What is the Best Way to Keep a Journal?


Okay, now that you’re here, I might as well tell you this is a trick. Oh, we are going to talk about ways to keep journals; in the weeks and months to come, we are going to talk about it a lot: about paper and laying out a page and formatting and lettering and you name it, but today, there is no so-called best way. What matters is that you clicked on this link because you want to keep a journal or diary – maybe just with words but maybe also with drawings or doodling or gluing or something. And you don’t know how to start.

It is possible you are an experienced journal keeper and do not need outside help. I think it is more likely that you are new at this or that you began and are now stuck. Maybe you bought a blank book and have never made a mark in it because it’s too good to write in. Maybe you have a plain-old, lined notebook that cost $1.29 and you think it’s not good enough.

Whichever it is, you are mistaken. What you need to start your journal is this: something to write on (handmade paper with cotton rag or back of grocery list you found in the bottom of your handbag) and something to write with (Mont Blanc fountain pen or pencil that rolled out of the cushions of your couch while you were looking for change). Oh, and one more thing. Permission.

I teach journal arts in my studio and while some people come in and hit the ground running, waaayyy more come in hoping to find one thing: permission to begin. The word to say you have every right to tell your story – all of it or just a tiny corner of it. The word to say you need to. The go-ahead to take notes for the fun of it: what you see and observe and think and feel and wonder. That it matters. That you and your thoughts deserve a place in those blank pages, in that spiral-bound notebook that is absolutely good enough.

Your thoughts about the school bake sale. Finding God. Starting your own business. Doing the laundry. Understanding your grown children. Sex. The meaning of life. Losing eight pounds. Tasks, goals, aims, dreams, fears. Memories. Your thoughts about these things matter. You matter.

But I get it. There are things in your heart and spirit and body and mind trying to get out and onto the page and if you have not exercised that Giving Yourself Permission muscle, then this can be scary. It is, however, doable. And this is the best way to begin to keep your journal.

  • Get whatever it is you are going to write on. If it is a notebook, do not start on the first page. Turn to the third page and begin there. If you are writing on the back of a grocery list, or a sheet of loose paper, wing it.
  • Write these words: “If I could start keeping a journal, I just know I could……”
  • Keep writing. Keep your hand moving and don’t overthink it. Just finish that sentence. Then write another.
  • Doodle while you are writing, maybe your coffee cup or your pen or your shoes. Write a few words about it. Then go back and reread what you’ve written and write the next sentence.
  • If you get stuck, write this: “I’m stuck and I don’t know what to do, but if I did know, it would be…….”

Because you know what? You know. You just don’t know that you know.

And basically, that’s it. You now know the secret of the best way to (begin to) keep a journal. Feel free to add your own thoughts to the comments. Maybe you will find that your thoughts and experiences with Fear of the Blank Page will help someone else with theirs. Or vice versa. Also, let me know what topics about journal/diary keeping you would like to see covered in the future. I’m on it.



  1. Wonderful, wonderful article on journal keeping! I think too it is very helpful to be clear who you are journaling for…is it for yourself, for a future generation, for peers? It can be confusing if you have an audience in mind (not to mention intimidating!). Being clear on who the audience is, even if it’s just you, can be liberating. I find reminding myself that I’m journaling for me and for no one else gives me a freedom I don’t have if I think of the page as if I were journaling someone. I look forward to the rest of your series!

    • Hi, Laura, My apologies for the delay, I just saw this! It is funny – I actually keep several, different journals because of that audience, that voice. One is just day to day stuff (for history), one if for kind of prayers and goals (for God or who-will-you), one is for art and creative goal-setting (sometimes written in third person to get the “editor” out of the way), and so on. An newsletter is coming out later this week!


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