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Journal Writing: 9 Tips for Making Memories Last a Lifetime

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Lasting Memories—My great grandma Trella gave me a journal for Christmas when I was six years old. I took it home and immediately started writing in it. The first thing I did was write down information: the president and vice president of the United States, all of the places I had visited, and all of the names of my future 11 children (2 boys and 9 girls).

On about journal three, since names were so important to me, I started naming my journals, which usually ended up being my favorite name at the time. I treated them like a friend and pretty much told them everything. I used them to weigh decisions, like which college I should go to and which job I should apply for.

Once, after a surgery when I was laid up in bed for six weeks, I wrote more than 100 pages, trying to process my recovery and other things that were going on in my life at the time. It's fascinating to go back and read the sometimes whimsical and trival entries mixed in with weighty topics that have literally shown the progress of how I've taken one step after the next down the path of my life.

I don't think journal writing is for everyone just like I don't believe that everyone should love to chop vegetables. Both are stress relieving and calming for me, but not everyone feels that way. However, if you want to amp up the frequency in which you write to your dear diary and need a little encouragement, you've come to the right place.

10 Tips to Writing in Your Journal

Here are the top 10 ways I suggest starting, continuing, or revitalizing your journal writing:

1. If you prefer paper, buy the right journal. I like a 5x7-sized journal, which reminds me of a smaller notepad. I prefer to have lined pages on a decent stock paper. I like to choose fun covers and it's always nice to have some sort of envelope inside to keep photos and papers in. Otherwise, I like to keep it simple. What do you like? No matter your preference, book stores often have the best selection. I have found a lot of terrific options at Barnes & Noble's selection. Check out this one with the cute owl cover. I may have to get this for my sister. She loves owls! Or this Wizard of Oz one, perfect for Halloween!

2. Choose the right program. Some people like to journal on their computer. Two benefits of journaling online are how fast and easy it is as well as it being eco-friendly. When I googled the various options available for online journaling, it brought up Penzu.com and Blogger.com. A private blog is the equivalent of a journal and sites like Blurb.com and Blog2Print.com make it easy to turn your blog into a book.

3. Set a Frequency That Works for You. I used to write in my journal every day, usually right after work or right before bed. Now, I most often write when I'm on an airplane. I was just on a trip home from Chicago and wrote the entire way home, all 3 1/2 hours. My fingers were cramped, but I had completed 12 pages by the time I landed. Whether you write every day or from time to time, just do it!

4. Lose the guilt! To go along with number 3, no guilt allowed! Whether you write once a day, once a month, or once a year, congratulate yourself for writing. Don't focus on how often you wish you were writing, just write! Every word on paper is a memory for your loved ones, regardless of how many or few.

5. Say too much. A lot of people will tell you to censor what you write. I don't believe that at all. We learn from each other, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I remember going through a particularly trying time after my grandma had died. I wanted so badly to call her and ask her if she had every gone through something similar. I had wished that she had kept a journal that I could have poured through. For some reason, I had the idea that she would understand.

6. Don't rip out pages. This is the most important tip I'll share. No matter how embarrassed or horrible you may feel after writing something that makes you feel vulnerable, not proud, or whatever, leave it. (See tip number 5.)

7. Don't put rules on what to write about. While there are some really creative journal writing exercises that can help you capture who you are and the unique differences you have, don't feel like you have to write in a specific style or write about certain things. As I mentioned earlier, I use my journal for all sorts of different things: to help me process decisions, as a travelogue, to write about people and events that have made an impact on me, to analyze life in general, and to write about my experiences as an individual, as a parent, as a business owner, etc. Everyone's personality is different. Your journal should scream to the world what yours is. And as long as you are writing from your heart based on who you are, it will!

8. Insert pics, draw, or doodle. I am all about handwriting, so my journal is made up of a whole lot of letters. But, if you are a visual person and have a talent for drawing (or even if you don't, but feel you can best share your thoughts through a mixture of words and graphics), then draw. Clip photographs to pages. Paste airplane and movie tickets with words describing your experiences. For a more scrapbooking experiencing which could definitely include journaling, check out companies like CherishBound.

9. Niche yourself! Journals come in many forms and they are all acceptable. Write food journal, a pregnancy diary, a travelogue, a gratitude journal, a service journal, a diary with your thoughts about the literature you are reading. I know people who keep one journal for personal experiences and another for spiritual experiences.

Whatever you do, just record your life, whether in general broad brushes of color or in small, intricate detail.

How have you been able to make memories last a lifetime through journal writing, scrapbooking, or in other ways? Tips? Recommendations for those getting started?

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.

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