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How To Start A Journal When You Don’t Know What To Write About

If you’re a writer, you need a daily writing practice. Scheduling time to write every day, or at least a few times a week, not only helps build your skills, but it also taps into your creativity so you can come up with new ideas for stories, articles, essays, and books.

But if you’re the type of person who benefits from having structure, keeping a journal can feel like writing into the void. How do you know what to write about? How long should you write? And if you’re new to all this, how do you know how to start a journal in the first place? 

If you find yourself blocked whenever you put your pen to the page, experiment with different ideas for how to structure your writing practice  — below are a few suggestions. 

Try “morning pages” for tapping into your creativity.

With morning pages, your writing practice is a form of brain dumping, which can be effective for coming up with new ideas and nurturing your creativity, and it’s also highly therapeutic. The concept comes from  Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. Cameron explains:

“Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *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. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

If you find it easier to write in the morning  — before you check your email or answer to your boss or make your kids breakfast  — this is a good method if you’re not sure what to write about. You get all of your thoughts onto the page, and because you have to fill those pages, there’s less pressure to write anything brilliant. You’re just getting it all out.

Keep a micro-journal if you’re not sure how to start a journal.

If you’re not sure what to write about in the first place, start with daily observations. Did anything funny, weird, sad, poignant, or otherwise memorable happen today?  Whether it was your coworker slipping on a banana peel or your brother calling you after you haven’t heard from him in months, document these small daily experiences. 

The essayist David Sedaris often shares his diary entries, which seem to be only a few sentences long, yet they’re still beautifully written:

“I read in an interview that David Lynch used to go to Bob’s Big Boy in Los Angeles. Every day for seven years he’d have a milkshake and six cups of coffee and take notes before going home to write. I sure will miss the IHOP when I move to New York. Every night Barbara carries a menu to my table and says, ‘Just coffee this evening?’ Every night I cross my fingers as she hands me my change at the register. Every night as I leave, she says, ‘Take care.’ The few times she hasn’t said it, I’ve worried I’ll get hit by a car while riding my bike home.”

This is a good method if you’re short on time or you’re not sure how to start a journal because you’ve never really done it before. Practice writing just a few paragraphs or short sentences about something interesting that happened today.

Try a “worry journal” if you can’t quiet your mind.

It can be hard to get words on the page when your mind is filled with anxious thoughts. If this sounds familiar, instead of trying to ignore those thoughts so you can write, try writing about them. 

Set aside a few minutes each day to write down your worries, how you feel about them, and whether or not there are any potential solutions. Not only is this a useful exercise for your writing practice, but it can also help you cope with your anxiety. 

Expressive writing can help you practice your narrative skills.

With expressive writing, you turn your thoughts, emotions, and feelings into a story. The idea is to find the right words to communicate how you feel at the moment. Like the worry journal, expressive writing can be good for your mental health, too. A 2005 study found that expressive writing had emotional and physical health benefits. Here’s a writing prompt from that study:

“For the next 4 days, I would like you to write your very deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic experience of your entire life or an extremely important emotional issue that has affected you and your life. In your writing, I’d like you to really let go and explore your deepest emotions and thoughts. You might tie your topic to your relationships with others, including parents, lovers, friends or relatives; to your past, your present or your future; or to who you have been, who you would like to be or who you are now. You may write about the same general issues or experiences on all days of writing or about different topics each day.”

In a similar 2014 study, researchers had subjects write “redemptive narratives” to deal with their negative emotions. Participants were asked to write in “a form of narrative focused on positive outcomes in negative situations.” When they did, their negative emotions decreased.

Still don’t know what to write about? Try writing prompts.

Finally, if you’re still stumped and not sure what to write about, try a daily writing prompt. Some of our favorite resources include:

If you work well with structure, routine, and assignments, you’ll probably find that having a daily prompt will motivate you to get your writing done more easily. 

Plus, it’s fun to have a new subject to look forward to each day.