Who Are You? 3 Journal Prompts for Exploring Yourself

Humans have many facets. This does not mean one is necessarily deceptive; it just means that we wear ourselves like clothes- often rearranging ourselves for that which is appropriate for the setting.

With this in mind, here are 3 journal prompts to explore three of our facets.

  • Who are you in private?
  • Who are you with those closest to you?
  • Who are you in public?

Remember to be gentle with yourself as you explore.



What Comes to Mind When You Hear the Word “Journal?”

When you hear or read the word “journal” or “journal writer,” what comes to mind?

What about the word “diary” or “diarist?”

After reading an undergraduate describe resistance to journaling because of the image of a journal writer that they had in mind, I was intrigued.

The author’s preconceived notion was that the word “journal” or “journal writer” was associated with people who share carefully-curated pictures online of a life that seems to be without problems. A journal writer, to the author, is a kind of new hippie health enthusiast who eats granola and shares gratitude platitudes from their journal.

Although many people enjoy granola, in the U.S. referencing this food is sometimes used as a pejorative to describe someone who is out of the ordinary, but also someone who maintains their health. To this student, journaling was part of a lifestyle brand that no one can maintain.

The student found a way around her prejudice and admits that journaling has helped maintain mental health in tough times.

The article caused me to pause and ask questions.

  • What else can prevent a person from trying to journal?
  • What ideas come to mind when you think of journaling?
  • Where did this idea come from?
  • Could you journal about your notions of journaling?
  • Could one investigate the origins of why one resists journaling?
  • What preconceived notions do we have that prevent us from journaling or trying something new?

One preconceived notion that yours truly had (and I did not realize this until reading the article) was that when people think of journaling, they think as I do, that is, of famous people and their books that we are taught from a young age to revere. I was, I now realize, taught to hold in high esteem presidents (and thus, their diaries), monarchs and their personal books, and the diaries of people escaping tragedies that become best selling books. I was also taught to revere fictional characters with journals.

Journal writing examples are from generations past, I thought. Today, that might not be the case. For a younger person, a peer online is just as likely to influence a person to write in a journal as some august figure from the past. Or, in the case of that article writer, a peer online is just as likely to repulse a person and make the writing practice undesirable if it seem unattainable.

This is a new wrinkle for yours truly to contemplate as I try to discover how best to help and inspire people with their personal books.

What preconceived notions prevent you from journaling? What can you do about it?



On Journaling: Use What You Have (Story Time #2)

Sometimes a person has been fed the lie that a narrow set of features equates to the perfect or proper journal. Depending on where you live or how you were brought up, that could mean that you do not feel that you are journal writing properly until it is a leather bound volume, or until you are writing with a restored fountain pen from 1932.

Although these features can feel great to some, understand that the right journal is the one that suits your purpose. Sometimes the right journal is the one that you have right now.

Taking a look at the first journal that I still possess, it is not what would be considered a proper journal in the circles in which I swam as a child. The journal, or diary as I called it, came from a kiddie casino named for a clothed rat mascot called Chuck E. Cheese. The place offered arcade games with prizes. Apparently, I had won a palm sized notebook featuring on the cover a cartoon character from the line of Chuck’s friends – an anthropomorphic hound named Jasper.

Above the character’s head is his name. My 8-year-old self drew a line or two through that word and scrawled the word “Diary” under it. My first bound personal book was born.

In writing the word “Diary,” in repurposing the bound pages, a life-long habit – which had already begun on scraps of paper long since lost- was solidified.

The point is to start where you are with what you have. Figure out your preferences as you go along, when you can, but start with what you have for right now.



Pick Up the Habit of Journaling Again

When one no longer journals, picking up the habit again might become a challenge for some, depending on what has stopped the habit in the first place.

Perhaps life’s many trials and distractions have gotten in the way and you have lost your habit of writing in the journal. Give yourself grace. Also give yourself regular journal prompts to prime the pump. Place your journal in a place convenient for your schedule and your life.

Perhaps the last time you journaled was for an assignment in school many years ago and you would like to try it again. Consider my article on Journal Writing Suggestions to get you started.

Perhaps you have become bored with the writing task. Mix it up a little. Have you tried various elements of a journal to include in your personal book such as art, ephemera, photos, an index? Read the article on Elements of a Journal to Consider.

Perhaps you don’t know where to start again. The previous journal was fine, but you have moved on in life. A journal can be many things. Visit my article on the Types of Journals to Consider. It is possible that the reason you originally started journaling no longer fits your life today. It might be time to find a new reason, and perhaps a new format.

