A hand holds a beaten olive green journal. In the background is a bookcase with a long trailing creeper plant, a human skull, and many books.

I finished the above journal recently. A hardcover, dot grid, A5 Leuchtterm1917 notebook. It’s been with me for nearly five years, but I finally did it. I had never finished a journal or notebook before this one, so there’s a palpable sense of succes and joy.

I’ve always been a lover of stationery, especially paper and notebooks. I have such a collection of beautiful pieces from all over the world; from handmade pieces by friends or small batch traditional workshops, to tie-in pieces from my favourite fandoms, to even just nice plain ones I’ve collected on my journeys or been gifted by loved ones.

But so often they’ve been beautiful things to hold, to pull out of the bookcase and marvel at but rarely to ever start writing in. Because I was always worried; such a beautiful thing should only have perfect entries. My messy scrawl, my chickenscratch handwriting was not worthy. And my half-baked project ideas, my snippets of dialogue or quotes, my scribbled out errors - they would all sully these pieces. Sidenote: The same goes with stickers; what if I put it somewhere that wasn’t perfect, or found a better place for it later?

But at some point you gotta use the nice silverware. Crack that nice bottle of wine you’ve been and yes, use those stickers and journals you’ve got. Maybe it’s not perfect but if you wait forever it’ll be waiting for a new owner or a bin once you’re gone. You can’t take it with you so you may as well enjoy stuff while you’ve got it.

With this realisation in mind, I started writing in the journal. I wrote a checklist for travel and documented the trip Nikki and I took to Vietnam in 2017, including some of the recipes we learned. I did the same for the first part of our Spain trip in 2019 when it was just Nikki and I (the Contiki segment was too busy to stop and journal). I occasionally put quotes that resonated with me or captured moments that were important to me, like in a commonplace book.

But even that left the pages barely getting filled, because it would slip by the wayside and lie in my bookshelf, forgotten for a long while each time.

So I decided to lower my standards: it’s a journal, it’s there to be used, and I should use it. So I started filling pages with discussions on topics personal to me. What brings me joy, my struggle with my weight and my illness, my adventures in blogging over time.

And then I realised I didn’t need a special reason to journal, I could just write my thoughts of the day. I started using it as a long form diary. Getting out the major events or things of note on the world scale and the personal scale. Putting my feelings and learnings in there, helping cement things in my mind to remember in the future. I found it more cathartic and it became a more frequent companion as I slipped into this casual journalling mindset through 2020 and beyond.

Many people already seem to know this, that journaling doesn’t just have to be something special, it can be a way of just taking a weight off your mind too. But for me this was a new outlet, and now that one journal is full, I have begun on the next.

Topics, Ideas

If you are getting into journalling but stuck for ideas on how to make the habit stick. I have some recommendations.

First, try not to let the journal be overwhelmed with the negative. Sure, sometimes things suck and we need to write it out, it’s an important release. But if that’s all you use it for, you can begin to associet it with that sadness or anger. I found it helped that even in my sad or frustrated journal entries I still included lessons learned, or ways to improve in the future. Feeling the painful emotions is still important, you need to avoid toxic positivity, but you can also take the time in that entry or future ones to work out your next steps.

Also if you just want to write about something different, try:

  • Goals:
    • Set goals and write about progress.
    • Celebrate wins and successes.
    • Celebrate failures and learnings.
    • Go meta: write about the act of goal setting.
  • Water! I live in a country three metres from the sun, so water is important for many reasons:
    • Hydration, how do you keep it up, what’s your rules/guidelines.
    • Beaches!
    • Drought, restrictions.
    • Infrastructure, is your drinking water waste-reclaimed? Desalinated?
  • Favourite X:
    • Physical feature.
    • Recent book/movie.
    • Clothing (what you own or want to own).
  • Joy:
    • The concept of.
    • What brings you joy.
  • Mindfulnes, recount earlier smells, sounds, tastes.
    • It can be a good writing exercise to spend a whole page describing a meal or coffee break.
  • Politics; focusing on your idea of solutions, what would good look like.
  • Think about something you have or previously owned (piece of clothing, an old car) and write about specific memories with it.
  • The future; what excites you?
  • What do you want to learn about?
  • Pick your favourite comfort TV shows/movies/books/genres.
    • What do you like about it? What are you drawn too?
  • Sonder: write stories about the people you encounter and the full lives they live outside your 2-minute interaction with them.
  • Review stuff you’ve read/watched.
  • Perfect moments: write about a time (a minute or a day or a year) where things were magical.

Also I’ve subscribed to One Nice Thing, an email newsletter from author JL Peridot and some weeks there’s a lovely quote or question to help spark a new journal entry too.