Tips for Sustaining a Vibrant Journaling Practice

It seems we’re all busy these days. Often, too busy to take time for things that we know would really enhance and enrich our lives—like journaling or art-making. We long for a creative outlet, and every day we wind up scrambling just to get through the necessary tasks of the day before falling into bed too exhausted to even think of journaling.

Or we do pretty well for a while, and then someone gets sick, we go on vacation, the house or the garden needs some major work . . . and . . . so much for journaling.

Is this you?

Like many other things we decide to do for our physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health, journaling seems to get squeezed into the margins, and then squeezed right on out of your life.

That was me, too, for many years. I would start a journal, and write in it (back then it was just writing) every day for a few weeks, or maybe even a few months. And then life would get in the way.

I’d pick up my journal and be shocked to see I hadn’t written anything for three weeks . . . or three months . . . or year.

I’d think, “Well, I’m obviously not cut out for this.” I’d be angry with myself for being so undisciplined, and discouraged that I hadn’t sustained my great start.

Sometimes, I’d succeed in making myself sit down and journal every day for many months. Sometimes I had things I really wanted to write about, but a lot of the time, it just felt like busywork. I’d re-read what I’d written and think, “This is a mishmash of mundane trivia and whining. Why would I want to keep this?”

And out it would go.

But I kept coming back. Something was drawing me. Some part of me knew that I needed and wanted something journaling had to offer. It took me a while to figure out how to make it happen for more than a few months.

And how to make it something that added energy to my life instead of being yet another task I had to get done.

I designed lot of the structure of Creative Energy Journaling specifically to address the problems I ran into when I tried to journal before. I hope I can give you a few ideas that will help you make your journaling practice something that restores you, energizes you and makes it easier to deal with your busy life.

Ask yourself why you are drawn to it.

For a long time, I never even considered why I was drawn to journaling. I just had this vague notion that it was something that would be good for me. And from time to time (especially when I was starting up again after a long break!), I would really treasure the time I spent with my journal. But then there would be a time when I was busy and stressed, and I’d need to find some extra time somewhere. And journaling would go out the window again.

It’s hard to put any priority on something if you feel it’s frivolous or without value. But it’s rare that someone drawn to journaling really feels it’s frivolous or without value. (That message is usually coming from somewhere else!)

You know it has value for you or you wouldn’t be drawn to it. Take a few moments to list the benefits you find in journaling so you can remind yourself when you’re tempted to decide it’s expendable.

Some possibilities:

  • a form of meditation, prayer or devotion that centers and connects you
  • an opportunity to think more creatively about situations or problems in your life
  • an opportunity to re-connect with yourself after a day of work and caring for others
  • a safe place to practice thinking in a more open, flexible and creative way, so that creative, intuitive thinking comes more naturally for you

Respect your own rhythms.

Now that I have been journaling actively for many years, I realize that one of the biggest mistakes I made was thinking I had to journal every day. Or fill a certain number of pages a day. Or, when I started including images, that I had to “make a complete drawing” every day.

This is why I suggest you open your journal anywhere, work on the same page again and again if you like, skip around and do a little here and there if you like. Re-visit pages. Transform pages. Embellish, doodle, make creative seeds.

Some days you have something on your mind that you feel compelled to wrestle with. Your journal can be a wonderful safe place to explore your feelings, solve problems, resolve conflicts and deal with pain, illness or loss.

But other days, you may be better served by simply leafing through your journal and immersing yourself for a while in color and symbol and story.

Sometimes, you’ll be in a playful mood and want to mess around with color and make Creative Seeds for later work.

Sometimes, the repetitive motion of just doodling or embellishing a previous page is soothing.

Sometimes, you’ll have a flood of creative ideas to record in your journal for later development.

And some days, you won’t pick up your journal at all.

And that’s okay. Respect your own rhythms.

Make it easy to start.

The hard part is getting started, so make it easy to start. I have a minimal journaling kit that I cart around with me everywhere. Just my journal, some colored pencils, and a favorite pen. I don’t have to spend time “setting up” or finding my journaling supplies. I can sit in bed and journal, I can sit on the beach and journal, I can sit in a waiting room and journal . . .

At home, if you can make a dedicated time and/or space for journaling, you’ll be light-years ahead in establishing a sustainable journaling practice.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be every day!  Maybe instead of watching that show you don’t really like, you can curl up in a comfy chair and journal while your family is watching. Maybe you give yourself 5 minutes with your journal right after yoga in the morning. Maybe you’ll give yourself permission to journal on Sunday morning over your second cup of coffee.