Perhaps someone read your journal without permission and you, understandably, walked away from the practice of journaling. Someone reading your journal without permission is a betrayal best helped by a therapist who can help you reclaim your private space, your personal book.

Perhaps you no longer see the purpose of a journal. Before you give up, read this article on What If I Have No Purpose for a Journal? In it, I give suggestions on how to discover the purpose of your journal.

Whatever your journey, I wish you well in saying hello again to your old friend. Your journal awaits.



To Preserve Your Journal,Use the 3-2-1 Archiving Concept

If you want your journal to stick around for a while, you might try the 3-2-1 preservation concept.

The 3-2-1 Preservation Concept:
Possess at least 3 copies
In at least 2 formats
At least 1 is far away from the others.

Purpose: To mitigate the risk of losing information by diversifying.

Example: 3 Copies – If you have a physical journal, this is copy #1. Digitally scan your journal to your hard drive; this is copy #2. Upload the scans to a cloud; this is copy #3.
At least 2 Formats – The physical journal and digital scans
At least 1 copy elsewhere – The scans in the cloud are not in the house with the hard drive nor with the physical journal.



Restoring a Chateau with Journals (Journal Writers #3)

Journals can help the next generation to understand the past.

A Youtuber is currently renovating a chateau which was previously owned by a millionaire but never lived in until children during World War II needed a safe space to live for the duration of the conflict.

It is during that time of waiting that more than one occupant would write in a diary or journal, describing the building.

The building has since partially burned down. A Youtuber has purchased the estate and uses the diaries to understand what each room looked like and where every room might have been.

Often one believes that a diary or journal is mundane or not worth bothering. Actually, your journal might be of great importance to a future person who wants to understand the past.

View Dan’s discussion of a diary as he cleans out a chateau basement on his channel Escape to Rural France: https://youtu.be/cJwUNUJMnBU



Redeeming Your Time With an Unwanted Journal

We have discussed before that a journal exists to help you; it is not your master. Think of your journal as a non-judgmental friend who exists to help.

At times, you might procure a journal that does not fit your goals. At that point, it is useful to think of the journal as sunk cost. Be grateful for your time with it, but move away from it.

It is also a good reminder not to believe that all is lost. You did not completely waste your time. You learned something from the encounter with the journal. To redeem your time with it, look for the lesson with the unwanted journal.

For example, I had journaled for years with just words, no doodles, no ephemera. What I had not realized is that deep down I had cordoned myself off into the identity of writer and felt that adding ephemera was to become a scrapbooker, which was an identity that did not seem to fit. I also rarely used guided journals or prompts from other people as I always have something to write, rarely at a loss for words for a private book.

On a whim, I decided to so something different and purchased the guided book titled Wreck This Journal. Unfortunately, the book asked its user to do activities that did not make sense to me and made me uncomfortable, such as grinding dirt into the pages. I did not finish it.

However, as I mentioned in my review of Wreck This Journal, it was not a waste of time. What came from that experience was a loosening of my reticence to add mixed media to the journal. After being told to do extreme things to a journal, the idea of merely adding photos, or tickets -something meaningful to the story I was writing- did not seem intrusive or out of place. In fact, the objects enhanced the story.

The lesson from the encounter with the journal that I never finished was to expand my idea of a journal beyond the way I had always done it. It helped me to become comfortable with an expanded view of journaling and an expanded view of my identity within the journal writing space.

What lessons have you learned from your unwanted or useless journal? In what way can you redeem the time that you have spent with an unwanted journal?


Diaries to Read, Part 1 (Available Online)

It is useful at times to read published diaries and get a feel for why and how others have taken up the pen. Some have written with the expectation of readers, others not so much. The common denominator is that these are diaries which are in the public domain and available to read for free online. Enjoy.

Emilie Davis (1839-1889) – A civilian’s diary during the U.S. Civil War. Emilie Davis was free African American woman living in Philadelphia while writing in the diary. It was a pocket diary with a few blank lines for every day. Pennsylvania State University houses the digital scans.

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) During the plague in London in 1665, the author who would later write Robinson Crusoe kept a diary of the horrors he witnessed, later publishing the sensational journal. A Journal of the Plague Year is available at Project Gutenberg as a transcription of the original journal.

Isabelle Eberhardt (1877-1904) – A Swiss-Russian traveler who explored the Sahara was a prolific writer and diarist. Eberhardt at times disguised herself as a man to be able to travel with little incident. Her surviving diary entries were compiled and published in a book titled, Isabelle Eberhardt, ou, la Bonne nomade: d’après des documents inédits. The English title is The Nomad: The Diaries of Isabelle Eberhardt. This diary is available online at Project Gutenberg in French. For a translation, you will need to purchase the book wherever books are sold.

