journal writing

Different Journal Writing Methods I Use

I’m not going to differentiate a journal from a diary here . For me, they are the same. It is not that I ignore their difference, it is just that I embrace their similarities and meld them into what I do most: writing.

In this blog, I’m sharing with you my own journal writing experience and methods that you can get inspiration from. 

My Journal Writing Journey 

Circa 1980. Writing on a diary fascinated me in grade school that I literally made one for myself. I used the “Dear Diary” format and started to write how my day was back then. By the middle of February, I stopped writing because I felt bored of writing the same daily routine. Events in our family were too few spread over a year. Since then, I don’t write diaries. So if you’re one of those who can’t continue a year-long journal writing, you’re not alone. I’ve been there, too.

But I had another notebook that contained jokes I copied from Reader’s Digest and other sources. That was the beginning of my “collections” (This term is also mentioned in the Bullet Journal which I’ll tell later). In high school, I had separate notebooks for song lyrics and quotable quotes.

Circa 1987. I started using a small diary, so small that it can fit into my pocket. In there, I wrote down my assignments, scheduled tests, tasks, and events. This became my re-introduction to diaries.  

journal filler with tabs
journal fillers with tabs which I still have

As the years passed, I was already working then, the small diary became bigger and transformed into a journal and organizer. It came to a point that I bought a small binder and customized the fillers and tabs to satisfy my needs. 

And when I became a writer, aside from the journal-organizer, I have separate notebooks for writing ideas, a personal diary, and a clearbook where I keep my goals, calendars, etc. My practice of journal writing continued.

“I always say, keep a diary and someday it will keep you.” — Mae West

The Bullet Journal

Fast forward to circa 2013-2015. I can’t really pinpoint the month and year but I am definitely sure it was during the early months or years of the Bullet Journal . It was from Tim Ferris’ newsletter that I got this information. I watched the introductory video and I liked how the Bullet Journal method works.

In fact, I used the Bullet Journal’s tagline “The Analog Method for the Digital Age” as my title the first time I created one for myself. However, as other creatives do, I made some iterations to suit my methods and style.

current Bullet Journal
a blank page from my current Bullet Journal

I use a small square to indicate a task (the BuJo, as the Bullet Journal’s nickname, uses a dot instead), a circle for an event, a hyphen for notes, a greater than mark (>) for sub-item, and a few other symbols more. I ditched the index because I felt that I don’t need it.

At one time, I even applied the Kanban method in one of the pages of my Bullet Journal. Imagine a Bullet Journal with a Trello board. Those neon sticky notes and colored ballpens nailed it.

Bullet Journal prototype
my Bullet Journal prototype

Fast forward to 2019. As I was watching YouTube videos, I stumbled upon vloggers who showcase their own Bullet Journal. Most of them went way too far from the original concept because of the creative liberties they’ve incorporated. It became more of showcasing their calligraphy skills rather than the Bullet Journal itself. A few offer ideas on how to track habits and writing projects which I find useful since I’m a writer who has issues on staying on track.

However, as I am thinking of how the Bullet Journal will work for me this time, I created one from scratch. I folded a few letter-size bond papers, bound them with a thread using the Kettle Stitch method, used an old Kraft folder as cover, and wrote using colored ballpens and pencil. I called it a prototype because I’m willing to do lots of iterations as I go along.

clearbook
my clearbook journal and organizer

I spent some time on Canva and MS Publisher designing specific pages for my Bullet Journal. The one I designed on Canva measures half a letter-size bond paper which I intend to use as a hand-carry journal once printed and bound. The one I designed on MS Publisher measures letter size which I intend to use on my clearbook. The clearbook journal stays on my desk as it is a combination of a journal and a personal life workbook and organizer.

Aside from that, I still have separate notebooks for writing ideas, book project plans, notes from all over (readings, blogs, webinars, lectures, etc.), and my daily pages. Once I have a book project ongoing, I have another separate notebook for that particular novel where I write my thoughts, outlines, and draft.

Why Analog?

But why do I still keep a notebook when everything now is digital?

I have an Evernote app on my computer but not on my cellphone. Although I have “notebooks” and “notes” on Evernote, I seldom open it unlike my Bullet Journal.

journal writing on Evernote
a page from my Evernote

I also have the classic version of Penzu, an online diary, where I also write down my thoughts and drafts whenever I feel like typing rather than writing by hand.

But there is something in writing by hand that I don’t get with typing on a computer or typing with my fingers on a touchscreen phone. One of them is tapping the subconscious.

Whenever I do free writing, I’ve noticed that either I made a misspelling when I thought I did not. Or I have written something out of the blue or something off-track. I might have transported myself into the zone. These incidences are proof that I touched the subconscious and allowed it to kick in.

Why Write on a Journal?

There are reasons why I prefer writing on a journal or diary. Below are three reasons that I could think of:

Penzu classic
my classic Penzu online diary

Catharsis

For one, writing my thoughts and emotions on paper is cathartic in itself. There are things that I can’t express with words that I’d rather write on paper. It’s more private and I’d better keep it that way.

