Overcoming a Journaling Rut

overcoming your journaling rut

Sometimes, it’s hard to stick with journaling. Because journaling is an ongoing practice, similar to taking our vitamins or adopting a yoga routine, there’s no clear end goal. People of all ages can benefit from journaling, and there will never be a time in our lives when we don’t have thoughts or emotions. But it can be challenging to continue returning to our journal for multiple reasons, sometimes to the point where we give up on journaling altogether.

However, just because we’ve stopped journaling in the past doesn’t mean we can’t pick it back up again. If you have struggled with journaling but you want to find a way to get back into the practice, then keep reading for some friendly words of encouragement and helpful tips!

It’s Not a Rut, It’s a Break

First of all, if you’d like to pick up a journaling practice again, don’t consider your time off as a “rut” but rather, merely a break! Breaks can actually be really beneficial for renewing our interest in something that previously began to feel tedious or mundane. It can be good to take a step back and give yourself time off. Try not to be too hard on yourself, and instead of using phrases like “I failed,” “I gave up,” or “I couldn’t,” focus on attitudes like “I took some time away,” “I wanted a break,” or “I needed a refresh.”

Journaling isn’t something you “fail” or “succeed” at–it’s unique to every person and so we should all develop a journaling practice that works best for our personal situations. As long as you’ve got a surface, a writing utensil, and a moment with yourself, you are journaling. And no matter how much time you spend away from it, you can always return to it.

Welcome home.

What Hasn’t Worked for You?

When trying to reconnect with our journaling practice, we need to ask ourselves, “What has not worked for me in the past?” Identifying the source of our struggles is a great place to begin because it will provide clarity as we approach the issue of how to reintroduce journaling back into our lives.

For example, if I have stopped journaling in the past because I found it boring and monotonous, my solution may lie with spicing up my journaling content, maybe with the use of a prompt journal or buying new colored pens. However, if my friend stopped journaling because she simply didn’t have the time, then going out of her way to use fancy pens isn’t going to help with that specific constraint.

Here is a list of possible reasons to help you brainstorm your own:

  • Lack of inspiration/boring
  • Didn’t have the time
  • Didn’t know what to write about
  • Kept forgetting about it
  • Didn’t think it made a difference

I’m going to assume that because you’re reading this article, you have at least some degree of interest in journaling, so it’s not like you necessarily need talked into journaling– but, perhaps you’ve found it dull though, or lost your spark for it, and are now interested in getting back to it.

Once you’ve honed in on what hasn’t worked for you in the past, you’ll have a better idea of where to begin. Identify what turned you “off” from journaling in the past, and ask yourself how you can use that information to make the experience better tailored to your life in the future.

Now, here are some tips and tricks for rejuvenating your journaling practice!

Write with Your Opposite Hand

This option may not be feasible for some people, but I suggest giving it a try anyway! A couple months ago, my grandmother told me that many years ago, she used her left hand (her non-writing hand) to journal and that the experience had been extremely cathartic for her. After my conversation with her, I decided to try this, and I’ve been writing my journal entries with my left hand ever since.

At first, it was quite difficult to write with my left hand; after twenty-five years of my right hand being dominant, it was challenging to get my left hand to make the fine motor movements which have become second-nature to my writing hand. As my left hand would struggle, I would feel impatient and my right hand would tense, wishing it could just take over. However, because the idea of being ambidextrous has intrigued me, I am determined to continue writing journal entries with my left hand for the foreseeable future. It’s been about a month and a half now, and I do notice improvements in my left hand writing and ease of use. It’s certainly reinvigorated my enthusiasm for journaling, because each new journaling session is a chance to practice; I feel like I’m really benefitting from the time with my journal emotionally and physically.

I offer this to you as a suggestion to use however you would like: you may write only one entry with your non-writing hand, you may try to go the full distance with your non-writing hand, or you can ignore this altogether. I believe that this exercise may particularly benefit those who wish to work with their Inner Child, because–as my grandmother explained to me–the handwriting is often scratchy and childlike, so the experience can open up a more direct conversation with your Inner Child. You may find that the things you write with your non-writing hand come from a place where you’re more vulnerable, a place that hasn’t become calloused over with the years of muscle memory.

Or, if you’re like me, sometimes creating a challenge is a way to motivate yourself!

Buy a New Journal and Supplies

This is the nature of our lives in this capitalist society: sometimes shiny new things is exactly what we need to excite us back into a hobby. This past Christmas, I received several gorgeous new notebooks, and I will admit that the joy of writing in such elegant and pretty notebooks has motivated me to write much more than if I were merely scrawling in an average spiral notebook.

I’m not advising a shopping spree necessarily, but perhaps investing in a quality journal and some new pens will be enough to bring you back into a journaling practice. Perhaps you buy some colored markers or some stickers, and you decorate a plain notebook, or maybe you splurge on a fountain pen and some heavy duty parchment. Whatever floats your boat!