Matthew Henson (1866-1955) In the autobiography of Matthew Henson called A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, the author weaves his personal history with his diary entries from the last expedition of the Peary Arctic Club. They give context to who he is and what the group set out to explore. You can find it at Project Gutenberg and Google Books.

Samuel Pepys (1633-1703)The diaries of Pepys are online as a personal project of a tech enthusiast in Herefordshire named Phil Gyford. They are a transcription of the diaries rather than a digital scan. Pepys was a young civil servant in London starting his diary in 1660 and stopping a decade later. You will find ruminations of his daily schedule.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) Digital scans of diaries from U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s collection are available at the Roosevelt Center. You can see his diary from the age of 9, his teen years, his diaries during law school, and as a member of the New York State Assembly, as president, training for war, travel diaries, etc.

Robert Scott (1868-1912) – Captain Robert Scott let British Antarctic expeditions -the Discovery (1901–1904) and Terra Nova (1910–1913). The Terra Nova Antarctic Diaries are available at the British Library to read online. The diaries, “document all aspects of the expedition, including: · the voyage · establishment of the winter base · scientific work · sledging expeditions,” according to the British Library. Interestingly, Scott “wrote most of his entries sequentially on one side of the page, leaving the other side blank,” says the British Library. “In some instances he later used the blank pages to write further entries, reversing the diary and writing from the back of the volume forwards. These entries appear upside down in the original volumes,” they continue. The website allows you to rotate the diary so that one does not need to read it upside down; they also have a transcription in san serif typeface for easier reading.



Elements of a Journal to Consider

The contents of your personal book can vary with your purpose for journaling. No two writers or purposes are exactly the same.

Still, here are a few elements to consider using in your journal, if you do not already. Take what works for you and toss the remainder.


We have discussed different Types of Journals to Consider. In that essay, we mentioned the art journal and the commonplace book, among other types of journals with drawings or art in them.

Many set aside an entire journal for painting, sketching, etc. However, for this section we are considering art as an accessory to the words. Some will create a drawing of, say, the location where they are writing – a cafe, a train station – and incorporate prose in the left over spaces.

For those of use who are strictly writers and not artists, drawing in a journal might feel intimidating or forbidden. (Or even embarrassing because we are not Picasso.) We can join the fun as well. We can doodle. We can affix an image to a journal page and write about it. It would take exploring a new type of guided journal before yours truly felt comfortable drawing in a journal, but give it a try. It enhances the book, adds another layer, and catches the eye upon re-reading.


Adding a date to your entry can be useful, especially for those of us who re-read our journals or expect someone else to read them someday (such as with heirloom journals). The date dredges up lots of memories that the rest of the content does not. Dates give context and enrich the content.

Date Headers

Now that we have established that adding a date might be useful, let’s go one step farther. Date headers are an embellishment of the date on the page that can help your eyes see the start of your day’s entry with the greatest of ease. For example, drawing a box around the date might arrest your eye quickly. This is especially useful if you write more than one day’s journal entry on a page.

You can be even more creative than that and draw banners around the date or chevrons. The sky is the limit. We have discussed this before with examples here: Date Headers for Your Journals


In the back of your journal, you can preserve the last page or two for the index of your new journal. In alphabetical order, write a few topics that you think might come up in the journal, leaving space in between for other topics that will come to you later. You can mark the index with the topic and page number (or some use Topic + Date). Alternatively, you can leave the index blank until you have an entry.

After you write an entry, think about what topic or topics it represents and note that day’s entry in your index. For example, you have written about your birthday at a water-based theme park. This entry might be placed under “T” for “Theme Parks” and/or under “B” for “Birthdays.” Choose the topic you are most likely to look for to re-read the journal.

Note that some journals come with an alphabetized space for indexing, which can save you time.

If you have already completed journals and would like to do this, consider using the end papers to create an index.

Also note that digital journals solve this problem with the ability to keyword search.

Page Numbers

Page numbers are another wonderful addition if you plan to re-read your journal. They work well in concert with indexing and with tables of content.

Some journal writers write the page numbers on every page before writing an entry. Others do it afterwards or as they go along.

The top corner on the outer edge, near the fore edge of each page, is an eye-catching spot to place the page numbers. In any case, it is helpful to put them in the same or similar spot on each page for ease of finding them when you re-read. Use your pen to write them or use number stickers to make it even more noticeable among the handwriting.

Some journals are pre-printed with page numbers, which can save you the trouble of having to write them yourself.

Place/ Setting

Noting where you are when writing is another element of context that can enrich the journal if you plan to re-read the book. Doubly so, if you draw the place or take a picture of it and affix it to the journal.

