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In Which Trina Discusses the Different Types of Journals and Explains Their Best Use

By Trina O’Quinn for the NABBW

Trina and her mother

In my last blog, written just before my mothers death on January 2, 2022, I wrote about the difference between using journals and diaries.

At the end of the post, I said that my next blog would cover several different types of journals and how you can best use them.

I am a bit late, as life got in the way, but here is the promised blog. 

I will start with some guidelines for effective journal writing:

  • Forget the rules.” Penmanship, grammar, and spelling are not important. Write what/however you want. Write with pencil and paper as the computer can take you out of the right brain.
  • Start with a quieting process to help move your thoughts from out there” to in herebreathing, visualizing, focusing, relaxing, and entrance meditations. I personally start by slow stitch which is breath work while I embroider.
  • Date every entry. It allows for chronological reconstruction. And it makes it easier to track cycles, patterns, and trends.
  • Keep whats written or destroy it with intention. Often writing that feel superfluous contain seeds for future insight. If there is a strong impulse to purge the journal, do so from a place of choice and strength rather than defensiveness, fear, or shame.
  • Write quicklyso quickly that the dreaded inner-critic and inner-censor cant catch up!
  • Tell the trutheven when it is difficult, scary or negative. (Corollary: Pennebakerflip-out rule — if writing it down will make you flip out, dont write it.)
  • Protect privacy. Store the journal in a special place so the temptation for others to read it is diminished. Keep the first page as a title page. Ask others to respect your privacy.
  • Give permission. Use different journal techniques, allow for  personal preferences, and find a style that works.

As promised here are a few of the journaling styles I have in my personal wellness tool box.

Note: These are just six types of journaling examples. There are many more. I have used most of them and these are my personal favorites. I find that when I can not figure out what is bothering me, it helps to just pick up my pen and write. I find it helpful if I do a feed back write in all my journaling. 

1.  Sentence Stem

  • A sentence completion process. Finish the below sentences with a word or a phrase.
  • This is the most simple way of journaling.
  • Sample sentence starters: 
    • I wantI feelI need 
    • Today I want to Since I last journaledWhat I learned… I can use this learning… 
    • What I can do next
2.  Five-Minute Sprint
  • Timed writing is designed to bring focus and intensity in short bursts. Can be expanded to 7-10 minutes.
  • Excellent for those of us that procrastinate, are time challenged, or resistant or averse to journal writing. 
  • Useful to ease into hidden thoughts and feelings.
  • Can help set goals or renew them.
  • Writing sprints at regular intervals on the same subject allows tracking of feelings, projects, issues overtime.
  • Some suggestions:
    • Right now, in my life, I am thinking about… 
    • As I read this I notice(or, I am aware of … I am curious about… Feeletc.)
3.  Inventory
  • Taking inventory of a question, problem, issue, obstacle, etc… to build a bridge from where I am” to where I want to be.
  • Helps break down overwhelming situations into manageable steps.
  • Some areas to inventory might include health, family, finances, relationships, work, home, habits, patterns, etc… Questions might include: 
    • Where am I now?
    • Where do I want to be?
    • When do I want to be there? 
    • What are the actions steps to get there? 
    • What is my first step
4.  Structured Writing
  • A series of stem sentences grouped and sequenced to reveal consistency deepening layers of information and awareness.
  • Developed to get an aerial view of key issues instead of a head-first dive.
  • Promotes self awareness
  • Can be completed in 10-15 minutes. 1-2 minutes per stem.
  • The basic writing structure is:
    • Todays Date____Start time____Three words describing how I feel right now: ____  ____  ____
    • I want to explore
    • The first thing that comes to mind.
    • Beneath the surface I find
    • I feel anxious (scared, restful, mad) about
    • I feel hopeful (good, okay, at peace) about
    • My next step is
    • Three feeling words ____  ____  ____ End time____ 


5.  Unsent Letter

  • A letter written to another person with a specific intention that will not be sent or shared with the person.
  • Besides free writing, this is the most common way for people to say what they are thinking or feeling.
  • Offers immediate cathartic relief and a safe place to be temporary out of control.
  • You can establish a ritual to burn or tear up the unsent letter once it has served its cathartic purpose. This symbolizes the hapless release of discharged emotions.
  • Can serve as behavioral rehearsal of actual communication.
  • Intentionally a one-way communication; a good choice when ones voice has been silenced.
6.  Free Write
  • This unstructured, un-boundaried, free form narrative starts anywhere and goes where it pleases.
  • Free writing is a place most people start in the absence of another idea, but it is not always the most effective, efficient, or helpful choice. 
  • Begin by beginning: Dive in and follow the pen.
  • Excellent for meditation and connection with inner guidance.
  • Watch for natural and organic shifts in voice, perspective, or awareness. Frees up creative expression with spontaneous and unexpected connections.

Finally, here is a recommended way to end each journaling session

As I read this I am:

  •  surprised by… 
  •  aware of… 
  •  curious about… 
  • I notice… 
  • I feel

I also find it helpful to have paper and a writing instrument with me at all times. I have found over the last 30+ years that journaling helps me write my way to both mental, physical, and spiritual wellness.

NABBW Contributing Author

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