Journaling Questions & Answers

Q&A: “What are the Rules of Journaling?”

Journaling Questions & AnswersIn the first session of every journal-writing workshop I teach, we spend a little time sharing (and debunking!) the myths and rumors we’ve all heard about “the rules” of proper journal-keeping. So when I saw this question online, I knew I had to make an episode about it.

Should I start a certain way? Does each entry need to be a minimum length? Do I have to use pen and paper? Do I have to write every single day? I think people ask these questions because they want some structure, and want to hear some of the “best practices” that have worked for others — not because they want to be boxed-in.

Starting from my favorite pet answer, “there’s no wrong way to write,” Jayde Gilmore and I work backwards into a select few guidelines for best results, including: dating your entries, practicing complete honesty and exploration of feelings.

Your turn to answer: What journal-writing “guidelines” have served you the best? In what ways do you “break the rules” in your journal? Post your responses at the bottom of this webpage, in the comments section.

You may email your own journaling question to be featured on a future episode of JournalTalk. Or, pick up the telephone and leave a voicemail with your question at 1-805-751-6280 (only normal toll charges may apply). When your question is featured, we will send you a thank-you gift for sharing your voice! (JournalTalk Q&A, Episode #30, July 7, 2015)

Audio Editing: Netrix Marketing
Voiceover: Thomas Gerrard

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16 thoughts on “Q&A: “What are the Rules of Journaling?”

  1. Pam

    I try to journal every day, not because I think I’m supposed to, but because some of the mundane things I might journal about today, will probably bring a smile to my face at some time in the future. I ALWAYS journal, however, when something is on my heart and or bothering me in some way. Journaling about my dilemma (paper or digital) helps me sort out my feelings and eventually brings me to a place of acceptance and sometimes direction. I do date my journal because I want to know when I wrote that entry.

  2. jamesglenora

    The best guidelines of practice with journal writing is to keep it going once you start compiling entries to put in it. This way you can regularly enter something you’re thinking about in the journal or mention something you’ve considered doing as much as is possible so that you will have a consistent use of the journal. As well as putting as much effort into making journal entries as much as you can it is a question of fuelling the interest in what you are doing well and then you can get ahead to wherever it takes you. It is important to decide whether it is public or private. I am using the journal as a private version of diary keeping because there are other places I go to for putting thoughts up publicly. If there is something I have shared publicly what I post only goes to the people I want it to go to and I control my content so that I get trusted sites incorporated in my internet use. Posting on blogs that I do like reading blogs written by other people or doing my own blog I do it according to the things I want to be associated with it and only read pages I want to see.

    1. Nathan Ohren Post author

      Thanks James! This is one that I haven’t considered before, but I can see the “snowball effect” that you’re talking about, and I think it’s a good practice for keeping a meaningful journaling ritual. Thanks for sharing!

      1. jamesglenora

        Thank you for responding with appreciation for the comment I composed for Journal Talk. I would definitely say that this is a good discipline to follow and to keep in mind in terms of considering what you are going to do with your journal keeping.

        It is a good idea to make comments about blog posts you read and share them and doing so in a way that you are sharing with the places you want it to be shared with. I have membership with certain on-line communities and when I have visited webpages that I get a link to read the features on that webpage there is an avatar printed beside the blog posts I read where my profile username appears that expresses the comments I am making and links it towards my user-page on the community website in the space which I leave a comment. I use a creative commons licensed photograph as my profile picture that is connected to my user-page account that means that it can be done safely and securely and it doesn’t allow myself to be traced without my permission.

  3. Howard Veit

    I am not sure whether this breaks the rules, but sometimes my digital journal entry for the day is confined to one or more photos that represents the significant event(s) of the day. I attach at least one image to most of my written journal entries. This brings my journal alive by making it more visual.

    1. Nathan Ohren Post author

      Pictures add so much to a journal entry, Howard, don’t they? That’s one reason I switched to digital journaling. Excellent “rule” to journal by. Thank you!

    2. jamesglenora

      It sounds a fun idea to add photos to a journal entry to enhance the journal experience and it provides a nice bright feel to the journal. Illustrations capture the moment and show us some background behind the words. It might help the diary keeper to reflect and think about their thoughts before writing them down.

  4. Carolyn Kennedy

    I started writing spontaneously one day many years ago, well, ok 40 years ago, after I had put my two toddler sons for a nap. I was overwhelmed with the demands of being a young mother in my twenties to these two wonderful but energetic boys. I had feelings I was ashamed of, like resentment, frustration, etc. So I grabbed a piece of paper and started writing and after about 15 minutes I felt refreshed, unburdened, like a new woman, really. I couldn’t wait for my sons to get up from their naps so I could hug them and be with them again.
    Once I had that experience, I was hooked. Back then I wrote on three hole lined paper and put the pages in a three ring binder. I probably used a Bic pen. Days of antiquity.

    I do date my pages. I went from handwritten pages to typing out my thoughts and feelings on an IBM Selectric typewriter. Many years later I do use a computer of course, but keep a handwritten notebook in case I need to write in bed or outdoors etc. I have saved everything and still have that first page in the several trunks I have filled with journal pages and notebooks. But that’s just my experience. If I thought there were “rules” I never would have wanted to do it;-)

    Thank you to the other responders for their fresh ideas about keeping a journal.

    1. Nathan Ohren Post author

      Carolyn, thanks for sharing such vivid details of your journey. I loved the sentiment, “If I thought there were rules, I never would have started…” so many of us just plunged inward and blazed our own trail of personal growth. Others need some more reassurance and guidelines. It’s fun to hear the stories of how people have found journaling to work for them, and that was the inspiration for this podcast series! Let me know if you’d be interested to share your stories in an episode sometime!?

      1. Carolyn Kennedy

        Thank you for your feedback. I like your description of plunging inward. I’d be happy to share any stories that might be of interest in an episode sometime.

  5. michaelcorob

    Thank you for sharing this basic, but helpful discussion. I write in my Journal every night before I go to sleep, and you have given me some food for thought. I enjoy the casual tone of the conversation. .

  6. Sue

    I just write what I feel. I write what I’m thinking. It’s simple for me, my grammar may not be perfect but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a personal journal, so I think you should write what you think and feel, because one day you’ll look back and think I was sad for no big deal. Or oh that’s a great memory, I was so happy that day. I date my journal too. I don’t censor my journal because I think if you don’t have a lock and you loose it, it’s fair game. By censor I mean putting on the first page “do not read with out permission” that kind of censoring. Writing every day makes me feel more relaxed when I come home from a stressful day of school or I had a fight with a friend or boyfriend. I write it ALL down. I journal every day, because it relaxes me and I love to write about my day. I don’t think you should put every single little tiny deatail because it will be very long. What I mean by that is “I was wearing my purple and pink stripped shirt with a black skirt when my boyfriend broke up with me” the stripped shirt and black skirt was a tiny detail I just think isn’t needed.


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