

Improve Emotional Well-Being

Have you ever felt like your mind was tangled up trying to make sense of your life? Journaling allows you to unwind that thread.

Many people are emotionally blocked. When they experience negative situations, trauma, distress, or discomfort, they try to avoid it. In doing so, they may not fully process their emotions. Unprocessed emotions remain in the body, and subconsciously affect your behavior.

Journaling is one way of interpreting your emotions and allowing them to flow. You can release a lot of energy that you’ve held back over the years, exploring it in a safe environment.

Emotions are signals that tell us when something is going on. They let us know that it’s time to pay attention to something. You can improve your capacity to access your emotions by keeping a diary.

Plus, studies show that journaling can have even more effects on your state of being. The activity can reduce stress, help you sleep, and lower anxiety.

Become More Creative

Do you want to unlock your creativity? Try keeping a diary.

Julia Cameron, the author of the book “The Artist’s Way,” says, “The bedrock tool of a creative recovery is a daily practice called Morning Pages.” Everyone is creative. However, many people have been taught to suppress their creativity in favor of more productive pursuits, like being organized.

When you write your Morning Pages, you pump out three pages of handwritten, stream-of-consciousness writing. You don’t have to worry about whether it’s coming out properly or you’re using grammar correctly. This is not going to be the most elegant writing that you’ve ever done. It can help you make connections that weren’t there before, though.

We’ll discuss more about Morning Pages in the “Steps for Starting a Diary” section of this article.

Build Self-Confidence

You can journal about anything, including experiences that you have. Writing about negative experiences allows you to free your mind surrounding some of the blocks or tangles that you’ve developed regarding the event. When you write about positive experiences in your diary, you improve your self-confidence.

Humans are wired to notice the negative. Referred to as the negativity bias, this phenomenon can lead you to dwell on mistakes, fixate on insults instead of praise or remember distressing experiences more than happy ones.

The negativity bias might make it hard for you to trust people. It can lead you to expect the worst in others.

Falling into the negativity trap can also lead you to make poor decisions. If negative factors outweigh positive ones, you may end up making choices for all the wrong reasons.

Journaling can help you re-wire your brain so that you focus on the positive just as much as the negative. We include some prompts in the next section that may open you up to the bright side.

Steps for Starting a Diary

If you’ve never kept a journal, you might feel frustrated when you begin. Writer’s block is real whether you’re a professional author or just someone keeping a personal diary. Here are some steps for getting started with what can be a constructive, life-long habit.

What Supplies Do I Need?

You don’t need anything fancy to start a diary. All you have to do is write down your thoughts. You can do this:

  • On blank sheets of paper
  • In an academic notebook
  • In a bound book designed for journaling
  • On a computer
  • Using a mobile device
  • With an app
  • On a blog

If you’re really creative, you can create an art journal or write on the sand and photograph it. It’s really up to you. Most people choose to write longhand on paper or type on a computer. At the end of this article, we discuss the pros and cons of both of those options.

Some people create audio journals instead of written diaries. You can use any recording device, including the voice memo feature on your phone, to do this. You might even consider recording a podcast if this method of journaling calls to you.

What Should I Write About?

Overthinking the theme of each journal entry can prevent you from putting pen to paper. Instead of worrying about the topic, start writing. If nothing comes to you, feel free to write the same thing over and over. You can even jot down your name until something else comes to you.

There are a variety of ways to consider what to write about, including free association writing and following prompts. We explore those below.

Recording Your Day

Some people use a diary to record the events that occur throughout their day. You can be as simple or descriptive as you’d like.

Write the date, and make a list of the events from the day. Some people like to remember appointments, conversations, or meetings. Jot down anything that you’d like to look back on or reminisce about in the future.

Keeping a diary like this can enhance your time management skills, especially if you make a note of what you did and when you did it. You can reflect on a diary like that to assess how much time you spend doing different activities. Knowing how long a task takes can help you plan realistically for the future.

Free Association Writing

When you perform free association writing, you jot down your thoughts as they enter your brain. While this sounds simple, it can be harder than you expect.

Humans are always making judgments. As you write, you might think that your words sound silly or your thoughts are coming out all wrong. We are taught at an early age to evaluate our work and assess it for errors and inconsistencies. You have to deprogram yourself from doing this to make free association writing work for you.

