Positive Writer

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5 Very Effective Journaling Methods You Should Give a Try

Note: This post is by Positive Writer contributor, Nicole Gulotta. She’s the author of Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry, and pens a blog by the same name. Say hello on Twitter or Instagram.

If you’re struggling to maintain a consistent journal practice, it probably has nothing to do with your commitment. It’s all about choosing the best method for your lifestyle.


I journaled from a very young age—especially during family vacations—but the peak of my childhood journaling began around the age of thirteen, when I often retreated to my room to scribble pages and pages in a journal. (I also decoupaged the covers of my notebooks with inspiring phrases I cut out of magazines.) 

Flooding emotions onto the page was how I made sense of the emotional turbulence of adolescence, which is how many now-lapsed journalers start out.

I had more time on my hands then. Didn’t we all? Even between theater rehearsals and cross-country practice, plus all the homework I had, journaling was easy to prioritize and the most reliable method to sort out my feelings.

As you’ve likely come to learn, any furious journaling you embraced as a teenager hasn’t been sustainable in adulthood. With more responsibility on our shoulders, less flexibility with our schedule, and myriad appointments, family commitments, and the rest of it, our time becomes our most precious commodity.

So, what’s a writer to do?

The answer is simple:

Choose the best journaling method for your lifestyle. (Click to Tweet)

5 Types of Journals

(& the Pros and Cons of Each)

1. Classic Journal

Classic journaling characteristics include long-form paragraphs, stream of conscious writing, and giving in to the impulse of putting pen to paper whenever you feel compelled.  

Benefits

Ultimate freedom of expression lies within these pages. One day, you might analyze a relationship with a family member. The next day, you scribble in a poem. The day after that, you ponder life’s mysteries inspired by a long walk you took. Here, the mind can unwind.

A classic journal is whatever you want it to be and whatever you need it to be, often serving as a stress-reliever by helping you remain the present, releasing feelings of anger, sadness, or other intense emotions.

Drawbacks

This method lacks parameters and doesn’t provide a lot of structure. Classic journaling has the potential to make you feel as though you need to write a lot in order to make it count.

Self-inflicted pressure to write something insightful or meaningful is a common affliction, especially for folks who don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to journaling.

2. One Line A Day Journal

If classic journaling feels overwhelming, consider a one-line-a-day journal where the only requirement is to, well, write one line.

Benefits

From three words to three sentences, the line length is up to you. One Line a Day journals effortlessly serve as a basic recorder of daily life, and as time passes you can easily look up past entries to see how things have changed year to year, or what you were thinking about on a specific day.

For anyone who hasn’t journaled in years and needs a low barrier to entry, this style is easy to maintain and form habits around.

Drawbacks

Writing down the basics might become so habitual (“Nice day, walked the dog” or “Met Sarah for lunch; had kale salad with garlic dressing”), you might miss adding true feelings or special moments.

You’ll be best served by watching the patterns of your entries and trying to find the balance between simplicity and insight.

3. Bullet Journal

Created in 2012, one of the newest styles of journaling is the Bullet Journal—an analog system for a digital age meant to be a to-do list, diary, notebook, and sketchbook all in one.

Benefits

Bullet journaling is all about efficiency. It’s “rapid logging method—consisting of topics, page numbers, short sentences, and bullets—allows you to quickly take notes, while modules allow you to organize notes in a variety of different ways. 

At the end of the month, you transfer over only the most relevant ideas, helping you spend time on what’s truly important.

Drawbacks

Naysayers report the Bullet requires too much discipline, causing the ensure system to crumble at the first sign of stress. It can also feel like a lot of work to set up (and very neatly write) pages and indexes.

It’s perhaps the most polarizing of journaling methods, some people adore it, while others struggle to make it work for them.

4. Vision Journal

You might be familiar with a vision statement, which provides an organization’s strategic direction, but a vision journal takes this idea one step further, helping you clarify your brand, passion projects, and where you want your life to head.

Benefits

Creative entrepreneur and coach Kayla Hollatz explains how vision journaling “helps you set intentions and keep track of your goals so you can break them down into daily action steps.”

While the journal focuses on outcomes, it does so in a nurturing way to help you work through the necessary steps to help you achieve your dreams, like using creative prompts and ‘yes or no’ lists.

Drawbacks

From the way Kayla describes it, a vision journal might require some trial and error in order to develop a beautiful, creative system that supports you—ideal in the long-run, but only if you’re willing to go on the journey.

5. Dream Journal

Even after decades of sleep research, there’s still no definitive answer to the question of why we dream. Still, many researchers believe dreams serve a primary purpose to our cognitive functioning, including our creativity.

Benefits

In a dream state, your mind creates new neural pathways and connects ideas in different ways, handy for enhancing creativity and problem-solving skills. Writing down your dreams provides a record of the creative insights your subconscious is spending time working through.

You might discover clarity on a difficult situation, or see patterns for dream symbols when you’re stressed, happy, or going through periods of transition.

Drawbacks

The benefit of uncovering messages from your subconscious can also be a drawback, purely from a logistical standpoint. If you’re unable to recall your dreams within the first 90 seconds after waking up, the memory will likely be gone after breakfast.

One tip: Keep your body in the exact same position while you remember as much as you can, then shift over to a journal. Once you have some themes and symbols to work with, you can look up dream meanings and interpret them based on your own circumstances, but it can take some extra effort.