If you’re like me, then new office and art supplies are a delight! But the most important thing is that you be honest with yourself– don’t blow your week’s budget on new supplies if you aren’t actually going to use them. (Trust me; been there.)

Make it a Part of Your Routine

Being regimented about journaling isn’t going to work for everyone, but for a lot of us, routine is a helpful guide, and adopting these self-loving practices into our everyday structure can be important for maintaining balance in our lives.

Your journaling routine should be tailored to your preferences. Here are some things you may consider:

  • Do you prefer journaling in the morning, to clear your head for the day?
  • Or at night, after the day’s events have transpired, so you can reflect and unwind?
  • Do you prefer journaling every day of the week?
  • Or every-other day, or maybe once a week on a special day?
  • Do you like to make journaling a special occasion, with candles and music?
  • Or do you like to make it a low-maintenance task?
  • Do you prefer carrying your journal with you throughout the day?
  • Or do you like to keep your journal in a sole, secure place?

Which of these journaling routine options excite you the most? Which can you see yourself enjoying the most and actually implementing into your day? Keep in mind, your journaling practice doesn’t even have to be the same every time you sit down. Perhaps on Sundays, you make journaling a big spread and set the mood, journaling while doing a face mask and taking a bath. But perhaps on weeknights, you journal for 30 minutes before bed.

Play around with different options and explore what works for you! Remember that carving out time in your day to journal is important–it is an act of self-love, and you are worth the moments of personal reflection.

Focus on Feelings

A journaling tidbit which helped me greatly was the realization that I didn’t have to record every monotonous activity of my day–I could just write about my feelings and provide zero context, because ultimately, my journal is for me! We don’t have to explain ourselves in our journals, we can just be.

Especially if you are feeling like your days are “boring” and there is not much to log about your everyday routine, I recommend focusing on your feelings rather than actions. What are you feeling today? What are you worried about? What are you excited about? What do you hope? What are you thinking about all day? What are you focusing on today? These are all great starting points for exploring our emotions.

Sometimes we think we’re fine, but once we begin to investigate and ask ourselves questions a little deeper, we may find that we are merely repressing our emotions. This repression can feel helpful as we grind through all our responsibilities and tasks, but after a while of not checking in with ourselves, that suppression can chip away at our souls. If we stay in tune with our feelings, this can exponentially improve our quality of living. Don’t worry about opening the floodgates of your emotions; your journal is there to accompany you.

Don’t Share Your Journal

Because most of our lives are online, it can be tempting to snap pictures of your journal and post the best spreads on your feed. However, I implore you to let your journal be at least one thing that never sees the internet.

Our journals are private, and when we allow ourselves a sacred crevice of the world which refrains from uploading, that can be a more organic and freeing place to inhabit. And because I know that I’m never going to post the contents of my journal on the internet, I feel more comfortable saying what I really want to say in the pages. I feel more free to be messy and flawed, which ultimately leads to a more satisfying experience more conducive to breakthroughs.

Even my partner knows that his eyes will never read the contents of my journal. Thankfully he respects my privacy and doesn’t read my journal, and I hope that you are able to keep your journal from prying eyes as well. If you’re the kind of person who’s laid back about who reads your personal thoughts, that’s okay. But I encourage most people to keep their journals as a holy grounds, away from the public. Somewhere magic and honest and intimate, just for you.

Use Journaling Prompts

“I like journaling, but I never know what to write about.”

When we feel like there’s nothing to write about, that can sometimes be a sign that we are blocking our emotions. Perhaps we are at a very stressful point in our lives, and we don’t know what to write about because we are feeling too overwhelmed to even know where to begin. Other times, we can get to a spot where we feel comfortable in our lives, a place where “nothing new” really happens, and so we don’t have any “excitement” to write about.

In these cases, perhaps using journaling prompts is a good place to start. These questions can open up the door for other explorations once the pen starts flowing.

Here are merely some of the possible journaling prompts you could write about:

  • Write a love letter to your younger self
  • Write about your first ______ (job, love, house, teacher, pet, car, etc!)
  • Write about a time in your childhood when you felt frustrated
  • Write about a childhood fear
  • Write about a recurring dream/nightmare you have
  • Write a list of things you’re grateful for
  • Write a list of the things you’re currently worried about
  • Write about a time you felt happy with others
  • Write about a time you felt attacked or betrayed
  • Write a letter to your mother/father
  • Write a letter to a childhood friend
  • Write a letter to your future self
  • Write a letter to yourself at the beginning of COVID
  • Write a list of things you love about yourself inside & out
  • Draw yourself as a cartoon
  • Draw yourself as a superhero
  • Draw yourself when you feel scared
  • Draw yourself when you feel happy
  • Draw three things you currently love
  • Draw your favorite flower
  • Write a haiku about the weather
  • Write a poem about a time you felt silenced
  • Write a poem about a time you accidentally made a mistake
  • Write a poem about a time you felt loved
  • Write a poem about a person who helped make you who you are
  • Write about what you hope for the future
  • Write about what you have learned from the past
  • Write about something you’re proud of yourself for
  • Write about why you love your favorite book/movie/show/comic
  • Write about why you want to journal
  • Create a character for your journal and pretend you are having a conversation with them

