How To Journal The Right Way

I know this sounds like a topic that’s been exhausted. And I thought I knew everything there was to know about journaling. I mean, it’s paper and a writing utensil, what’s the big deal? However, I’ve been journaling my goddess booty off over the last few months, and I’ve come to learn a few things I was never aware of before. So, if you think you know how to journal the right way, if you’ve never journaled and think it’s silly, or if you are open to hearing what I have to say, then I think you’re gonna get something out of this post. So, let’s proceed…

1. Start Journaling As Soon As You Begin To Feel Icky Emotions

For most of us, when we start to feel icky emotions (anxiety, fear, shame, guilt, longing, insecurity, etc.), we often immediately start trying to find ways not to feel what we’re feeling. And that’s perfectly natural. No one wants to feel crappy feelings. They’re uncomfortable and often just make us feel miserable. And even more so, the thought of journaling in moments when we feel these feelings often feels like the LAST thing we want to do. Why would we want to lean into all of these feelings and feel them even more powerfully and acutely? No, Imma go fold some laundry, or eat cake, or watch TV, or phone a friend, or stand on my head. Anything not to feel what I’m feeling.

Little girl covering her eyes

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

However, if you start looking at your icky feelings like your little children, things start to shift a bit. Imagine you had a crying child across the room. Unless you’re incapable, chances are, you would feel utterly compelled to go over to the child and hold it, care for it, and try to comfort it. If you just ignore the child, the child will continue to cry. And if you ignore the child for even longer, the child will eventually stop crying. However, this child then begins to learn that his or her needs are not important, and feelings of unlovability and unworthiness become embedded in the child’s cells. This is for another blog post, but ultimately, neglect never helps anyone. And this is also the case when it comes to neglecting your emotions.

Opening your journal when you feel icky feelings is like saying, “Okay, I hear you, I’m here to take care of you, you are not alone, and we can figure this out together.” It ain’t always fun, but it’s the right thing to do. We must learn to parent ourselves, and we must let our emotions know that they are worthy and valuable.

2. Keep Writing Until You Feel Better

I should have begun this post by letting you know that I’m going through a difficult period in my life. And I have gone through many stints in life when I had no need to journal and felt okay without using this tool. However, during difficult times, journaling can be INVALUABLE to your healing and growth. And for those of you who like to journal even when you’re feeling dandy, that’s amazing!!

Journaling can often feel like a lost cause at first. I have had thoughts such as, “Why am I doing this? This isn’t helping me. This isn’t solving anything. The answers are not here.” However, I’ve also noticed that each time I journal and let myself absolutely dump, I do start to feel a bit lighter. At times, I need to take breaks between paragraphs. Often, my hand gets tired, and I ultimately run out of things to say. Then, minutes later, I have more thoughts come up and begin to write again. And after a time, perhaps after three or four pages of scribble, I actually feel like I’m IN A GOOD MOOD! It happened last night, actually.

Sometimes, we have layers and layers of gunk to uncover. And we don’t always get it out in the first, or second, or third pass. But whatever is coming up for you is coming up because it needs tending to. It needs to be heard, and seen, and thrown down on paper. It needs to know it matters. And sometimes there might be ten different icky crying monsters who all have something to say. So, just keep writing until each of them has had a chance to squawk. I promise, you will eventually feel better!

Layers of wheatpasted posters on a wall

Photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash

3. Take Your Journal Wherever You Go

I started doing this because I was finding that I had icky thoughts coming up throughout my day and I didn’t know what to do with them. And I do think if you continue to think of your icky thoughts as children, the same ideas apply. For instance, if the child needs food now, it needs food now. And if you wait 8 hours until you’re home from work, the damage is done in terms of neglect. When my icky feelings come up out of nowhere, they come up at that specific time for a reason. Something might trigger me during my day and it’s best to journal when the feelings are fresh. Otherwise, I am typically forced to stuff them back down where they came from in order to just cope with my present tasks. But this is not ideal, obviously. I have also found journaling to be such a comfort to me. Why hold all of your icky feelings inside for hours and hours when you can take 5 minutes to just dump and then move on with your day, lighter and brighter?

4. Savor The Experience And Trust The Process

I understand some people choose to “journal” using a keyboard, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just think that there’s something a bit more romantic about putting a pen to paper and letting it flow. And, as an artist, I do believe the physical act of combining raw materials (non-electronic gadgets) with our hands leads to greater and purer access to our subconscious thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

“…F. Scott Fitzgerald did it, as did Hemingway, Kafka and countless others, each of whom had access to either a typewriter or, later, a computer. They all chose to put pen to paper and see where it took them. This is perhaps the true magic of a pen: It transports us to unexpected places, on wings that require no more than a timely shot of ink to keep them aloft, destination unknown. And in the process, the mindfulness writing engenders encourages calm and creativity…”

“Three Ways That Handwriting With A Pen Positively Affects Your Brain” -Forbes

In order to savor the process, I recommend purchasing a journal with a pretty cover, or any journal that calls out to you, really. The one I have now is actually not very fancy, but I love it just the same. Whatever feels right for you. This journal is your friend, so make sure when you purchase one, it feels like YOU. Make sure you also use a pen you enjoy and not one that is smearing or always running out of ink. Turn your journaling practice into a sacred ritual and enjoy the beauty of your materials.