For example, you penned an entry about feeling exhausted and tired; you decided to rest all day. You jotted down the place – Asbury Lake. Now, when you re-read that entry, you realize that you traveled 30 miles to get away from whatever stressed you. You allowed the quiet of the lake (with noisy, greedy geese) to help you to heal.

By noting the place and how it helped, this activity can be replicated some day if needed.

Special Spaces

People who use Bullet Journals sometimes add a special space to their personal book that they want to highlight regularly. Among the to-do lists and errands (for that is what a Bullet Journal is – a hand-drawn planner and calendar with bullet points), one might draw a square in the middle of the page called a “Gratitude Box,” forcing oneself to write at least one thing per day for which to be grateful.

Think about a theme that you might want to highlight each time you write and consider giving it a special space, perhaps even a header.

Table of Contents

A table of contents for your journal is another way to help you re-read your personal book. In fact, a table of contents can save you time in re-reading the journal since it is a summary of what you have written.

You set up the table of contents as any published book might do it – at the beginning of the journal. You preserve one or two pages in the front of a new journal. After you write your journal entry for the day, you can summarize that entry with a title or a word or two. Place that title (and preferable the date or page number) on the first page of the table of contents. Rinse and repeat.

Some journals come with pre-printed spaces for your table of contents, saving you the time of having to create the space yourself.

For completed journals that have no table of contents , you might consider using the end paper of your journal for the task.

Ultimately, your journal is your own and it works to serve your purpose. It is our job to Make Progress, Not Perfection, so fiddle around with how you organize your personal book and have fun with the journey.



Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages (Journaling Exercise)

Author and creativity expert Julia Cameron espouses what she calls “Morning Pages” to help “provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand.”

What are Morning Pages?

It is a style of journaling wherein you produce three pages of longhand writing about anything at the beginning of your day. You can even say something to the effect of, “I have no idea what to write.” Just write whatever is on your mind for three pages.

What is the point of this? Why in the morning?

Cameron says it has been her experience that writing sweeps away the cobwebs of negativity. “What they do,” Cameron says of Morning Pages, “is clear your mind.’

According to Cameron, it is best to write down what you think at the beginning of your day. That way, you have captured the idea before other obligations take over your time.

Thus, if you work a night shift and you wake up at 6pm because your work day starts at 8pm, then your pages should be done sometime after 6pm. It is not an exercise elusively when the sun rises; it is really a Start-of-Your-Day exercise, whenever that might be.

“What I find is when you put the negativity on the page,” she says, ” it isn’t eddying through your consciousness during the day.” This exercise frees you to appreciate the little miracles and other good things during the day.


Cameron gives a few tips on her website Julia Cameron Live – “A lot of people think [Morning Pages] should be artful. I say ‘No! They should be whiny, petty, grumpy – whatever you happen to be.'”

Further encouraging the practice, she says, “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages– they are not high art. They are not even ‘writing.’ They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only.”

What do you think of Morning Pages? Have you tried them? Do you have your own version of Morning Pages?



Journal Writing When Exhausted (Inspirational Quotes)

As with anything, there comes a time when you are tired and might not wish to journal.

Only you can decide whether to give in to the impulse and not write for the day or barrel through and do it anyway. Either way, learn to be gentle with yourself.

In the meantime, here are a few quotes that might help you to pick up your will to soldier on and write.

“Start before you’re ready.”

– Steven Pressfield

“Pages [a type of journaling] clarify our yearnings. They keep an eye on our goals. They may provoke us, coax us, comfort us, even cajole us, as well as prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. If we are drifting, the pages will point that out.” —Julia Cameron

“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”

– Jack London

“Let’s end the notion that ideas have no value unless they turn into a business or have some other practical use. Save them all in a beautiful book like Leonardo did. ”
— Barbara Sher

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
— Flannery O’Connor

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

– Margaret Atwood

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I wish you peace in the midst of whatever is exhausting you.


Book Store Serendipity (Story Time #1)


Enjoy the journey of finding the proper journal for your needs. I currently use a certain brand that has worked for the needs of my main journal for the last few years. I do not anticipate moving on from them.

However, in earlier days, I would randomly search the shelves of a book store or two for a new diary. I still do, from time to time, to see what is available.

I recall once spotting a journal on the shelves of an independent bookstore during my university days. It had a magnetic closure. 7 inches by 9 inches – just wide enough for my hand to fit inside and rest on the pages as I would write. It sported pastel, horizontal stripes.

It had a name – Tribeca by Peter Pauper Press. The stripes were to mimic the awnings in New York City’s Tribeca area. How charming.

