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