Declutter

Writing on my journal also serves as my way of decluttering my mind. Listing down reminders and things to do clears my mind. Although it may seem to be overwhelming after looking at the long list of brain dump, the process helps me to see the bigger picture and sort out these things in order of priority.

Mental Gymnastics

Also, I consider my journal writing as my mental and word exercise. As a writer, I need to polish my grammar and vocabulary as well as my writing style and tone. And the only way I could do this is through my journal.

Exercise on Mindfulness

Journal writing also helps me to be mindful of what I’m doing in the “here and now”. And while I put my goals and future plans on my journal, it is still the “here and now” what matters most. This way, I am mindful to do things that are aligned to my goals and future plans. 

Methods of Journal Writing

Back in the ’90s, I got hold of an old book entitled, “The New Diary: How to Use a Journal for Self-Guidance and Expanded Creativity” by Tristine Rainer. Its foreword was written by the famous diarist Anaïs Nin. This book provided me insights on how to use a journal. At this point, I started to remove the difference between a diary and journal and instead, use the term interchangeably as if they’re one and the same. 

The book shows different methods to use in journal writing and I’m here to share with you what I remembered. But before I do, let me mention one rule: Write fast, write everything, accept whatever comes.

Cathartic Writing

This aims for emotional release. Those pent up anger, fears, and guilt can be diminished once written down on paper. My journals are private and rarely do other people read my entries. And if ever they do, they have a hard time deciphering my cursive handwriting. Therefore, I can write cuss words instead of hiding them through symbols and characters (you know, those f*#$@%!).

Stream of Consciousness

I always mention the term “freewrite”. This is what stream of consciousness writing means. I may do any of these two:

The first is what I call, “timed freewrite”. I set a timer for 15 to 30 minutes and begin writing whatever comes into my mind, literally. So when I get distracted, I’ll write “I got distracted by…” and continue writing until the time is up. 

The second one is what I call “prompted freewrite”. I use this method whenever I don’t know how to start or what to write about. I rely on a writing prompt to push me into writing. One of the easiest writing prompt that I use is, “Right now, I’m doing…” and I just have to continue the sentence. If the “timed freewrite’s” limit is 30 minutes, I give myself one to three pages on this freewrite.

Descriptive Writing

Describing the situations, the people, the places, and the circumstances in our lives are what journals are mostly about. 

Show and tell. That’s what writers do with their writing. This method exercises the way I describe everything. It allows me to be observant of the things most people take for granted or ignore.

Reflective Writing

Journal writing is also a way of thinking about my own life in a mature, open way. It is a way of taking stock, a way of introspection, evaluation, and deep thinking. This method makes journal writing serious yet an eye-opener. 

I have a page that focuses on my own SWOT analysis. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Every year, I evaluate myself using the SWOT method.

Dialogues

Writing in dialogues can be cathartic. But what makes it different from cathartic writing is that you focus on the verbal exchange between me and someone or something. It’s like arguing with someone about an issue but in writing. Also, it is an exercise of writing dialogues for stories. 

Lists

The Bullet Journal encourages rapid logging. This is the easiest way of writing on a journal. Listing down my thoughts, my needs, my tasks, and other worries of daily living helps in decluttering the mind and organizing my life. 

Portraits

As the name implies, portraits can be a drawing of or descriptive text about a person, place, or event. This is much intimate than the usual descriptive writing because the subject is up close and personal. 

You don’t need to be artistic to create portraits on your journal. I usually doodle and make my drawings small, and use colored ballpens so I allow myself to make mistakes and not feel guilty or critical about it.

The Unsent Letter

Aside from writing in the “Dear Diary” format, sending an unsent letter to someone — whether living or dead, or whether fictional or factual — helps sort out the emotions and thoughts I have. It is writing a long letter intended to that person if ever I’ll send one. 

Maps of Consciousness

Considered as the drawing equivalent of stream of consciousness writing, this method is good for brainstorming and dream interpretation. Mapping out thoughts in circles connected with lines also help in decluttering my mind.

map of consciousness
dream interpretation using the map of consciousness method

Altered Point of View

This method is another way of writing down thoughts on paper. Instead of using the pronoun “I”, I write on the third person by using “she” and “her”. This way, my mind will not censor itself especially when the writing is striking close to home and my inner critic starts to edit some things out.

Guided Imagery

This method is basically writing out a daydream. Yes, writing down my daydreams is a better way to preserve the memory. Years from now, I could be laughing about what these daydreams were.

Or better yet, this is a good practice to apply the principles of Law of Attraction by writing down the things I imagine what I want to be.

I hope that by reading this, you’ll get inspired to start (or continue) your own journal (or diary) writing and make it a daily habit. Write on!

Issa Bacsa

Filipino freelance writer and author, Gen X mother to a Gen Z daughter, retrogamer, binge-watcher.