However, the stripes reminded me of a skirt that Pier Angeli wears in a photo shoot with Vic Damone in the 1950s. She wears a dark blue turtleneck, black belt, an a-line, tea length skirt with light blue, white, and black horizontal stripes. Old Hollywood reminds me of my childhood when we would watch such people play around on the screen at home and marvel at the talent.

Thus, every time that I would write in the Tribeca journal was a pleasure. To this day, long after I have filled its pages to the brim with thoughts and ramblings, I still smile when I see it in my collection.

There is something wonderful about the serendipity of finding a journal. Take a journey through a store and see the many different choices that await you. You might find one you like or inexplicably love.



More of Deborah’s Personal Journaling Story Time

Holiday Journal Prompts

Holidays can be a sensitive topic for many people. A journal can be the perfect place to download your feelings and attain a bit of relief from a stressful time. Conversely, if you enjoy festive seasons, journal writing is the perfect time to remember as much as you can about the day or days that you celebrated.

Here are a few prompts to get you started.

Journal Prompts for Holidays

  1. Recall your earliest memory of the holiday or festivities.
  2. Do you have related ephemera that you can attach to the journal? e.g. A photo, a concert ticket, a leaf from a long walk?
  3. Do you have a favorite part of the holiday? Is your favorite part when it is all over? Write that down.
  4. Where were you during the holidays?
  5. If you celebrate with others, who attended the festivities?
  6. If you celebrate with others, what excites you about the gathering?
  7. If you celebrate with others, what could be improved in the gathering?
  8. If you celebrate with others, what is it about this gathering that induces you to attend?
  9. Was there travel involved? Describe the trip. Was it fun? Why? Why not?

I wish you peace,


Harvesting from Your Journals

If you write for the public, if you are a novelist, screenwriter, blogger, etc., your journals might be a source of inspiration. You might be able to harvest from them.

Let’s say you are a Young Adult novelist. Could your diaries from the age range of your reader help to get you into the mindset of your characters? Could some of the problems of youth become the main conflict for your protagonist? Would reading your older diaries at least get you in the mood for writing for this age range?

How can your private journals help you to write for the public?



Use the Acronym G.L.A.D. as a Daily Journal Prompt

Perhaps you can use a regular set of prompts for your journal. I like to use the acronym G.L.A.D. as headings for some of my daily writing. I grabbed this prompt from somewhere on the internet years ago. This article from Norton Healthcare is the closest I have come to finding its origin: Try the GLAD technique to foster gratitude and push out negativity

Here is my way of doing this popular journal prompt technique.

G is for Gratitude. I write a sentence about that for which I am grateful. This gets me out of any sour mood that I might have when I realize that life isn’t as bad I think. Or perhaps it IS as terrible as I think, but there is still a rainbow in the clouds. I like looking back on this section of my diary whenever I feel gloomy. This is a challenging one as I want to be able to look back on more than just “I am grateful to be alive.” I force myself to dig deeper for gratitude, to be specific, for my future self.

L is for Lesson. I have to write down a lesson learned for the day. That is actually difficult for me. However, in anticipation of this part of the journal, I make sure to learn something during the day to incorporate into this section.

A is for Accomplishment. What did I achieve today? Even if the achievement is that I hopped out of bed when I did not feel like it, or that I have been consistent in some goal, I write it down. It does not have to be an epic accomplishment every day.

D is for Delight. For some reason the idea of delight means to me to remember your day as if you were a child. What would have been awe-inspiring to your younger self? When I think of the answer to that question, somewhere in there, around the corner is a sense of delight for me. You may interpret the word “Delight” in any way you choose. It is just another way to appreciate your day.

From G.L.A.D. to G.L.A.A.D.E.- an Expansion

This week, I have expanded G.L.A.D. to G.L.A.A.D.E. which is not nearly as pithy and catchy, but it helps me to remember what I want to write about. I have added an A and an E to expand what I want to write about every day.

G is for Gratitude

L is for Lesson

A is for Accomplishment (Today)

A is for Accomplishment (Expected Tomorrow). This is to remind me to plan more.

D is for Delight

E is for Encourage Yourself. Give yourself a pep talk. Say things such as,”I know this day did not end the way you wanted, but you have weathered this before and you can do it again.”

Hopefully this can be of use to someone.



A Filmmaker’s Diary: Orson Welles Talks about the Friend Who Used a Diary to Think Through the Film Version of Othello (Journal Writers #2)

Filmmaker and raconteur Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) made a film version of Othello with a friend who kept a diary of the entire process and published the diary in 1952. The book is called Put Money in Thy Purse: The Diary of the Film of Othello by Micheál Mac Liammóir, for which Welles has written the Forward.