Is 20 minutes every Sunday morning really worth it? Absolutely! Try it. If that’s really the only time you can count on feeling relaxed and unhurried, you’ll be much better off really savoring that 20 minutes than trying to force it to happen every day and being discouraged when it doesn’t.

Is there a lovely space in your home where you really want to spend time? Make it your journaling spot.

When I was in grad school and had a small child at home, I set up a little private retreat in a walk-in closet. I mounted a couple of shelves, one wide enough to serve as a mini-desk, and set up a battery-powered light. It might sound claustrophobic, but at the time, it was heavenly to be able to close the door and close out the rest of the world for 15 or 20 minutes. I could leave my materials out without worrying about any little fingers getting into things.

Now, I have all my journaling materials in a toolbox, so I can take it to any part of the house, but in summer, I typically wind up out on my sunporch. I know I’ll want to start the day with a cup of coffee out there, so that’s where I put my journal.

Just show up.

An awful lot of creative thinking looks (and feels) like daydreaming. We rarely give ourselves the opportunity to let our minds wander. And many of us find it very uncomfortable at first.

It takes about the same length of time to fall into a creative frame of mind as it does to fall asleep, twenty minutes or so for most people. (One reason artists get crabby when someone interrupts them to ask “a quick question”!)

Part of Creative Energy Journaling is giving yourself the opportunity to fall in. A lot of people think they’re not creative, when in reality, they’ve never let themselves stay in a creative space for long enough to find out!

It doesn’t have to be every day, but whenever you have chosen for your journaling time, show up for it and hang around in the “creative zone” awhile!

Don’t tell yourself you have to work. If something calls to you, you’ll be motivated to work. If not, simply connecting with the creative environment of your journal pages may be what you need today.

If you feel you want to do something, but have no idea what to do, that’s what Creative Seeds are for!  Or, doodle. Or embellish a page you’ve worked on before.

Remind yourself it’s not about “producing”.

You do not have to “do something” every time you journal.

You do not have to “finish something” every time you journal (or ever!).

You do not have to finish one page before you can go on to another.

It’s possible there is no such thing as a “finished” page in a Creative Energy Journal, since you never know when you’ll have a new insight, or decide it’s time to transform a page into something new.

You can (and probably should) have more Creative Seeds that haven’t been developed yet that anything else in your journal.

You can write fragments, random ideas, stray thoughts, poems, stories, etc. anywhere you want in your journal.

Reading or leafing through your journal IS journaling work!

If you never get comfortable with letting your mind wander, it’s pretty hard for it to wander into a really original idea.

Engage others.

If you are a social creature, or have family members who are, you may find it easier to engage them in some of the activities, too. They don’t have to take up journaling with you. You can have a crayon conversation with your spouse on a spare sheet of paper. You can tell your “Just-So” story to your kids during bath time. You can get together with a group of friends every Saturday afternoon to journal at a local coffee shop as a way to preserve the time (or to deal with family members who scoff at journaling as a “waste of time”.)

Don’t turn it into a craft.

Crafts are great! Working with your hands to make something is enormously satisfying. But it’s not the same thing as a Creative Energy Journaling practice.  When you are doing a craft, you at least have constraints, if not a pattern to follow.

Let your Creative Energy Journaling be an “anti-hobby”. If you get tired of drawing in your journal, write poetry. If you find yourself getting too fussy about making a page look “pretty”, do some watercolor inkblots to shake things up.

Give a friend, or a small child, some crayons and let them make a Creative Seed for you.

If it feels right to you to record a recipe today and your dream tomorrow, go for it! Let your journal be what you need it to be in the moment.

If you get bugged by mess sometimes, remember that you can have more than one physical journal in your practice. Or no journal at all. You might want to just keep a portfolio. You might want tiny journal to carry around. Don’t force it into a single mold.

Check the blog!

These are just a few of the ideas that have helped me sustain my journaling practice. In later posts, I’ll talk about some of the others, like identifying the obstacles and removing them, coping with others in my life who don’t value my journaling (or resent it!), and dealing with creative blocks and creative slumps.

I hope that having these posts show up each week in your inbox will help to keep you excited and engaged.

Another way to stay excited and engaged is to participate in the conversation.

Have you struggled in the past to sustain a journaling practice, or is this something entirely new for you? If you have had some success, what worked for you? Please share your ideas in the comments or on our Facebook Page.

Happy journaling!