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5 Very Effective Journaling Methods You Should Give a Try

Note: This post is by Positive Writer contributor, Nicole Gulotta. She’s the author of Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry, and pens a blog by the same name. Say hello on Twitter or Instagram.

If you’re struggling to maintain a consistent journal practice, it probably has nothing to do with your commitment. It’s all about choosing the best method for your lifestyle.

I journaled from a very young age—especially during family vacations—but the peak of my childhood journaling began around the age of thirteen, when I often retreated to my room to scribble pages and pages in a journal. (I also decoupaged the covers of my notebooks with inspiring phrases I cut out of magazines.) 

Flooding emotions onto the page was how I made sense of the emotional turbulence of adolescence, which is how many now-lapsed journalers start out.

I had more time on my hands then. Didn’t we all? Even between theater rehearsals and cross-country practice, plus all the homework I had, journaling was easy to prioritize and the most reliable method to sort out my feelings.

As you’ve likely come to learn, any furious journaling you embraced as a teenager hasn’t been sustainable in adulthood. With more responsibility on our shoulders, less flexibility with our schedule, and myriad appointments, family commitments, and the rest of it, our time becomes our most precious commodity.

So, what’s a writer to do?

The answer is simple:

Choose the best journaling method for your lifestyle. (Click to Tweet)

5 Types of Journals

(& the Pros and Cons of Each)

1. Classic Journal

Classic journaling characteristics include long-form paragraphs, stream of conscious writing, and giving in to the impulse of putting pen to paper whenever you feel compelled.  


Ultimate freedom of expression lies within these pages. One day, you might analyze a relationship with a family member. The next day, you scribble in a poem. The day after that, you ponder life’s mysteries inspired by a long walk you took. Here, the mind can unwind.

A classic journal is whatever you want it to be and whatever you need it to be, often serving as a stress-reliever by helping you remain the present, releasing feelings of anger, sadness, or other intense emotions.


This method lacks parameters and doesn’t provide a lot of structure. Classic journaling has the potential to make you feel as though you need to write a lot in order to make it count.

Self-inflicted pressure to write something insightful or meaningful is a common affliction, especially for folks who don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to journaling.

2. One Line A Day Journal

If classic journaling feels overwhelming, consider a one-line-a-day journal where the only requirement is to, well, write one line.


From three words to three sentences, the line length is up to you. One Line a Day journals effortlessly serve as a basic recorder of daily life, and as time passes you can easily look up past entries to see how things have changed year to year, or what you were thinking about on a specific day.

For anyone who hasn’t journaled in years and needs a low barrier to entry, this style is easy to maintain and form habits around.


Writing down the basics might become so habitual (“Nice day, walked the dog” or “Met Sarah for lunch; had kale salad with garlic dressing”), you might miss adding true feelings or special moments.

You’ll be best served by watching the patterns of your entries and trying to find the balance between simplicity and insight.

3. Bullet Journal

Created in 2012, one of the newest styles of journaling is the Bullet Journal—an analog system for a digital age meant to be a to-do list, diary, notebook, and sketchbook all in one.


Bullet journaling is all about efficiency. It’s “rapid logging method—consisting of topics, page numbers, short sentences, and bullets—allows you to quickly take notes, while modules allow you to organize notes in a variety of different ways. 

At the end of the month, you transfer over only the most relevant ideas, helping you spend time on what’s truly important.


Naysayers report the Bullet requires too much discipline, causing the ensure system to crumble at the first sign of stress. It can also feel like a lot of work to set up (and very neatly write) pages and indexes.

It’s perhaps the most polarizing of journaling methods, some people adore it, while others struggle to make it work for them.

4. Vision Journal

You might be familiar with a vision statement, which provides an organization’s strategic direction, but a vision journal takes this idea one step further, helping you clarify your brand, passion projects, and where you want your life to head.


Creative entrepreneur and coach Kayla Hollatz explains how vision journaling “helps you set intentions and keep track of your goals so you can break them down into daily action steps.”

While the journal focuses on outcomes, it does so in a nurturing way to help you work through the necessary steps to help you achieve your dreams, like using creative prompts and ‘yes or no’ lists.


From the way Kayla describes it, a vision journal might require some trial and error in order to develop a beautiful, creative system that supports you—ideal in the long-run, but only if you’re willing to go on the journey.

5. Dream Journal

Even after decades of sleep research, there’s still no definitive answer to the question of why we dream. Still, many researchers believe dreams serve a primary purpose to our cognitive functioning, including our creativity.


In a dream state, your mind creates new neural pathways and connects ideas in different ways, handy for enhancing creativity and problem-solving skills. Writing down your dreams provides a record of the creative insights your subconscious is spending time working through.

You might discover clarity on a difficult situation, or see patterns for dream symbols when you’re stressed, happy, or going through periods of transition.


The benefit of uncovering messages from your subconscious can also be a drawback, purely from a logistical standpoint. If you’re unable to recall your dreams within the first 90 seconds after waking up, the memory will likely be gone after breakfast.

One tip: Keep your body in the exact same position while you remember as much as you can, then shift over to a journal. Once you have some themes and symbols to work with, you can look up dream meanings and interpret them based on your own circumstances, but it can take some extra effort.

“The Art of Positive Journaling” is NOW open for enrollment. Click here to see what it is about!

I know you’re going to love it!


Make it so easy you can’t say no

According to Zen Habits, the absolute best way to begin forming a new habit is this: Make it so easy you can’t say no.

To this end, find something you’re both excited about and serves the needs you have at this very moment.

Ultimately, there’s no right or wrong way to journal, and since your needs will likely change over the years, just focus on what feels good today.

So, which method are you excited about trying now? Share your journaling stories in the comments!

I hope you’re looking forward to Bryan’s new course, it’s open now so go check it out here.

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