Remember that no one has to see your diary. You don’t even have to reread it if you don’t want to. If you’re really blocked from the flow, tell yourself that you’ll toss the paper when you’re finished. Doing that might take the pressure off so that you gain some momentum.

The idea of free association writing has its beginnings in psychotherapy. If you’re doing free association work with a therapist, you are allowed to talk about whatever you want, and the professional listens without judgment. Freud refined the technique, believing that everything that you do and say is significant.

Therefore, you might feel like you’re just going off on a tangent or saying something ridiculous. However, all of your words reflect what’s going on in your subconscious. Freud used to analyze his patients’ words.

You don’t have to do that in your journal. The act of writing down your thoughts allows your emotions to flow so that they move out of you instead of staying stuck inside. You don’t have to interpret the meanings of your words unless you’d like to.

Morning Pages

We briefly discussed Morning Pages above. This activity is one method of doing free association writing. Julia Cameron uses it as a primary tool for accessing your creativity.

As soon as you wake up, pull out a pen and your journal. Your goal is to fill up three pages with longhand writing. You can make notes of anything that’s going through your mind, including:

  • Errands that you need to run
  • Something that you want to say to someone
  • Worries and concerns
  • Wins from the previous day
  • Things that you’re grateful for
  • Things that you’re afraid of

The list is endless.

The things that you write may seem to have nothing to do with creativity. However, putting it all down on paper can help you clear your mind. Cameron says that Morning Pages are a way to say farewell to life as you once knew it and an introduction to life as it’s going to be in the future.

Morning Pages can be whiny, grumpy, and trivial. They may not be creative or artful. That’s ok.

When you write morning pages, make sure that you’re in a quiet place with no distractions. The process can be quite meditative. Instead of just observing your thoughts as they pass through your mind, though, you record them. Cameron calls these “cloud thoughts,” which simply move through your consciousness.

Keeping a Morning Pages journal lets you see further into your psyche. Don’t be discouraged if your Morning Pages seem negative. Writing them allows you to put that negativity elsewhere so that it doesn’t bombard your brain throughout the day.

While writing Morning Pages, you might make discoveries such as:

  • Ideas for your business or a creative project
  • Solutions to problems that have been plaguing you
  • Getting in tune with your intuition
  • Being able to listen to your heart
  • Showing you your priorities
  • Quieting your mind and relieving anxiety

Diary Writing Prompts

If you’re really having trouble coming up with ideas for things to write about, you might want to come up with a list of inspiring prompts. Do this ahead of time so that you don’t have to think about it when you sit down with your diary.

Here are some examples to get you started:

  • What is the best thing that happened to you today?
  • What are three things that you’re grateful for?
  • What is your intention for the day?
  • What made you blissfully happy as a child? How can you include that in your life now?
  • Describe the place that makes you happiest.
  • What is your superpower now? If you could have any superpower, real or imagined, what would it be?
  • Would you change anything about yourself or your life? Why or why not?
  • Do you have any regrets? What are your biggest celebrations?
  • What makes you feel connected to your closest friend or loved one?
  • Do you believe that people have a purpose in life?
  • If there was an emergency and you had to leave your house with only three items, what would you choose?
  • Who would you invite to your dream party? What would the party be like?
  • What would you do if you won the lottery?
  • What were you afraid of when you were young?

You can also break down many of those prompts into more specific questions. For example, you can write about each thing that you were afraid of when you were young, making each item a separate entry. Here’s a guide for brainstorming a year’s worth of journal prompts in one day.

Your diary doesn’t even have to be that deep. You don’t always have to delve into your emotions.

Perhaps you just want to practice your creative writing skills. Some ways to do this include:

  • Describing what comes up when you think of different scents, such as pencil erasers, pine, vinegar or sunscreen
  • Writing a fictional story about someone that you observe at a restaurant
  • Relating everything that you see in front of you from the point of view of your five senses

Writing for Mindfulness

Meditative journaling is one technique for keeping a diary. To do this, you need to be still and present. Allow yourself to breathe and relax. Stay in your body and use your senses.

Begin to write down what you notice. It can be the temperature on your skin or the light pouring in through the window. Bring your attention to the smallest details. How meticulous can you get?

Now, expand your perception. What do you see on the horizon? What do you hear outside of the walls of your house? Write that down too.

