The Ultimate Guide to Journaling

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Welcome to the Ultimate Guide to Journaling. This guide allows you to get a solid overview of the benefits and types of journaling habits most commonly practiced. Some sections of this article lead to other posts giving you the option to explore those that interest you in more detail.

What Exactly is Journaling?

Journaling is, very simply, the act of recording personal information on a regular basis, typically daily. There are no rules about what you can record. I write about life, feelings, recipes, tasks, projects, prayers, gratitudes….really, everything that makes me a human being living on planet Earth.

Who Should be Journaling?

Ummm, like everyone who can write or draw. The benefits of a regular journaling habit are astounding. If things like having a higher IQ, better memory, improved cognition, higher confidence, greater success, achieving your goals, mindfulness, physical and emotional healing and attaining true happiness are important to you than YOU need to journal.

When and for How Long Should I Journal?

Every day, at whatever time works for you. You don’t have to write much. Some journal writers only record one sentence, I’ve even heard of single word journaling. Take as much or as little time as you want to spend. It should never feel like a chore. With an initial commitment on your part journaling will become as automatic as brushing your teeth. Most people journal in the morning as a part of their daily routine, others prefer to journal last thing before bed in the evening and some even do both.

What Should I Write In?

There are dozens of amazing options! A composition notebook from your local dollar store will work just as well as a high end leather journal, of course we are partial to Paperback Journals®….that’s why we created them! :)

What Should I Write With?

My friends, we have an addiction to writing utensils over here at Paperback Journal Co. Well, actually we have several addictions…paper, coffee, chocolate, stickers, washi tape, cats…never mind! Here are the favored writing utensils for journaling.

Pencil Old fashioned pencils are cheap, abundant and come with an eraser on the end…a major plus if you didn’t ace penmanship class (though with regular journaling your penmanship will dramatically improve.)

Pens & Markers You’ve got your choice of ballpoint, gel, felt, fine point, brush tip, rollerball and broad tip. They come in every color you can imagine. Some of our favorites are the metallic and pearlized gel pens. They make your journal page look good enough to eat.

Ink Nibs make everyone in our office swoon just a little. There is nothing else quite like a nib pen and bottle of fine ink to make you feel like you are writing the next classic on the pages you scribe.

Charcoal, Pastels & Watercolors Art mediums are also used in journals. Make sure your paper weight is high enough to not bleed through to the back or next page.

What Style of Journaling Should I Use?

There are many styles of journal keeping. Most serious journals use more than one type. We (the office group over here at Paperback Journal) fluctuate from day to day depending on our moods, which journal we are writing in (we all keep multiple journals) and the subject matter. Below is a description of the major types of journaling styles. Experiment with each of them, mix and match them to create a style that is uniquely yours.


A formal journal is exclusively text. It is usually written in a “Dear Diary” style and functions as a written record of the days’ events.

Art and Mixed Media

An art journal focuses on visual presentation rather than textual. It may contain drawings, watercolor, sketches to create later in other mediums, collages of magazine clippings, ephemera and various other papers/fabrics.


A bullet journal is part planner and part journal. Typically the paper used to bullet journal is dotted or graph style paper. Bullet journals have a key system of symbols used primarily as to-do lists. There is a great deal of emphasis on drawing layouts, doodles and using colored pens rather than monochromatic ink.


Discovery journals are written using prompts. The purpose of the prompt is to get the writer to contemplate a particular question or statement, then respond in writing. Used to develop mindfulness, to process feelings & emotions about the past, present or future and to record nostalgia.


Anyone suffering from a chronic illness (mental or physical) of any kind should be journaling. Studies have shown drastic improvement when patients utilize journaling in conjunction with treatment.


Dream journals record the content, imagery and impressions from dreams. Typically used in conjunction with another journal type, such as being used as an entry into a larger daily journal type.


A journal kept to plan and record a specific event. The most common forms are for weddings and pregnancy.


A journal limited to a particular subject. Common forms of subject journals include: gratitude/thankfulness, mindfulness, meditation, travel, fitness, health, weight loss, finances/budget, business, projects, food and relationships. Subject journals can be used together with a daily journal or in place of one for a period of time.

Free Writing

Free writing is writing without specific intention or planning. Allowing the words to flow onto the paper in a stream of consciousness rather than contemplating and formulating what to write. Free writing is considered a form of meditation and is often used in conjunction with spiritual or prayer journaling.


Focus is on hearing from and recording information from the spiritual realms. Prayers are recorded and then referred back to and updated with answers & serendipities. Tracks spiritual development. Often used in conjunction with bible study or other religious texts.


Most journal writers use a combination of techniques in their journals. It keeps journaling fun, interesting and continuously develops into your own unique journaling style.

Making Journal Writing a Habit

Brushing your teeth is a habit we all share (well, hopefully it is). How did we all establish that habit? Our parents made us brush our teeth so many times in a row that it became an automatic response to the trigger they established (going into the bathroom in the morning and evening). We don’t even think about it, it is a completely automatic part of our morning and evening routine. A journaling habit is established the same way, but it will be much easier because you will choose a trigger to piggyback journaling on top of. If you struggle to journal consistently choose an already established habit to serve as your trigger to journal. For instance, if you drink coffee or tea each morning let pouring your cup be the trigger to pick up your journal and write. Initially it will feel rushed and that’s ok. Start out with just 2 minutes of journaling. Set the timer on your phone and write, draw or doodle for 120 seconds. Done. It won’t make you late and you will be working to firmly establish the practice in the habit recording section of your brain. Do this every day for 30 days. The next month up your session to 5 minutes. Continue to set the timer on your phone. Don’t end your sessions early and don’t run over either. Begin and end with the timer. Increase your journal time each week or month until you reach the amount of time that works for you. Try to stick with a set time frame rather than writing for 5 minutes one day and 20 the next. We really are creatures that prefer structure and having the framework of “I’m going to journal for x number of minutes” allows your brain to relax.

Get Started

Are you ready to make journaling a part of your daily life? Like our Facebook page to download a printable worksheet with your first 30 days of journaling prompts. The prompts are specifically designed to be completed in the first month two minute journaling window.  

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