The Top 7 Journaling Mistakes and Misconceptions 4

THE ART OF KEEPING A JOURNAL has evolved over the years. There was the simple daily diary we wrote in when we were children, capturing a few events or activities from our day. Later, we embraced Julia Cameron’s revolutionary Morning Pages (freewriting 3 pages a day). Then, we moved on to more structured methods such as Reflective or Bullet Journaling. Or, wanting something simple and quick, we settled for the one-line-a-day journal. Some of us divided the different aspects of our lives into different types of journals: dream and vision and goal and book and art and gratitude journals, each focusing on a specific area for personal growth and expression.

With all these different methods and ways of approaching journaling, you’d think it would be impossible to make mistakes or have misconceptions. But we do.


Here are my top 7 mistakes and misconceptions:

  1. Holding onto the idea that there’s a “right” way to journal. As you change, so will your journaling practice. There are no rules. And what worked for you in the past might not work for you today. The key to a vibrant journaling practice is to remain open and willing to experiment with different methods, writing prompts, and materials.
  2. Thinking you have to journal every day or you need to write for a certain length of time. I believe it’s important to journal from a place of inspiration and a desire to express yourself and to grow, not from a sense of obligation. If journaling feels like a chore, maybe it’s better to skip that day. Journal because it’s important to you and has a purpose in your life. While daily journaling has its benefits, you can journal once a week or once a month, write for 5 minutes or 50, and still experience great results. Like many other activities in life, it’s HOW you go about it — quality over quantity — that counts.
  3. Limiting your journal writing to negative emotion dumps. While we do need to vent, and our journal is a great and healthy place to do so, if we limit our journaling to negative emotional outbursts, our journals can become a dark hole into which our emotions spiral downward. In this case, we aren’t really processing our emotions so much as hanging onto and amplifying them. The real benefits of journaling come from using writing as a tool to increase self-awareness and personal growth. Which brings me to the next “mistake.”
  4. Journaling without a purpose. Your journal, when used effectively, provides a method for constant self-growth and improvement. It is the place to record and track your vision, goals, motivations, and accomplishments, as well as explore assumptions and belief systems in specific areas of your life: family, relationships, career, spirituality, etc. It’s a place in which to expand your vision and keep sight of it.

    When you sit down to write in your journal, think about your purpose for writing. What do you want to walk away from your session having gained? A more positive attitude about your day? Ideas for solving a specific problem? An understanding of your relationship with a family member? Keep your purpose in mind for an enhanced journaling experience.
  5. Writing within the lines. A journal should be one place in your life where it’s okay to be messy. If you’re the neat and linear type, shift from using a lined notebook to a sketchbook for your journal. You’ll be more inclined to write comments in the margins, circle and highlight important insights, doodle and draw your ideas and thoughts, as well as write them in neat, boxed paragraphs. Use colored pencils, highlighters, and watercolors to emphasize certain subjects. And if you’re a spatial thinker, you’ll definitely enjoy the room to roam a sketchbook offers. If you use digital journaling software, make sure it has features that allow you to freely draw or sketch on the page. There are a lot of benefits to be gained from free association, stream-of-consciousness processing.
  6. Not including context. Many of us journal in order to process conflict, problem solve, make better decisions, and deal with our emotions. We write all about our thoughts and feelings — and because we’re so internally focused, we forget to record events that are happening all around us. By including brief summaries of local, national, or world events in our journals, we give historical and human context to our daily lives. Adding simple information such as weather and a few newsworthy events as context can provide much-needed perspective to the personal events we are writing about.
  7. Giving up. And, of course, the mistake of ceasing to keep a journal at all. If you feel discouraged or your journaling practice feels stale, rather than quitting infuse new life into your practice by using new journaling prompts or by exploring a new method altogether. Remember, your journal is not only a way to capture feelings and events in your life, it’s also a way to connect with your deeper wisdom, your intuition, and effectively become your own life coach.

There are no limits to the methods and ways to make your journaling practice vibrant, alive, and effective to help you grow in general and in any area of your life that you choose.

For best results, let go of ideas of “right” and “wrong,” stretch yourself to try to new methods and ideas, and journal with purpose.


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4 thoughts on “The Top 7 Journaling Mistakes and Misconceptions

  • Leigh Anderson

    I’ve been journaling for years but only recently have I started to question whether what I’m writing is worthwhile or not. When I saw the tip about journaling with a purpose I realized that was where my problem was. I was recording events, activities and thoughts without any kind of purpose. Entries ended up being a mess of single scattered thoughts rather than a cohesive journal entry. I will now spend a little bit of thought beforehand deciding what my purpose is before I put pen to paper with the hope that eventually my journal will be something that I want to pass on (and something that someone actually wants to read). At any rate it will certainly benefit me to give a little more forethought to what to what I write in my journal.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Thank you, Leigh, for joining the conversation. I think that is also the one thing that was missing from my journaling for a long time and, like you, my journal entries were a mess of scattered thoughts. That’s okay – nothing really wrong with that – it’s just that I wasn’t getting as much from it as I could. Now, when I take that moment to set a purpose for my journaling, my writing is focused and centered, and I’m able to get to the heart of the matter (whatever that happens to be) much easier and more quickly.

  • Sara Baker

    I appreciate having some perspective on journaling. I particularly liked journaling with context…never occurred to me to include historical national, state, or local events as I journal. I can see how doing so makes so much sense. As I’ve discovered over the past couple of years, the political climate of this country and the conflict within this country (and indeed the world) have had a profound impact on me emotional. I try to detach from them as much as possible, but yet events, circumstances, and people in our global, digital world raise serious questions and heighten many of my emotions. So, I’m thankful, Amber, for your including “context” as a part of journaling.

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Thank you, Sara. I discovered the need for context when I began to use my journal as a resource for my memoir writing. I realized I didn’t know what was happening in the world around me at the time — and had to look it up. Then I thought about the profound influences I experienced from the events occurring at that time and wondered why I had not included them. So I made it a point. Now, when I look back at my journal entries, I have a more “holistic” view of my mental/emotional state.