In the Forward, Welles, in his cheeky humor, eviscerates anyone who would keep a diary, calling such a habit one’s “darkest secret.” Welles notes that his friend is a wonderful person who lavishes the atmosphere with “pleasant oils and balms of good humor.” However, the “addiction to diaries” is a vice, he says, like any other, which leads to bad character, such as being “an incurable snoop,” a vice to which Welles himself confesses. Knowing the habits of your friends, and possibly writing them down, keeps one’s friends ever dependent on your kindness to jot them down in a pleasant light.

All the mock horror aside, I do enjoy that Welles describes a diarist as one who has “arranged a sort of rendezvous with posterity.” What a lovely thought! You and I who write in diaries, journals, logs, or whatever you want to call them, are meeting with those in the future, if we so choose to leave our diaries behind to be read, giving them a weight and importance that the banality of everyday life often shrouds. Just a thought.



Continue Writing Even If It Is Terrible

Julia Cameron – author of The Artist’s Wayhas a blog post from January 2018 which resonated with me a bit. It is titled,”The Wall.”

The author says that when writers cannot think of anything to write – hitting the wall- they try to force optimism into the scenario, or we doubt our own creativity. This does not work towards reaching your goals. Instead, she says the following:

“…there is a better way to conquer The Wall, and that is to surrender. Instead of trying to convince ourselves of the brilliance of our idea, we need to say instead, ‘I am willing to finish this piece of work even if my idea is terrible.’ In other words, ‘I am willing to write badly.’

The moment we are willing to write badly, we begin to have freedom.”

Imperfection is one of the toughest things to accept in your writing. It has kept many from journal writing again or from ever starting in the first place. I have heard many people state that they did not like the way in which they write; it is not like the published books that they read all the time, so they do not want to come face-to-face with unedited writing.

Does your journal consist of a wall of text? That’s OK. It’s not beautiful, but functional. Is your attempt at an art journal laughably rudimentary? That’s OK. It is fun to do. Sometimes we are our own worst critic which is keeping us from the fun of journal writing. As we keep going, day by day, at some point we reach a journal writing habit which helps to ignore what we have deemed as imperfections, and we just get on with it.

Keep going.

Have you ever hit The Wall in journal writing? What did you do about it?



Your 5 Senses as Journal Prompts

Here’s one way to journal if

… you have not yet started

…do not know what to say

… would like to recall a moment more vividly later

…or have not journaled in a long time and need a boost.

Use your senses!

Ask yourself the following:

  1. What do I see right now?
  2. What scent or scents do I smell right now?
  3. What do I hear?
  4. What do I taste right now?
  5. What texture is in contact with my body? Or what does my body feel right now?

It has been my experience that when you are this detailed, you remember the moment better. I do this prompt at funerals when I want to remember not only who was there, but the texture of the pew, the smell of someone’s perfume as they hug me, etc.

Truth be told, the taste one is usually the one I have to stretch to find. I am not usually eating and journaling simultaneously. I often end up describing the taste of toothpaste,but that is ok. It is the truth. Tailor the prompts to fit your reality and your world.

I bid you peace,


Image as Journal Prompt

Use an image as a journal prompt.

It can be a personal image or one you randomly find online or in a print publication. Allow the image to evoke an idea or a memory.

If it is a personal photo, who is in the picture? Where are they? Let yourself tell the story of what led to this moment in the photo, or what happened after. Or perhaps, you can use the personal photo to write details about an individual that you know.

If the image is not personal to you, such as an image from a magazine, you can still use it as a journal prompt. You can recount why you selected that image, where it comes from, what it reminds you of, how it inspires you (or not).



Journal Writing Suggestions

This is a letter which I sent to an acquaintance -Mr. X- who asked for journal writing suggestions. Two decades have passed since Mr. X has written in a journal. He wanted to start again and asked if I had any tips.

I did.

What follows is my answer to him, reprinted with permission and with a few edits for clarity. Hopefully, this might prove useful to others.


Hi Mr. X,

Via text you asked for journal writing suggestions. I started thinking of everything I wanted to say and it was too much for a text message over the phone, so I’m writing in a longer form. Here are journal writing suggestions that I hope will be useful. (By the way, my mother always says this about taking advice: glean what works for you, and then toss the rest.)