“The Art of Positive Journaling” is NOW open for enrollment. Click here to see what it is about!


I know you’re going to love it!

~Bryan

Make it so easy you can’t say no

According to Zen Habits, the absolute best way to begin forming a new habit is this: Make it so easy you can’t say no.

To this end, find something you’re both excited about and serves the needs you have at this very moment.

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong way to journal, and since your needs will likely change over the years, just focus on what feels good today.

So, which method are you excited about trying now? Share your journaling stories in the comments!

I hope you’re looking forward to Bryan’s new course, it’s open now so go check it out here.

About Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, blogger, content developer, community builder, and good food advocate. She is currently eating her way through Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband and French bulldog. Twitter: @nicolegulotta Blog: Eat This Poem

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  • David Mike

    I have never journaled. I’ve been thinking about starting. Thanks for the ideas!

    • Nicole Gulotta

      Good luck, David! It’s definitely a worthwhile practice. Hope you enjoy it!

  • Janet Sobczyk

    I have classic journals in spiral notebooks as well as a notepad at bedside for dreams. I recently set up an Excel spreadsheet to journal diet and health issues, and added bigger columns for daily gratitudes, prayer intentions, “activities,” as well as the biggest challenge and one best thing about that day. I enter half of it while eating breakfast and the other half in the evening. I guess it’s a variation of the “line a day” journal, and it’s going really well.

    • Nicole Gulotta

      Sounds like you have a great system going, Janet!

  • I can absolutely relate to the teenage furious journaling description. I was like that, I still have tonnes of notebooks I used to bring with me everywhere. There are at least six years of my life recorded with maniacal details in there. Then, when I started university, my journaling habit started to subside till it was from little to nothing.
    When I started writing fiction again, I felt like I needed to journal again but it’s been a struggle since.
    Now I don’t really have a journal, it’s more a notebook I bring with me where I write whatever I need to be written: notes from a course I’m attending, an outline for a short story, a scene I need to add to my WIP, ideas for blog posts, and sometimes just my personal rants.
    I used to have separate notebooks for everything, but it was overwhelming and, frankly, my handbag is already heavy as it is. Giving myself permission to use the one which used to be my personal journal for everything that passes through my head, gave me a much-needed freedom.
    Plus, I bought a five-year one-line-a-day journal I try to update every day. Now that I’m in the second year it’s starting showing interesting patterns and helps me reliving memories.
    Thanks for the great post!

    • I’m a big fan of keeping a notebook handy. Love that you found freedom in condensing into one!

  • Judy Peterman Blackburn

    Didn’t realize journaling could be broke down into categories like Classic, Bullet and so forth. I’ve been journaling since Jr. high and started out with the little five year diaries my mom got me started on. I quickly moved to the school notebooks where there was a lot more room. I still use these. I have tried to write my dreams down, but mostly forget them before I get to a pen and paper; and I have a notebook on my night stand. LOL Oh, well. 🙂
    Anyway I enjoyed this post and look forward to learning more about keeping a journal. Wouldn’t know what to do without mine. Thank you. 🙂

  • Godfrey Coppinger

    My journals go back and forth and around and about all five of these, with the added dimension that it’s also a sketchbook.

    • Nicole Gulotta

      I like the sketchbook element!

  • I have always had a love for writing. The paper and pen were my paint brush and canvas. I remember being so thrilled when an assignment in school entailed keeping a journal. I would write in all 5 of these styles and I loved the Bullet Journal more than any, I just wasn’t aware at the time that I began doing it that it was any particular “style”.
    I called it, “Organizing my thoughts, ideas and daily tasks.”
    I am the youngest of four children and the only girl. I never had a sister to tell secrets to or be the one listening to her’s. I was also on the shy side and hated being the center of attention. So writing my inner most private thoughts and emotions down was therapeutic for me until the first time that my privacy was invaded. Not only was it invaded, it was used to exploit, berate, and expose me as being conniving and dirty. But there was nothing to cause this reaction. It was just abusive behavior towards me that was unwarranted. It almost damaged me to the point of replacing my love for journal writing to a crippling fear of it instead.
    Does anyone else ever wonder, while writing down their private thoughts, who might find and read it one day after you’re no longer living and what sort of impact or reaction it may possibly invoke?
    I would love to be a professional writer but my lack of self-confidence holds me back.

  • Nice post Nicole. Totally love this! I’ve done bullet journaling back in my high school days. Used to love it back then but now I’m more to classic journal. Writing in full paragraph gave me more satisfaction, i guess. Dream journal sounds awesome. Maybe I should try that too. Thanks Nicole

    • Glad you enjoyed the post, Claudia! Thanks for reading.

  • Angela Hall-Mannaa

    Great article Nicole! I tend to lean toward classic journal writing, but I think I may switch it up now and them with the Dream Journal. Thanks for the fresh ideas, they just may help me refresh my writing!

    • Thanks Angela! Definitely give the dream journal a try. I’ve always taken away lots of insights from it.

  • I’m facilitating a journal writing workshop in a couple of weeks at Hearing Voices International Congress and at Alternatives–both in Boston.

    I combine various types of journaling and have a way of tracking with an index.
    Dreams, books, experiences–whatever.

    Then I do stream of consciousness separately: very fast with no editing–puts me in touch with subconscious as stuff just comes up. No rereading of this.

    I started journal writing in the late 1960’s and have a suitcase full of ’em.