13 Journaling Ideas: Don't Fear the Empty Page! was written by Gregory Gaynor and originally appeared on Hello Sensible. Originally from the U.K, Greg has lived in Asia for over 15 years. Fluent in a handful of languages, he ran a management consultancy before creating FaceDragons, a site dedicated to facing challenges and getting stronger. He travels around Asia, writing, taking photos, and drinking coffee. It has been republished with permission. Please note that contributing opinions are that of the author. They are not always in strict alignment with my own opinions. –Joe.
You have a brand new journal and excitedly open the first blank page. Suddenly, you realize you have nothing to write. Don't worry. It happens to us all! All you need are some great journaling ideas.
You might be surprised to know that there are different types of journaling, and there’s a writing prompt for every type. It's not all about writing the events of your day, though it can be. Instead, you can choose all sorts of subgenres of journal writing.
Take these three famous diaries, for instance:
- The Diary of Anne Frank
- Leonardo Da Vinci's Notebook
- The Diary of the Voyage of the H.M.S Beagle by Charles Darwin
Anne Frank's diary contains their family's daily events, and Da Vinci's diary contains pictures, ideas, diagrams, and labels. And Darwin's reads like a captain's log of the expedition.
If you struggle to think of writing topics, you don’t need to hide away or go into monk mode. You just need some journaling prompts. The 12 writing ideas and prompts below should help you get started keeping a journal, regardless of your writing skills.
1. Keep a Digital Diary
Everyone loves the smell of new leather notebooks, but new software like Obsidian has made digital journal keeping real competition for your beautiful Moleskin.
Obsidian is a second brain application. You can keep a diary and take notes with Obsidian with features that a personal diary can’t compete with:
- Hyperlinks to link entries together
- Templates for setting up different journal writing prompts
- Sync your entries across devices
- Use Obsidian plugins for even more features
2. Write a Letter
Why not take a break from your usual journal pages and write a letter in your daily journal session today? Of all the writing activities, this will soon become your favorite.
Write a letter to someone you know or someone you’ve never met. You don’t need to send it. A letter could be a great way to reflect on an embarrassing event in the past or a traumatic experience. Psychologists promote writing courses as a way to get to know yourself in the deepest sense.
Track your family's genealogy in your journal. Start by creating a family tree and filling in as many members as possible. Then, take your journal with you to family members and ask them to help fill in the gaps.
4. Daily Reflection
A daily reflection is a great way to create a journaling habit and practice intentional living. If you find writing your journal daily challenging, commit to jotting down a daily reflection.
A daily reflection only needs a sentence or two, so you can scribble it down in no time, and because you only need to summarize the day that's just passed, you don't need to struggle to think of something to write. Instead, you only need to answer these two journal prompts to write a daily reflection:
- How did you feel today?
- What did you do?
“Today I felt great, I went to the gym and finished with a 30 minute yoga class.”
5. Gratitude Journaling
Gratitude journaling is a therapeutic practice of writing down things that make you feel grateful. In addition, studies have shown that daily writing in a gratitude journal lowers anxiety and stress.
You don't need to write pages and pages for this to work. All you need to do is jot down 2-3 bullet points of things you're thankful to have in your life.
Some days journaling comes easier than others, so if you're feeling some writer's block, a solution is to use gratitude prompts. Gratitude prompts are phrased as the start of a sentence or as a question. You can then answer the question or complete the sentence for your gratitude journaling for the day. Here are some examples:
- Who made your day better today?
- The first thing that made me smile today was
6. Reading Log
Keeping a reading log is the best way to track your reading and ensure you don't forget it when you start the next book. Take a journal page and create a “to read” list. By the end of the year, you'll have finished all of these books and written them up in your log.
A reading log is more than simply checking off books from a to-read list. It's a diary page dedicated to a book. Restricting it to one page makes it more manageable. On the other hand, it forces you only to include the essential parts of the book. Here's how to create your first reading log page.
- Add the book title and author to the top of the page.
- Create a “characters” section to write the names and a one-sentence description of important characters.
- Create a “summary” section, and write the summary when you finish the book.
- The rest of the page is for book notes. Add any crucial points or quotes you want to keep from the book.
7. Dream Diary
Dreams are like bubbles, they float around in your head, but when you try to catch them, they pop. Keeping a dream diary is a great way to hold onto those dreams so you can look back at them later and analyze their meanings.
You should keep a dream diary separate from your regular one. You don't want to read it in years to come and wonder whether something happened or was only a dream that would defeat the whole purpose.
- Keep your dream journal (and a pen) by your bedside.
- Note down the details of your dream as soon as you wake up
8. Sketching and Drawing in an Art Journal
Journaling doesn't have to mean writing. If you don’t know what to write, art journaling might be for you. Sometimes you feel less pressure when you draw your journal entry rather than write it. You don't need to be much of an artist; no one will see your entries but you.
Draw something that made you smile today, or doodle and see what you produce.
9. Creative Journaling
The best way to combat writer's block is to make something up. You can't have exciting things to write about from your life every day. No one's life is that interesting! So on the days when all you did was stay home and clear out your email inbox, do some creative journaling instead.
Creative journaling is like creative writing, except in a diary entry style. So rather than writing about what you did today, you look through someone else's eyes and describe their day. Use these creative writing prompts:
- A day with a famous person or celebrity
- A friend or family member
- A character from a movie, book, or another planet
- An inanimate object or someone who doesn't exist
Imagine the exciting diary entry you could write from the perspective of Elon Musk's pen or an alien living on Mars who sees the Mars Rover.
Let your imagination go wild, and enjoy the flow that comes with being creative.
10. Free Writing
Free writing is a free-flowing writing exercise to improve your self-expression and keep on writing, no matter how you feel. Many people write their morning pages first thing in the morning using this method. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, just write down your thoughts and feelings and maintain a written stream of consciousness.
- Grab a pen and paper.
- Set a timer for five minutes.
- Write something down, and don’t stop until the timer goes off.
11. Travel Journals
Remember to pack your journal when you go traveling! Writing journal entries while on a family vacation is not only a great travel memory to look back on, but it can also focus your mind on your experiences there.
A classic travel journal would include an entry for every day of your trip, detailing where you went, what you saw, and what you ate, but you don't have to go this route. If you're touring Europe, why not write an entry for each country you visit? Or each city? This way, you can reduce the pressure of needing to write something every day and include only the highlights of each location.
Here are some ideas:
- Draw a map of your trip and add the locations you visited.
- Stick ticket stubs or other travel memories into your journal.
- Ask people you meet to sign or write a few words.
12. Mind Mapping
David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done, uses mind maps instead of regular lists. They allow him to be more creative and to think less linearly. You can create mind maps in your journal whenever you want to be creative or list information more interestingly.
- Start with the title or topic in the middle of the page.
- Write down the sub-topics or main ideas relating to the subject around it.
- Then use lines to connect new ideas you come up with to each subgenre.
You will see connections you never noticed before using this mind-mapping method.
13. Habit Tracking
New habits are tough to start. We've all been there, the first week of January, and we've already broken our new year's resolution. But you can utilize your journal to keep you on track this year.
Habit trackers are a popular way to stop you from breaking your promises to yourself, and it doesn't take long to set up in your journal. Here's how to create a habit tracker for the month.
- Turn to an empty two-page spread.
- Divide the two pages into boxes, one for each day of the month
- Add the dates to each box
Every day you perform your new habit, draw a big “X” in the corresponding box. The goal is to have a month full of Xs.
With all these writing ideas, writer’s block is a thing of the past, so grab your personal journal, pick one of the journal writing ideas, and start the writing process.