A Beginner’s Guide to Journal Writing
6 min read

A Beginner’s Guide to Journal Writing

A Beginner’s Guide to Journal Writing

Self-improvement is a life-long journey. It’s a constant effort towards getting better as much as you can.

Over the years, I’ve tried countless methods for self-improvement.

Out of so many, there were a few that stood out as the best, the ones that had the most positive impact on my life. One of those key few, which I will share with you right now, is Journal Writing.


Journal Writing in a Nutshell

Journal Writing is the practice of keeping a commonplace book that you write in regularly. The purpose of the writing is for personal development.

There are no hard rules when it comes to what you can write in a journal.

  • You could write your feelings down to vent out
  • You could write a reflection of the past day, week, month, or year to look for areas to improve
  • You could write your future goals to plan them out

The main idea is to have the thoughts that are normally in your head be written down on paper. That way, you can read them over at a distance and get a better view of how to improve upon them.

Write down what you’re thinking so that you can find some way to improve yourself.


Self Improvement Through Journal Writing

You would do your Journal Writing slightly differently whether you’re writing about the past, present, or future. Each one requires it’s own way of writing and self-reflection.

The past

Writing about your past can be done as a form of self-reflection.

At the end of each day, write down your thoughts about how your day went. Start with the good stuff:

  1. What things did you feel went really well and why?
  2. How can you keep those going?

For example, there are some days where you’ll really feel productive with my writing or at work, so I’ll write that down. I’d identify why it went well: I got a good sleep and found a quiet place to work. I’ll try to keep those going in the future.

Look at the main activities and events in your day and reflect on those you felt were successful. Identify why they went well so that you can keep those going in the future.

Next, you can tackle the not-so-good things.

  1. What things did you feel went really poorly and why?
  2. How can you improve upon those?

For example, let’s say one day I lost my temper and got angry at my friend. I can identify why I got angry — perhaps they did something that I felt was annoying. I can then list a few different ways I could improve: practice meditation to control my emotions, take a deep breath before speaking, things like that.

Look for the activities and events in your day and reflect on those you felt could have been better. Then, identify actionable ways you can make them better.

The present

Writing about the present can be done as a form of daily planning.

At the beginning of each day, write down what you plan to do that day. Not a schedule, more like daily goals.

“I will not lose my temper today”

“I will finish writing one full Medium article today”

“I will be a strong person today”

This kind of writing is also useful for habit building. You keep writing those mini goals every day, and it eventually becomes a habit.

The great part about writing about the present is that you can later reflect on it.

At the end of each day, you can look back on your writing and see which items you accomplish. You can do the same self-reflection as when you did your writing about your past. Look at what went well and what can be improved upon.

Your present writing feeds into your past self-reflection.

The future

Writing about the future is a great way of documenting your future goals and dreams.

Make a list of your goals for the next month, year, and 5 years. Once you have them written down you’re able to look at them at a distance for a more objective perspective.

Ask yourself if you really want to achieve those goals.

Often times, you’ll find that your goals change once you’ve written them down. You see them more clearly and judge them more objectively now that they’re in front of you, much better than when they were in your head.

To extend even further, you can map out a plan for achieving each of your goals.

It doesn’t have to be super detailed. Just a general idea about the main next steps you will take.

For example, if you’re aiming for a promotion at work 1 year down the line, you can think about the general things that you can do to move you closer to your goal. At the 1 month mark, you aim to finish your current project. At 6 months, you’ve spearheaded a new project. At 9 months, you start talking to your boss about the promotion.

Again these don’t have to be concrete. The idea is to have them written down on paper so you can save them and then take a look at them later. If you’re making progress, great! Your plan is working! If not, you can review your plan and look for ways to improve it.

Journal Writing as a lifestyle

Journal Writing isn’t about having strict rules about how to write.

This isn’t a school homework where you’re being forced to write.

The purpose of the writing is to keep a commonplace book where you’re constantly putting the thoughts in your head down onto paper. This way, you can look at them from a distance, get a more objective viewpoint, and occasionally reflect.

It’s a lot easier to do this when you’ve written things down rather than trying to think about them and remember everything in your head.


Practical Tips for Making Journal Writing Awesome

As with any activity or habit, the theory is often different from the practice. There are a few practical tips for making Journal Writing easier and more effective.

Or as I like to say: awesome!

Always keep it on you

Keep your journal notebook closeby. It doesn’t literally have to be a book in your pocket, but keep it somewhere close.

Personally, I keep mine in my home office since I’m in there working a lot. Sometimes I’ll take it into the living room if I want to read or just relax there.

Having the journal nearby will help keep it your mind. If you have it stashed away in the drawer, you’ll eventually forget to use it. The simple thing of having it on the table or just within sight will help to embed the habit.

On top of that, it’s great to have your journal book always handy for random thoughts. We often come up with the best ideas when we’re just lounging around, having dinner, or in general just not doing our regular work.

When your journal is within reach, you can easily grab it and do some quick writing if a great idea sparks up in your head.

Create a routine

Having a routine will build journal writing into a habit for you. Personally, I recommend the following routine:

  1. Present writing in the morning right when you wake up
  2. Past writing in the evening before bed
  3. Future writing on a weekly or monthly basis

Your past and present writing feed into each other for daily planning and reflection. Your future writing becomes a habitual goal-setting routine so that you’re always tracking and updating your goals.

Use a physical notebook

strongly recommend using a physical notebook over something digital.

You can grab a cheap one off of Amazon for $10 or get something more fancy for $25 if it motivates you more. But always get something that has physical paper and needs a pen.

Why you might ask?

  1. Studies have shown that physical writing helps with memory retention, especially when compared to typing on a computer
  2. Physical writing helps get the juices flowing for creativity. You’re slowing down the entire process and as a result, your brain has more time to think about the words being written and how to expand off of them
  3. Physical writing will make it feel like more of a commitment. You can easily hit the delete button on a digital copy. But once you’ve written down something pen, the commitment to your activity and the words you have written is much stronger

Write literally whatever

There are no hard rules with Journal Writing. So although you can have a routine, don’t be afraid to literally dump your thoughts onto the paper.

We’re not creating a legal document here.

The journal is a place to take the thoughts in your head and write them down, whether it be for reflection, goal-setting, or just to vent. All of them can be helpful. The writing about the past, present, and future is shown here as an effective guide.

But if there is ever anything else you wish to write about, go for it! The activity of writing your thoughts is the most valuable part of this exercise.

Use writing prompts

Using writing prompts can help make your journal writing routine a lot easier. The idea is to have a few starting words for your journal writing.

A great way of doing this to use what I call the Daily Triple:

  1. “What will I do today?” for the morning present plan
  2. “What did I do today and how did it go?” for the evening past reflection
  3. “How can I improve in the future?” for continuous self-improvement

This trio of questions easily covers everything and can be used as a guide to help you get the ball rolling for starting to write.