Here we go:

  1. There is no right or wrong way to write in your journal. Your journal is neither an exam nor a measure of your worth. Some beginners become obsessed with doing it “right,” choosing the “perfect” pen, not making mistakes, etc., to the point of paralysis or negative thoughts about themselves. You are not being judged or graded. This book exists to serve you.
  2. Understand your purpose for the journal.
    • Knowing why you journal helps to choose your format. If you journal for future generations 100 years from now to understand what life is like for you in 2017, then you might choose a leather journal or a digital journal -something long-lasting- as opposed to a paperback sketchbook.
    • Knowing why you journal helps to choose how frequently you should journal. I write every day because I would like to look back on what I was doing a year ago today and see my progress (or lack of it). Other people only write on vacation, because those trips are important to them. They do not need to write 365 days a year.
    • Knowing why you journal will come in handy on the rare days when you do not feel like doing it. Your “why” can be your motivation through writer’s block.
  3. Here are a few reasons that people journal:
  • Some use a journal to record a history of their lives for the next generation. I call these heirloom journals.
  • Some use it to think through an issue, e.g. Sometimes I don’t know everything I think about a subject until I write it all down.
  • Many use a journal for personal development, to establish goals for the kind of person they would like to become, the kind of life they would like to have, etc.
  • Others use journals to vent frustrations.
  • Others keep interesting quotes in their journal so that it becomes an inspirational reference book.
  • Some record their progress– physical, mental, academic. E.g. One guy uses it to record his daily diet and exercise regime. He can refer to an entry from 10 years ago to sculpt his body the way that he did in the past.
  • Some use journals for specific events – e.g. They buy a new journal to record their thoughts during the first few months of their newborn’s life; they sometimes include photos.
  • Many people use journaling just to find a home for the thoughts which ricochet inside their minds all day. e.g. Leonardo DaVinci used his notebooks to sketch many things that would not be invented for centuries, including the military tank.


  1. Choose a format which works for your purpose.
    • There are traditional paper journals, which I use often. Paper journals are good for slowing down and thinking through an idea. They are also great for heirloom journals, since your heirs can hold the same book that their ancestors touched.
    • There are digital journals –online and offline- such as the ONE DAY journal app for Apple products, or the JOURNEY journal app for Android phones. Digital journal apps are the best for searching through your old entries, creating tags so that you can re-read all journal entries that are under one category.
    • You might type your journal on a WORD document on a password-protected flash drive or external hard drive, so that it’s offline and private.
    • There are audio journals. In those moments when I do not want to write, I use the voice recorder on my phone to talk through an idea.
    • There are video journals. You can record yourself using your camera phone, a point-and-shoot or a DSLR set up.
    • An entrepreneur named Roberto Blake uses social media apps, like Instagram, as a public journal to record his life visually, to recall where he was, geographically and psychologically, on that day.


You can choose one of these formats or use a combination. It all goes back to your purpose for doing this, your lifestyle, and personality.

  1. There are different formats for organizing the contents of journals. Here are a few types:
    • A log. In a log, you talk about what you’ve done today or during the week.
    • Self-Improvement Journals. Usually you are hashing through what you’ve done, how can it be improved, what you’re going to do moving forward.
    • Art journals. These tend to have fewer words and more images. An art therapist from Australia, Jade Herriman, says that art journaling is therapeutic and helps you to develop a creative mind.
    • Bullet journals. These are mostly custom-tailored to-do lists more than traditional journals. Visit Boho Berry for bullet journaling tutorials.
    • Commonplace books. These feature inspirational quotes or images that you have come across.

It’s best to make a combination that you prefer.

  1. It is helpful to have your form of journaling handy. I keep my paper journal nearby because I write at random times of the day, whether at home or away from home. Other people write at a set hour and at a certain desk, so they keep the book on that desk, ready to go for when they want to jot down an idea.
  2. On the days when you do not feel like writing, or when you would like inspiration, you might discover how other journal writers write.
    • I have written a blog post on Tim Ferriss and a journal process that takes only about 5 minutes to write every day. Here’s a link to “How to Write a 5-Minute Journal.”
    • Clark Kegley, a Youtuber, started journaling in 2013, I believe, for personal development and sharing what he has learned on his channel. Kegley uses only one journal per year. He suggests that you divide the journal into different subjects like a school notebook, e.g. He might section off 30 pages for each subject – 30 pages reserved for inspirational quotes, another 30 for ranting, another 30 pages for his goals, etc. He can go back and forth between the different sections throughout the year as he deems necessary.

Here’s a link to one of his many videos about journal writing called 4 Questions to Upgrade Your Journal: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIqMzigWx04 (The four questions are also in the description box below the video if you don’t have time to watch the whole thing.)


