How (and Why) to Journal

Title Image: pink notebook with rose gold pen laying on top, flower embellishments in the corners surrounded by little pearls. Title overlaid on a piece of torn paper: How (and why!) to Journal


I recently read a book called With Pen in Hand: the Healing Power of Writing. I found it in a thrift shop a couple years ago and I have been meaning to get to it ever since. You guys, my readers, are what gave me the final push to open to the first page.

Personally, I have always written, always journaled. Throughout my life and all the hardships (there have been plenty) I have always had my journals, where all my thoughts and feelings were safe. I have heard that people who journal are more successful. As this blog post by mentions, visionaries across time have kept journals, from Einstein and Da Vinci to Gaga and Emma Watson.

As I read the book and learned more about why writing helps, I had flashbacks to times in my life when I didn't know that I was healing myself, working through my feelings, and chasing my dreams. On paper. 

Blogging about pen pal topics and all the fun you can have sending notes and letters is wonderful, but I know there are many of you who are out of the habit of writing. Either that, or you don't always know where to start or what you should say. This makes corresponding a bit more difficult because you never seem to find the time. Many of you have expressed concerns about being a good pen pal, not writing back fast enough, not doing it right.

I wonder how many of you journal daily or weekly, and I've had it on my mind lately to make a blog post about setting up a regular writing habit. I could tell you how to build one, make a practical guide that will teach you how to work up to eventually doing it without thinking, but first, there is another, more pressing matter.

Before I answer the question 'When should I write?' or 'How do I get in the habit of writing?' I should answer the all-important, 'Why should I write?' and the ever-elusive, 'How?'


How to Write/Journal?

I'm going to use two examples - two people in my life who I've recently talked to about writing: my boyfriend and my aunt.

My boyfriend has a few hang ups, like we all do, and as anyone who's been in a close romantic relationship knows, those connections have a way of teaching us things about ourselves, highlighting the places we don't look very often. To work through his feelings, I have been suggesting that he writes about it.

"Writing has never helped me." he argues. "I don't know where to start."

I relay the advice the book gave about this, that sometimes you have to just get the pen going - write anything: where you are sitting, what you are wearing, what you are drinking, what time it is, the fact that you don't know what to write about... anything to get the words flowing, until something more telling comes out.

Two days later, he shared a few short sentences with me that he'd written after I'd left his house in Holland for the far away mountains of Idaho where I'm from. I asked him if I could share those here, and he consented.

Waking up in an empty house and coming home in one made me feel sad and alone. No "Have a nice day" or "Welcome home" makes the house feel very empty.


Featured: "Western Girl" notebook by AM Art & StationeryPicture: open notebook showing blank pages, ready for your brilliant ideas and deepest thoughts and feelings 

Find your safe place here, in one of my recycled notebooks, embellished with hand-embroidered accents and vintage sewing pattern paper notions.


And that was it.

Simple, just a few sentences. Nothing fancy. He didn't even search for answers or make any huge discoveries. He just got it onto the page - exactly how it came to him.


It helps somehow, even though it's a very small thing. With Pen in Hand explains that just putting your thoughts on the page is enough to make a difference, to help you face reality and deal with it... move forward. Sometimes all the validation or comfort you need is just in writing it down, sort of like saying it out loud, then it's done.

The second example comes from a short conversation with my aunt, also spurred from the book. She, like me, sometimes has trouble sleeping. She said her head is filled with thoughts when she's in bed. They either keep her from sleeping or they prevent her from falling back asleep when she's woken up too early in the morning. I told her the same thing happens to me and often, I can't fall asleep again until I've gotten it off my mind and onto the page.

"I'm not good at writing" she says, "I never have been. Writing essays in school terrified me. I don't know how to find the right words or how to make it sound nice."

Many people have this same hang up with writing. I've experienced it many, many times myself, but we let ourselves down when we put a standard on the way our thoughts should come out. When journaling, the things we write aren't for anyone else, so we don't need to worry about it sounding nice.

The type of writing that goes in our journals is not for academic review or to report results, it's to express, work through feelings, develop ideas, make sense of things and organize information. It can be a sketch, a list, a word web,  incomplete sentences, or any version of disjointed thoughts. It can contain poor grammar, bad spelling and misuse of phrases of speech. It can switch between different languages. Anything goes!

With Pen in Hand asserts that writing without the need for perfection is essential to reaping the benefits from it. In a raw and vulnerable retelling, a woman shares how she wrote the story of her abuse more than 20 years after it happened. She had been wanting to write it out for a long time. She knew it needed to be told, but what kept her from doing it all those years was the pressure of finding the right words. It was a long story with a lot of emotional heaviness. She wanted it to sound just right. She wanted it to equal the writing of her favorite author, E.B. White.

Writing without the need for perfection is essential to reaping the benefits from it.

With a nudge from her therapist, she finally ignored that need for perfection and just wrote what was on her heart. She starts with where she is, what the room feels like, and what music she has playing. She writes about how weird it is to be writing about such a serious thing in this casual environment 20 years late, on a completely normal day. Then she goes into the account and retells it in detail. By the time she is done, she feels like a weight had been lifted.

At the end of Chapter 8 she is quoted saying, "Now that it's on paper, it doesn't seem to matter as much. This assignment made it possible to write about it without worrying about style or E.B White's approval... very freeing."

So when you write, write from the heart. Put aside any insecurities or desires to be perfect and sound intelligent. Just write what's on your mind.

If it comes out in lists, graphs, poetry, or disjointed sentences, let it.


And why? 


Why should you write?

If I haven't answered that question by now, I will do it shortly and matter of factly.


It's good for you, and you deserve it.


In Chapter 11, another woman who shared her story lists her three reasons why writing is important. A leader at a counselling outreach for domestic violence victims and a victim herself, she has recommended writing to everyone who has come to her for help, and she has seen it change people's lives. To sum it up, she believes in writing because: 

  • "It helps you remember the realizations you've had." Even if you don't read it back, having written it down the first time helps seal it in your memory, so you remember the profound conclusions you've come to.
  • It helps you make important choices, especially when you're confused or on the fence about them.

and lastly,

  • Writing is something you can do for yourself. It's not expensive, and it doesn't hurt anybody, but you can gain personal benefit from it. It's cheaper than a therapist.


And with that I say,

Keep writing and stay curious.



Still need some help getting started? Grab this digital download for only $0.99 - it has 25 Writing Prompts for Self Discovery.

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