Today, I thought I’d share some journaling prompts that will help get you through those days where the words aren’t flowing but you want to get something down on paper anyway. Or maybe you’re trying some creative writing but you’re stuck with a serious mental block.
In either case, these guides will get you back on track.
The first thing to remember when journaling is that each entry doesn’t have to be an essay. Sometimes your pen will race frantically across the page, and other times it’ll be tap-tapping against a blank backdrop as the seconds and minutes pass.
If all you can manage some days is a sentence or two, that still counts as a successful entry. (Heck, sometimes even the lack of an entry can speak volumes.)
But if you’re really stuck and feeling frustrated, this list of journaling prompts should get the juices (and the ink) flowing again:
1. Name something you're grateful for
If you want to expand on why you’re grateful for it, or if you want to try list as many as you can, go for it. But if you can fill in the blank for “Today I am grateful for ___________”, you’re still doing just fine.
2. Follow your senses
This is a trick I learned when I suffered from panic attacks a few years ago. You name something you can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste (if applicable). It forces the mind to focus on the present moment. On things that are tangible. If you’re having a hard time expressing how you feel or putting words on your emotions, sometimes simply describing the things you’re experiencing with your senses is enough to root you in the here and now and provide a little snapshot of your life.
3. Pick an object & describe it
This is like a deep dive of #2 above, but choose something and describe it in as much detail as you can. Think of size, shape, colour, tone, texture, aroma, what it’s used for, how often it’s used, who uses it…
Apart from giving your mind something to focus on, this is also a great way of improving your prose which, in turn, will enrich your journaling efforts in future.
4. Summarise the last book or article you read
This is another great exercise to help you think more critically and analytically, and an excellent way to practice writing clearly and succinctly (something I need to work on myself).
5. Describe how you first met
Think of the last person you had contact with and describe how and when you first met them. If, for some reason, you don’t want to do that (maybe it’s too painful or you just don’t remember), pick an object that’s near you and talk about when you bought it or were gifted it.
6. A slice of life
Hopefully you’re seeing now that not every entry needs to be deep and meaningful. Sometimes the best things to look back on aren’t the important events or turning points, they’re the simple things that define who you were and what you were doing at that moment in time. Things like the songs you were listening to, the books you were reading, the foods you were eating, the clothes you were wearing, the TV shows you were watching, the websites you were visiting, the apps you were using…
Your memory has a good way of storing the “big” stuff; it’s the little things that get lost to the sands of time, and are the ones most likely to prompt you to say, “Oh yeah, I’d completely forgotten all about that” when you come across them. Sometimes, those are the best moments to record.
7. Captain's log
While your diary or journal is a great place to explore your inner feelings and emotions, trying to connect with them on a daily basis can be a bit much. And, if we’re honest, not every day is worthy of deep
space exploration. If you’re struggling, simply noting down the mundane things that happened can be sufficient.
It’s like #6 above except, this time, you’re simply writing a list of everything you did that day. No judgement, no explanation, no tiny details, just a laundry list of your tasks and movements. “I got up at 7am. I ate cereal for breakfast. I drove to work. Etc”.
8. Third person perspective
If you want to have a little more fun with it, imagine you’re a character in a book that you’re writing. You’re still just going about your normal day, but how would a third party describe what you’re doing? How would an author make something so everyday sound new and fresh and exciting?
If it helps, pick a genre.
- If it were a romance novel, you wouldn’t just be drinking coffee, you’d be slowly sipping it, your legs stretched out before you on the chaise longue while you gazed wistfully out the window.
- If it were a psychological thriller, you’d be clutching your cup anxiously, your eyes darting back and forth trying to figure out if that noise was just a figment of your imagination.
- If you were a superhero, your coffee might be laced with kryptonite.
Decide what type of world you’re living in and then describe everything within that frame of reference.
9. Oh, the places you'll go
Journaling isn’t just a simple log of things that happened. Allow yourself to dream. Describe the places you’d like to go, the people you’d like to meet, the home you’d like to live in, and the person you’d like to be.
You’d be surprised how the simple act of writing these things down suddenly motivates you to take action on them. Someday, when you’re looking back over old entries (I do this every year for the previous year), you may just discover that your dreams have come true.
For me, the biggest reason I journal is not to get in touch with myself or to dredge up some deep feelings, but simply to see how far I’ve come.
Here's a flip-through of my journal so you can see how simply it's laid out:
I hope this post has given you some inspiration for your Dear Diary moments. Really, what it all comes down to is thinking outside the box. Forget everything you’ve heard about what a journal should be or what it should contain and just put your own stamp on it.
If you don’t feel like soul-searching, keep it silly. If you feel awkward writing down your emotions, stick to the facts for now.
It’s YOUR journal. Nothing is too boring or mundane or confusing or complex. Nothing is too rambling or self-indulgent or non-sensical. No entry is too short or too long.
On days when you’re just not feeling it but want to get something down, I hope the above list of journaling prompts will provide some inspiration and guidance for you. And you never know, a year from now those might just be your favourites entries to look back on.
Do you currently have a journal? How often do you read back over old entries?