Feel free to reference this list whenever you would like to use a journaling prompt! Or, if you are a crafty individual, you can make a journaling prompt jar, where you jot down prompts that interest you onto separate scraps of paper and put them all into a jar or bowl. Or, you could write a journal prompt at the top of each page in your journal so that the questions are already waiting for you when you open your notebook. I’m sure that there are also internet equivalents of this, sites that have random journaling prompt generators.

Many of these prompts can be used several times for different memories as well, and so invite yourself to explore whatever arises as you meditate on these prompts!

Another way of looking at your journal–if you are keeping a journal for your posterity–is you can ask yourself questions that you have about your own ancestors. My mother is a genealogist and she often wishes she could ask our ancestors what their home life was like, how they felt about major events, etc., and so this could be an interesting place for you to begin as well. What would you have liked to know about your great- grandmothers and grandfathers? You can see where this takes you.

Be Creative

While this tip may not work for some people (and this is totally okay!), for some others, this may help spark creativity and desire to journal.

Remember, journaling doesn’t have to be all prose. If you feel that journaling would be more beneficial if you created comic strips out of your thoughts and feelings, draw comics in your journal! If you enjoy doodling and speech bubbles, incorporate more drawings into your entries.

Even if you’re only mildly artistic, here are some ideas for adding some creativity to your journal:

  • Decorate the cover with stickers
  • Use stickers or stamps in your entries
  • Use Washi tape in your entries
  • Use colored pens/markers in your entries
  • Include a quote you love at the beginning of each entry
  • Include a Word of the Day in every entry
  • Include a Fun Fact in every entry
  • Include a joke in every entry
  • Include doodles and speech bubbles in your entry
  • Draw important words in block letters
  • Write in verse rather than prose
  • Make your entry a comic page
  • Write sideways
  • Write your entry into a shape (like a spiral or zigzag)

There are a myriad of ways to spice up our daily journaling with a little artistic flair, even if you don’t necessarily consider yourself “artistic.” I encourage you to play around with these ideas, especially if you are shy about drawing! Because your journal is for you and no one else, it doesn’t matter if your doodles make you laugh at how squiggly they look; no one is going to see it anyway!

Challenge Yourself

I mentioned this in passing in a previous tip–sometimes, creating a personal challenge is a good way to motivate ourselves to do something. For others, a challenge can add unnecessary pressure, and so because you know yourself better than anyone, take or leave this option using your own judgment.

If journalling itself isn’t quite enough to bring you to your notebook, then perhaps if you combine it with another predetermined activity, it can make the time seem more “worth it.”

For example, one of the reasons I enjoy journaling often is because it’s an opportunity for me to practice writing with my left hand. Another example is using your time with your journal to explore a Word of the Day, so that you are learning at the same time that you’re journaling. Here are some other ways you may challenge yourself:

  • Write every day for a month
  • Fill an entire notebook in a month
  • Include a Word of the Day in every entry
  • Include a Fun Fact you discover in every entry
  • Write a poem with every entry
  • Challenge a friend to journal every day with you (journal separately but hold each other accountable)
  • Include a Poem of the Day in every entry
  • Write a gratitude list in every entry

The important thing about self-challenges is that we maintain the spirit of the challenge without placing too much pressure on ourselves. If you find that the challenge itself has begun to deter you from returning to the journal, then drop the challenge and get back to the basics. It’s okay if our journals or journaling habits aren’t perfect–the important thing is that we foster a self-aware dialogue with our thoughts and emotions, and if a personal challenge sparks that practice, then that’s amazing; but if it doesn’t work out, then there’s no worries. Just keep showing up for your journal in whatever way you can, small or large.

Just Do It

You want to journal, so why hold yourself back? Just do it!

It’s good to use online resources to research journaling inspiration, but at some point, you just have to do it. It can be daunting to face ourselves so openly, but I guarantee that the experience will be worth it. You have all the tools you need to journal, and now it is your opportunity to take the next step.

Thank you so much for reading my article, and I hope that you’ve found a few gems in here to hold near your heart. I wish you all the freedom of exploration in your journals, and I admire you for your bravery of delving inward.

So often we look outward into the world for answers, for validation that we’re loved, for permission to be ourselves. But when we sit down with our journal, we realize that we can say all the things to ourselves that we were waiting on the world to say. You can say to yourself what you need to hear most. You can empower yourself. In fact, you are the only person who can truly empower yourself. You must grant yourself your own power. Go on, listen to yourself, and write your heart out. I believe in you, friend.


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