I have also been taking the time to go to a coffee shop, plop down with my thoughts and a semi-sugary latte, and just get into it. This kills two birds with one stone for me (gosh, is there another saying like this that doesn’t sound nearly as violent??!!). Going to write out in public gets me out of my isolation, out of my home, and surrounds me with other humans. Whether or not I choose to interact with any of them doesn’t really matter. But placing myself out in the world shifts my energy, moves things around, and opens things up. At the same time, even if I’m managing some icky emotions, I can still process them with my journal friend and reward myself with sugar and caffeine! It’s a win-win!

journaling with pen and paper over coffee

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

I hope you’ve gotten something out of this post and I would love to hear more about your journaling experiences. Do you DREAD journaling like I used to? What is your favorite way to journal? And have you found journaling to be helpful on your growth and healing journey? I look forward to hearing from you!


33 thoughts on “How To Journal The Right Way

  1. I appreciate the nice tips you’ve outlined so well. We’re lucky in the sense these days with the ubiquity of mobile devices, like smartphones, that it’s essentially like carrying our journal with us at all times. When I get inspired, I can just start adding notes to the Notes apps or have a draft post going in WordPress. I agree that writing it down right away helps!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I really related to this post! I don’t DO happy journaling; it’s all about exorcising the icky stuff. I have spent a lifetime learning to push those emotions as far to the back burner as I can reach, so that by the time I realize I need to start journaling (for HOURS: the computer is my ‘go to’), my inner child is generally sobbing hysterically in a corner. I love that image (!!!): picturing my icky emotions as my children: I could never just let a child cry. And like you, I always feel better after journaling and I always come up with a solution for feeling better long term. I’ll plan to listen to your podcast a little later today. Thank you so much for this! And thanks (so much!!!) to Wynne Leon for pointing me in your direction this morning 🙂💕🙏

    Liked by 3 people

  3. There IS something about ‘pen to paper’ for working out thoughts and feelings…times when my beloved keyboard is insufficient. Thanks for all of this Libby! I also love the reminder to use a pen that I enjoy — it’s a subtle thing that I hadn’t thought about much, but it does make a difference. It makes what I’m doing feel special/important. xo! 😘

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  4. Great post Libby! Love the suggestions that you offer, spot on! I tend to go through cycles where I journal a lot and then other periods where I don’t. My blog in many respects becomes my journal. Two questions for you. I find that my journals can at times become very negative, almost a run on-complaint. I think that’s good, it gives me a way of getting it out, but my gut tells me that that’s the reason why I don’t journal more regularly. I get into the habit of it being a complaint letter. Any thoughts. I can’t wait to listen to the podcast later today. Great job.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Brian, thanks so much for your honest share! And that makes sense why you avoid journaling if it becomes consistently negative feeling. And I agree it’s totally ok to be negative and dump even if it’s for like 10 pages. When I do that, I just try to end with a reframe. Like maybe dedicate the last paragraph to something hopeful (without all that forced happiness crap, it’s gotta be genuine). Or often if I’m in a REALLY bad place, I end with a prayer aka a plea for help. And literally end with like “help me please.” And when I close the journal that’s my way of saying, ok let’s see what kind of help comes for me now. What do you think?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. A big yes to journaling when “icky feelings” come up. I like how you compare them to children that need to be attended to 🙂 does make a difference to write it all down. Thanks for the reminder to pick up my pen and journal more often.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I love how you made the icky emotions into the image of a child. It is much easier to be compassionate with ourselves with that image. Who could turn their back on a distraught child? I haven’t done any journaling in a while but I will keep this in mind when I do. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That’s exactly what I related to in reading this post! I will totally ignore my feelings – but if I see them as a crying child, it changes everything! Great comment, Roze! And great post, Libby!! ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Reading your post I realise I have been doing it right. I thought since I wasn’t journalling/writing reflectively regularly and consistently, that I was failing. I now realise that its about doing it when you need to. I do have dedicated journals to dump in but I find ill write on whatever is to hand and sometimes I can be working on a blog post and I start exploring my emotions etc … so I agree about being ready to write whenever the need arises. If I have one concern it would be not recognising an emotion/that something is out of kilter until much later. I guess we need to learn to listen to and recognise our emotions too

    Looking forward to the blog when I gwt home

    Liked by 2 people

  8. These are some great observations and suggestions, Libby. Likening the emotions to a needy child is brilliant, and paints such a poignant image. My journaling habit had varied over the years. There are periods of time where I’m writing 10 times per day, and others where it goes untouched for months; sometimes the pages are filled with inspiration, and other times the ickiness. Like you, I find something powerful in putting pen to paper and just spilling out whatever is on my mind, even if the words are completely illegible. It can so cathartic. Looking forward to hearing you on the podcast later!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This was an interesting read. I can see the constructiveness of journaling your feelings, especially if someone is working through issues or life changes. This was well put together for sure!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Hear hear! Journaling is a p-o-w-e-r-f-ul practice. It’s washing the gunk off the windows of the soul to allow the sun to shine in. Meanwhile, how about “Feeding two birds with one cracker”?

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve gotten away from the idea of journaling but know at one point in my life it helped me make sense of my life. I don’t know that I’m much clearer now, but do think that writing a personal blog is in many ways a substitute for journaling albeit a more public one. For better or worse!

    Liked by 1 person

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