Maybe you’ve heard of the benefits of journalling but it seems a bit daunting. The following are a few tips I’ve learned from several years of journalling, and while they are aimed at Christians journalling for the benefit of their spiritual walk, many of the points will apply to journalling in general.
Some of these elements feel may strange at first – but don’t let your idea of “normal” get in the way of doing something that will provide you with profound benefits. Here, in no particular order, here are my 15 tips for journalling.
1.) Don’t be tied to the journal. If you have nothing to write, write nothing. Don’t become a slave to the journal. Having said that, if you commit to journalling, then commit to it. There is real benefit in journalling, but some of these benefits require a period of time to be able to appreciate.
2.) Write in the morning. I find that at the end of the day my mind is a mash of different things, and it is hard to focus. In the morning, I find that the most important things have bubbled to the top of my mind from yesterday and the things that I don’t remember were less important anyway. Don’t restrict yourself to writing in the morning, write whenever something comes to mind that you think should be recorded (see point 10 below for why), but make a point of writing in the morning when you are fresh.
3.) Consider the benefits of paper and the benefits of the computer. Paper is good for journalling because it gets you away from the computer and potentially away from technology, helping you to focus. Paper is bad because it takes longer to write than it does to type. Computers are great because you can get information and ideas down quickly, but they are bad because a myriad of colorful and interesting distractions beckon. But does it have to be an either/or decision? I tend to use a combination of the computer and paper notebook. But even if I use paper, I tend to transcribe it into my electronic diary later. Also because a computer is more efficient, I tend to write more on the computer than I do when I’m on paper. Finally a computer is easily searched for a word or term – paper is more difficult to search quickly.
4.) Struggling for something to write? Write down the passages you read in your Bible reading for the day, or a Bible verse in your reading that was interesting along with why it was interesting. Write down who you prayed for, what prayers were answered (this is great when you record answers later). Write down what you didn’t do that you should have done or what you did that you shouldn’t do. If you are serious about confronting and defeating sin, write it down. It becomes more real than you want it to be when you write it down and helps motivate you to eradicate it. I try and write down applications from my Bible reading – things I need to change – and am currently working on a weekend wind back where I look back at the things I wrote during the week and then make a plan to work on those things in specific ways over the next week.
5.) Don’t force minimums. Some people advocate writing a minimum of 750 words, but I think, if there is nothing there, don’t force it. Don’t become a slave to the journal.
6.) Don’t be afraid to write personal stuff. If you can’t get out the nasty details about your sin, you probably aren’t going to do a good job of eradicating that sin from your life. We must be willing to be brutally honest with ourselves if we are serious about sanctification. God already knows the ugliness of our sin, so the only person we are surprising is ourselves – which is a humbling thing to do. If you don’t want others to see your personal posts consider password protecting or encrypting your notes.
7.) Journal anywhere. If you decide to go entirely electronic (i.e. Computerized) make sure you select a journalling application or approach that will work when you are away from your computer. I use DayOne for journalling on the computer. It also comes with a version for the iPad and iPhone, so whether I’m at home or away, I can enter some notes on my phone which is almost always with me. A small notebook might provide the same thing to you, just don’t be tied to home for journalling.
8.) Write responses. Along with application notes from your Bible readings, write out your personal responses to God – short prayers and specific things to do. Pray these prayers back to the Lord.
9.) Avoid distractions. If you are easily distracted (as I tend to be), get all the distractions out of the way. On my computer, I have a workspace (on my Mac) that has no applications on it most of the time, but I use it for journalling because there are no visual distractions. The lack of other apps makes a huge difference in the ability to focus. The same applies to paper journalling – find a place where you can be largely without distractions and camp there until you’re done.
10.) Go back over your notes occasionally. It is useful to review what Bible passages you have (or have not) read over the last few months. As you review you’ll also see consistent areas of struggle, or themes in things you’ve been learning, or people who have popped into and out of your life that you may need to thank, or confront or remember to pray for them. You’ll also see things you’ve been praying about and you can often update those with answers. When answers to prayer are recorded you can look back at the Lords faithfulness and your responses. You may find that you didn’t return to thank the Lord for answers to prayer – but then you can fix this when you discover it. Most importantly you will be able to see how you’ve changed and matured from a year ago by the things you wrote then compared with the things you are writing and thinking about today. Do you spend your time differently? Are you more consistent in prayer? In the reading of the word? List the ways you see that you’ve changed, write them in a new entry and thank the Lord for working in you and on you. Reviewing your past entries allows you to monitor your progress, growth, struggles and walk with the Lord in a meaningful way.
11.) Integrate it into your devotional times. Don’t think of journalling as something else to do. Instead think of it as a way to record what you already do, and then expand its use from there.
12.) Back Up. If you use the computer for your Journal, back up your notes to something like dropbox. DayOne has Dropbox syncing support built in, other apps allow you to change the location of the information as it is saved – so move it somewhere it will be backed up without you having to think about it. Don’t rely on just one backup – choose two. I have my dropbox folders backed up using my computers main backup – providing an extra layer of protection.
13.) Write for posterity. You should write for your own benefit, but think too about the legacy you want to leave to others. Personally, I want my children to be able to look at my journal in years to come and see that I’ve been consistent in praying for them regularly. I also may want to share experiences with my family in the future – writing these out when they happen can make this possible. Also if your family reads it later, they should be able to see that you wrestled with your sin, sought God regularly (if not daily) and overcame struggles through the grace of God. This can encourage them in their walk with the Lord later – perhaps when you’re gone.
14.) Just starting? Keep it simple. You’ll need to develop the habit before you can develop the habit further. Start by writing down what you read, how you feel or whats on your mind. Don’t get too complicated too fast or it will become a burden. Keep the fun in it or you won’t keep it.
15.) There are no rules. These are tips – not rules. There are no rules for journalling – you make it up as you go, and journal to suit your needs and personality. So be free and enjoy your journalling!