Journalling is journalling. You just start writing, and what comes out is a stream of consciousness.That’s what I used to think, but other approaches can unlock your journaling and provide you with all its benefits.
Open JournalingJust write. That’s what journaling is, right? Certainly, that is one way. Fundamentally, open journaling is an excellent way to keep a journal, and it provides great flexibility. Simply open to the first clean page and start writing.
UnstructuredOpen journaling can be either completely unstructured or semi-structured. Unstructured journaling is a matter of simply writing whatever comes to mind. There are several reasons why you might want to do this. You might want to simply get all your thoughts or feelings out on paper so you can think them through clearly, or you might use this as a way to get your creativity going in the morning. Many people find open journaling most beneficial on a computer. Using an electronic journal opens up ideas such as the 750-word challenge, or allows you to hit some other sort of creative goal. Another benefit of using a computer is that it allows you to more easily edit what you write. With open journaling, there is no right or wrong. It is an exercise you do for the sale of your soul.
Fundamentally, open journaling is an excellent way to keep a journal, and it provides great flexibility.
Semi-structuredBut unstructured journaling is not your only choice. You might prefer a semi-structured approach to journaling. This method is useful for recording things you do and think about every day, such as the passages you read, what you observed in your reading, responses to your reading, or even arguments you might have with yourself or the text about how it applies to you. The point is, with a semi-structured approach there is a plan of sorts, and this provides enough structure to get you started each day, as well as focus you on whatever purpose you have or benefit you want for keeping a journal.
Prompted JournalingI’ve tended to prefer semi-structured journaling over the years, but I’ve become a fan of prompted journaling over the last few months. Prompted journaling discourages the randomness of open journaling and provides some prompts to which you can respond each day. There is no limit to the number of prompts you can have, and you don’t even have to use the same prompts every day.
BenefitsThere are several benefits of prompted journaling. One of the most obvious is that having a prompt in front of you helps you overcome writer’s block. If you have a prompt before you, you just respond to the prompt. The prompt could be a fill in the blank sentence, or it might be a question. Either way, it gets you writing. Where open journaling is great for getting stuff out there, it can also be time-consuming, especially if you’re writing with pen and paper. One of the benefits of prompted journaling is that you can complete your journaling in as little as a few minutes. Having the right prompts means that even though you’re spending less time, the time can have a serious impact. I have just four prompts that I like to answer, and they take around 5 minutes to answer.
Having the right prompts means that even though you’re spending less time, the time can have a serious impact.The reason it can be impactful is that you can focus the prompts where you need to focus your heart. Each time I journal I ask myself to think of three things I’m thankful for, to encourage me to grow in thankfulness. It doesn’t have to be things that have happened to me; it can also be things I’m thankful for in the lives of others. These are easily incorporated into my prayer, helping me to be deliberate in thanksgiving when I pray. The point is, I can craft my prompts around the needs of my soul. Prompted journaling is useful to become consistent each day. Prompted journaling helps me to focus on the needs of my heart each day, and this helps me become consistent in specific areas of my life that need my attention.
A third wayMaybe you’re like me, and you like some of the benefits of both these approaches. So why not combine them? I have my regular journaling prompts I have each day, but I also use space for writing applications from scripture and writing out prayers. I don’t always do this, but when I want or need to, I use the flexibility of the middle road. There are no rules. Mix up these approaches and make them work for you.
Conclusion: Focus on the purposeLike the rest of your quiet time, journaling revolves around God’s purpose for us: our sanctification. Therefore, use journaling to help you achieve this goal by selecting the elements that will be most beneficial for this purpose. The only rules are those that determine how useful journaling is for my soul. Knowing there are different approaches, find one that fits for you so that you can reap the benefits of journaling.
How do you approach journaling?