If your mind starts to wander as you write, be gentle on yourself. Come back to what you were writing about without judgment. If your thoughts are distracting, you might want to write them down in the margins. This will help you move past them and continue with your mindfulness exercise.

Should I Type or Write Longhand?

If you type rapidly, you might be tempted to keep a journal on your computer. That way, your fingers can keep up with your thoughts better than if you write them out using a pen and paper. But you may connect more profoundly with your emotions if you slow down.

When you write on a computer, you’re emotionally detached. Because you can fix your mistakes easily, you’re constantly judging your writing as you type.

As you write something longhand, you have to plan what you’re going to say next. You don’t fly by your emotions, judge them, and return to fix them. Instead, you observe the transition into a certain emotion and follow it until it flows out onto the paper.

Moreover, you learn better when you write longhand. When you write, you stimulate a group of cells in the reticular activating system of the brain, or RAS. The RAS tells the cerebral cortex to pay attention. You miss fewer details and remember more information when you write longhand. The act of making shapes with your hand also actively engages the brain.

But typing has some benefits for journaling:

  • You can usually put words down more quickly
  • You can create backups of your files
  • You can search for past entries
  • You can access your journal from any computer or mobile device

How to Get Into the Habit of Writing in a Diary

It can take time to develop a habit of writing in a diary. Like any new habit that you pick up, you need to stay motivated and be consistent. At first, you might need to draw upon your discipline. Once you get used to writing, it will feel like it requires less effort and be even more enjoyable.

Any tricks for making new habits stick applies to starting a diary. The first thing that you’ll have to do is commit. If this word freaks you out, remember that you don’t have to make a commitment forever. Begin by devoting yourself to doing it for 30 days.

Although it takes everyone a different length of time to form a habit, the average amount is 60 days. When you commit to 30 days, you’re halfway to making the activity automatic.

This doesn’t mean that you need to write every day. Just dedicate yourself to doing it 30 times. If you do want to give yourself the best chance of consistency, though, try writing every day. Even if you only write for three to five minutes, the regularity will make it more likely to become a pattern.

Set a reminder so that you remember to write. Perhaps this involves leaving your journal and pen on your nightstand so that you see them when you wake up. You might set an alarm on your phone. Once you develop the habit, you probably won’t need the reminder anymore.

Getting a friend involved is a good way to stay accountable for your new habit. A writing buddy can also give you inspiration for what to write about when you’re blocked.

Finally, use a timer. It’s easy to get carried away when you’re in the zone. But if you do too much too quickly, you may get burned out. Moderation is one of the keys to establishing lifelong habits.

Types of Diaries

Your diary doesn’t have to be general. You can keep separate journals for different categories. Some types of diaries include:

  • Travelogues – Record your experiences every time you visit a new city, state, or country.
  • Spiritual diaries – Make notes of spiritual teachings, sacred texts, and synchronicities.
  • Reflective journals – Track what happens to you and how you feel about it.
  • Health diaries – Monitor your exercise, food intake, or symptoms of a health condition.
  • Academic diaries – Write down your schedule, projects, goals, and obligations.
  • Career diaries – Write about your professional life, reflecting on objectives and milestones.
  • Dream diaries – Record your dreams to monitor their patterns and themes; you can even do research online to analyze them.
  • Pregnancy journals – Write down how you feel at different stages of your pregnancy.
  • Gratitude journals – Write down what you appreciate in your life; research shows that this can improve your mood and make you happier.
  • Creative journals – Make notes of your ideas for art or creative writing ventures.

Additional Tips for Starting a Diary

No matter what you write about, date the pages. Doing this gives lets you check in and see how you progress over time.

If you feel anxious about writing or don’t like the tone, pretend that you’re writing a letter to a close friend. You can even close your eyes and imagine that you’re sitting across from this friend and chatting. Allow the conversation to flow without worrying about writing. Once the discussion opens up, begin to write it down.

But remember that your diary is for your eyes only. Be natural and open up. You can’t hide from yourself.

Sometimes, you might have trouble remembering what you’ve done. Use the pictures that you’ve posted on social media to jog your memory. You might choose one photo to write about each week. Doing this allows you to improve your recollection skills as well.

If you’re just starting a diary, experiment to determine what works best for you. You may find that you prefer one method or another. Ultimately, you’ll feel the most successful at keeping a journal when you find it enjoyable and convenient.

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