Here’s another Kegley video that you might find useful, he takes you through how he sets up his journal in The Ultimate Guide to Keeping a Journal. (It’s not really the ultimate guide, there is no ultimate guide; it’s just Kegley’s way of journaling.) The talk starts at the 7min 12sec mark; this is a deep link to that part: https://youtu.be/kcNz4AE1FiI?t=7m12s

    1. Austin Kleon has a blog post about journaling called, ”On Keeping a logbook.” Here is the link: https://austinkleon.com/2010/01/31/logbook/

Basically, he explains that his journal is a list of 4 or 5 things he has done that day, with a few doodles. I’ve noticed that calling it a list instead of a journal seems to help many people to write more often.

Here is an image of what Kleon’s journal looks like:


Ultimately, the journal is for you and your purposes. After a while, journal writing becomes a habit. Journal writing can become something as useful to you psychologically as eating or drinking water is for you physically.

Always remember, however, if you decide to walk away from it, that’s fine too; it’s your life. (Plus, you can always pick it up again, if you wish.)


Deborah M. Thomas

What are some of your journaling suggestions? Let me know.

Use Your Journal to Improve Language Skills

The premiere Korean language company- Talk to Me in Korean- suggests one thing to do to improve the study of Korean- use a journal. This can be applied to learning any language.

They suggest that you write every day in your journal using the language skills that you wish to improve. Use subject matter that is meaningful and important to you and you are more likely to continue the practice. For instance, if you enjoy writing about family or a friends, that is what you write about in the language that you are learning.

Watch the video where a Talk to Me in Korean host explains the method on Youtube: Do This One Thing to Keep Improving Your Korean.




Addressing the YOU of five years ago in your journal

The leader of a Facebook group recently asked a question similar to the following, a question which might be a great journal prompt:

What have you accomplished which would have impressed YOU five years ago?

That’s a mouthful.

This prompt is meant to help you understand the progress you have made in life.  Have you done something that five years ago you didn’t expect to have done? Have you accomplished something that, five years ago, seemed out of reach? Have you altered your life in ways that you had not even considered back then?

Contemplate it and record your answers.

This prompt can also be used to get your ideas flowing for what’s next. What might impress you in the next five years?



Social Media = Public Journals

Ten years ago I would give away paper journals to relatives and friends, hoping they would join me in recording their lives. They often did not take me up on the offer.

Enter the touchscreen phone/smartphone, the tablet, etc. Now they record their lives in more ways than I do, through Facebook, Snapchat, and other applications online.

There are many different ways to journal now, even if people do not call it by that name. I still love my paper journal the best, but I am thrilled that so many people are finding the way that suits them to record their endeavors.

I recently came across a video by online entrepreneur Roberto Blake called, “I’m No Instagram Model, But…”. In it, Blake notes that he had not found a way to use the photo app Instagram in a way that fits his personality. Then, he says,

“I decided to turn Instagram into a public journal where I can express what I’m thinking and feeling as a creative person, as a human. And so I can look back on that myself and know exactly when I felt something, where I was at that time – both geographically at the time and just where I was in my own head.”

He’s journaling on social media! But then again, so are most individuals who are on the app. He’s one of the first people that I’ve heard use the word “journal” to describe what he’s doing with it.

Recording your life and thoughts can be done; sometimes  it’s a matter of finding the tools that work for you and your life. Perhaps the journaling tool that best fits your life has not yet been invented. (Perhaps you should invent it.)



Templates Create Efficiency in Your Journal’s To-Do List

If your journal also houses your to-do list, then efficiency in creating those lists is necessary to get the job done.

One of the biggest culprits of to-do list failure, of not achieving the goal, is the tedium of having to write and rewrite your list on tasks to complete on a regular basis. Delay writing burnout by creating templates.

If you know that you will create a to-do list every day or every week in your journal, it might be a good idea to type a list template that you can print and affix to your paper journal.e.g. If you have a weekly to-do list for the foreseeable future that has as its focus Housing goals, Blogging goals, and Financial goals, then type those headings in a simple table, leaving blanks for you to write in the specific goal each week.

If you are using a digital journal for your list, create a to-do list template that you can copy and paste every day or every week.

Continue tweaking your journal and your lists until it fits your life. Pay attention to what fatigues you about your writing and what brings you  a sense of well-being.

And remember that what worked for you in a different phase of life might need to be tweaked for your current phase of life.




Which Pen Should You Use for Journal Writing?

Use the writing implement or medium that works for you and your journal. If a Visconti Rembrandt fountain pen makes you eager to write, go for that investment. If a store brand pen which you can buy in packs of 50 gets your creative juices flowing (because you’re not worried about someone “borrowing” it), then use that inexpensive pen.

Sometimes you’re not even using a writing implement. There may be times when you  glue an image to a page to speak for your mood instead of words.

The pen (or other medium) you should use for the journal is the one that serves you.