7 thoughts on daily journaling

Two journals, side-by-side. The left has a brown cover with the words "Master Plan" written across it. The right is a grey Game of Thrones premium notebook with House Stark direwolf sigil and words "Winter is Coming" on the front.

Many great things have come out of this year and starting a daily journaling habit back in October is one of them.

I’ve mentioned journaling a few times already, primarily in a Sunday Sharing post and in my newsletter. But I wanted to elaborate on my daily practice further. 

Journaling has done wonders for my creativity and my mental health, so I thought I’d list some specific thoughts on how journaling has benefitted me in the hopes it might encourage someone else to give it a try.

So if you’ve ever considered keeping a diary or journal (I use these terms interchangeably), here are seven thoughts on why it’s good to journal every day, which might give you that little nudge to get started…

1. Practice using your voice

As writers, we’re often told we need to “find our voice.” What isn’t said enough is that we actually have to use our voice to find it. 

If you wait for your voice to emerge before you start, you’ll never write a word. Blogging is also a good way to practice using your voice in a public space, which I’m also doing here. But I think journaling is a great steppingstone, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t feel ready to practice using your voice out in the open.

Someone once said to me they tried journaling but quit because they couldn’t stand to listen to themselves. They didn’t believe they had anything to say. Here’s the thing, much in the same way you need to practice using your voice to find it, you’ll never have something to say if you remain silent.

It might take a long while before you find something worth sharing. Every writer has to work through thousands of horrendous words before they find some good ones. But a journal is a safe space to make a mess every day and nobody need ever know.

And if you discover you can’t find something worth saying, you have the space to reflect on why that is and if you can do something to change it.

2. A rough draft for your thoughts

On a similar note, a journal is a space to think out loud. Forget worrying about whether you have something to say for a moment, writing helps you work out what you think.

Illustration from Private Eye cut and stuck in journal. The comic strip is two panels. The first welcomes a man in VR goggles to the metaverse. The second shows people in different skins, e.g. a unicorn, each doing a different act. One is exposing their penis. Thoughts on the metaverse written in pen below the cut-out.

Several of my blog posts, including this one, started out as journal entries. Before I wrote my review of Doctor Who: Flux I used my journal to get every single thought I had about the series down on paper, only then could I assemble those thoughts into something more coherent and structured.

Writing by hand is also great for drafting because you’re dissuaded from rewriting the same sentences over and over. On a computer, I can delete multiple paragraphs at the press of a button and give in to my perfectionist tendency to overthink every sentence. Whilst journaling, however, if I want to avoid pages of messy scribbles then I just have to write through it — and I do!

The privacy of your journal means you can write and think whatever without having to show anyone. Several times I’ve started an entry with some faulty thinking, only to write myself round to a different viewpoint. 

3. Keep a record of your thoughts

Recording anything of note from your day is a good idea, and it’s something I aim to do more often. What I am finding useful right now is keeping a record of my thoughts. I tend to have a lot of them, so I can easily forget them. A journal allows me to get it in writing and date when I had that thought.

Private Eye illustration cut and stuck in journal. A man points to a graph that reads "IMPOSSIBLE" and has the caption "We've set ambitious targets." This sits alongside an entry about unrealistic targets.

This is especially important to me as the events of my life are quite often uninteresting (for the moment). Being an introverted writer who doesn’t take many risks and perhaps reins in their impulsivity a bit too much doesn’t make for much drama. And that was before the global pandemic disrupted all our lives.

But I do believe I have a rich inner life that I enjoy a great deal. What I’ve often struggled with is relaying that richness to others. Recording this inner life is useful to me as I can always dip into my diary if I need reminding about where my head’s been.

4. Multi-purpose

There’s no fixed structure to my journal, which makes it a beautiful mess and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If you’re thinking of starting a diary but find yourself held back by visions of making the pages pleasing to the eye, I’d advise embracing the chaos. You’ll worry less and have much more fun.

Sometimes my entries are a stream of unfiltered thoughts — just pure word vomit. Other times it could be a mind map or a list. Occasionally, I’ll even draw the outline of a fictional map because that’s something I just find fun to do.

It’s also a convenient space to draft poems or lines of prose. Sometimes I’ll cut things out from magazines and stick them onto a page as a writing prompt. Or my cut-outs might even become a poem of their own.

Blackout poem: Conservative thinking suppress free speech encourages victimisation, grievance culture. authentic conservatism is anti-democratic ideology, focuses on crime, immigration and culture wars, tell students not to talk about sensitive topics, or identity groups, refuse to accept the validity of differing points of view, they represent a profound threat to the values which underpin our civilised social order. Conservatives need to be defeated.

Some days I’ll transcribe lines from other poets or quotes from a book/article/post I’ve read.

A collection of quotes from Stephen Fry, bell hooks, Mary Beard and Camille Paglia.

5. Learn what you pay attention to

Time flies. The days easily roll into one sometimes. We live in an age where consuming copious amounts of information has never been easier. I consider this mostly a good thing, but it can be challenging to grasp what takes up most of our attention.

How we spend our days matters. A daily diary grants us the tool to notice what occupies most of our attention.

We can also ask ourselves on the page why X things are taking up so much of our attention and question whether or not they should.

6. Exercise your writing muscles

Writers write. What you write is up to you, and only you can qualify what writing matters to you. But writers must write.

Writing every day is hard if you don’t already do it. Hell, maybe it’s still hard even if you are doing it every day. But it’s essential to flex those writing muscles and keep the words coming.

What I like about journaling every day is that it comes with less pressure. I can do what I please on these pages, which makes the writing come easier. Now that I write every day in my diary, the prospect of doing any other kind of writing every day is now a little less intimidating.

7. It’s so much fun!

So far, the only downside to journaling I’ve found is that I keep wishing I’d started years ago. Every day I think of how much journaling would have benefitted me going through school and university. Otherwise, I see no cons to keeping a daily diary.

I look forward to journaling every single day and always manage to write at least one page with minimal stress. Sometimes I’ll enjoy journaling so much I’ll pen 10+ pages in a single day.

Whilst I’ve approached this post from the perspective of someone who is a writer by nature, you don’t have to consider yourself a writer to enjoy journaling (IMO). Harmless fun is a good enough reason to do something and keeping a diary is a private space to go wild and do as you please.

The beauty of making journaling a daily habit is that it promises a slice of fun every single day, no matter how much or little you bring to the page.