There’s something very therapeutic about putting a pen to paper and letting our truths out on the page.
For me, it’s the actual act of writing that helps to clear my mind. For others, it may be the discovery process that journaling allows one to do, or the structure it provides for wandering thoughts.
But getting started can be overwhelming. Where do you start? How do you start? A blank page is intimidating, but having a few easy journal topics on hand can ease that.
If you’re new to journaling, you should know a few things:
- First, there is no right or wrong way to do it
- Second, it can be really beneficial for your health
How many things are actually healthy and have so much flexibility?
Studies in the early 2000s found that expressive writing, the more scientific term for journaling, can have positive effects on improving memory and helps ward off intrusive thoughts from traumatic events. Newer studies have also shown that journaling reduces general anxiety and may improve sleep.
Ready to start journaling? Here are a few journal topics to get you going on the right foot.
Write down your goals
This is an obvious place to start, since we all have goals. Even if you don’t think you have concrete goals, you probably have things you want to accomplish or an idea of the person that you’d like to be.
Writing any and all of this down can be really inspiring and clarifying, as getting your abstract ideas down onto paper in words brings them to life.
But don’t let this just be about your career or professional life. Goals can be abstract and concrete. They can be broad or very specific. What are your goals as a friend? As a partner? As a creative?
Journaling, for a lot of us, is about growing, and having a place to write those ideas down can be helpful.
Some prompts that relate to goal journaling:
- What are five things you want to accomplish in the next five years?
- Write about something you are excited about.
- Describe your dream life. Where do you live? How does your day start?
- What can you do to feel more fulfilled?
- If you couldn’t fail, what would you do?
Sometimes the best way to start writing is to just start writing. You don’t have to have an inspiring or creative idea before you start.
It’s okay to have no intended topic or aim in your journaling. It is for yourself, after all. You have no one to impress, and no requirement that what you write be funny, interesting, or insightful. Writing, just for the sake of doing it, is an incredibly beneficial exercise.
This practice helps you overcome fear and get comfortable with the idea of just starting. It helps you shake off the cobwebs. And it might even help you tap into some great ideas you didn’t even know you had, that could only come out when you released the pressure.
Free-writing can be even more beneficial if you keep it up and make a routine out of it.
What’s on your mind when you first wake up in the morning or before you go to bed?
In Julia Cameron’s, “The Artist’s Way,” she advocates morning pages, which are three pages of stream of consciousness writing. “There’s no wrong way to do it,” she says.
She doesn’t even describe the practice as writing, but simply as whatever you want it to be. Is it an idea? A complete thought? A complete sentence? It doesn’t really matter. It can be all of that or none of that.
“Do not overthink Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page... and then do three more pages tomorrow,” she suggests.
After a while, this free-writing may become more focused and not seem as random as your first journal entry. It may also invite in other topics that are helpful to reducing stress or growing your creativity.
Set a challenge
Ready, set, journal.
Even as someone who finds journaling to be therapeutic and helpful, sometimes it feels a little like a chore to do it. It’s like working out. I know I’ll feel better afterward, but I’m definitely going to make a few excuses before I lace up my sneakers.
Challenges keep me engaged and excited to journal, because I can look back after 30 days and see how I’ve progressed, expanded my views, or better developed an idea. I know that if I skip a day, I’m holding back my process, so I’m motivated to keep it up.
Challenges are a great way to start journaling too because they give you built-in journal topics. They can keep you focused until you really get the hang of journaling consistently and it becomes a habit.
Challenges can really pertain to anything, so here are a few:
- 30 days of gratitude —write one thing every day that you're grateful for, big or small
- 30 days of quotes — find a new quote each day that speaks to you, and write about it.
- 30 days of letters — each day, write a letter to somebody different: a friend, a parent, a co-worker, a stranger. You can send it later or not.
There are also endless opportunities of journal topics and challenges online, from religious passages to open-ended questions on a particular topic, like creativity or self-worth.
Write your personal history
Have you ever thought of writing your own autobiography? Have you ever tried to put into words all the things that make you different?
If you’re like me, you probably don’t. We tend to think of our own lives as fairly boring, and we downplay the significance of past experience.
But if I really think about it, there are few experiences I’ve had that I typically think set me apart from my friends or co-workers. Once I sit down to write out about these experiences and my personal history, it gives me a new framework for thinking about my life. It really helps me think through how I approach problems, my own creativity, and my plans for the future. It also gives me a clear idea of my goals and my own personal growth.
You don’t have to set out to write your memoir here, and there are a lot of options for writing your personal history. It can be a simple journal topic, or it can span several entries and get as specific as you’d like it to.
Consider writing about:
- Your childhood: What is your favorite memory? What do you remember most from elementary school? What events changed how you made sense of the world as a child?
- Your family: What traits do you share with your family members? What are your relationships with your siblings like?
- Adventures: What life story always makes you laugh when you tell it? How did your hobbies become your hobbies? What’s one event you wish you could re-do?
Make a daily observation
There really is no right or wrong way to journal. Your journal does not need to have a “point”, especially if your desire to journal is just about creating a healthy writing practice or adding more mindfulness to your life.
So if you’re simply hoping to write more, try taking it easy. Don’t make it more complicated that it needs to be.
Make it your goal to make a daily observation. This gives a lot of freedom to the writing process — maybe today it’s about what you’re observing in a coffee shop, or what you’ve noticed about your latest work project — and lets your thoughts wander without getting overwhelmed with the possibilities of journal topics.
Some days' entries may be long and intense. Other entries may simply be a short note of what you did that day, people you spoke to, or even just what the weather was like.
When you make time to journal, you start thinking throughout your day which observations could become part of a journal entry. It is a whole new way to be mindful and aware in your everyday life.