A Beginner’s Guide to Keeping a Journal

Even if you don’t see yourself as a journaler, the habit comes with powerful benefits

Anna Goldfarb
Published in
4 min readJul 22, 2019


An illustration of a messy desk with an empty lined journal.
Illustration: Kyle Griggs

Writing down your thoughts is a simple act with powerful effects.

Over the years, a wealth of scientific research has extolled the benefits of “expressive writing.” It has been shown to play a role in lowering blood pressure, improving cardiovascular health and immune function, speeding up healing, strengthening memory, easing symptoms of depression, and helping with test anxiety.

Those aren’t the reasons that Dee C. Marshall, CEO of the consulting firm Diverse and Engaged LLC, has kept a journal for over a decade. Her journal, she says, is a place to capture what she calls the “juice and gems” of her inner life. “If there was a hurricane or earthquake and I could only take three things,” she says, “the journal is one.”

It sounds like it should be simple enough to write down your thoughts and ideas. But how do you start? What do you say? For those who are new to journaling, a blank page can be overwhelming rather than cathartic.

Everyone’s needs and priorities are different, and it might take some experimenting to see what makes the most sense for you. But there are a few guidelines you can keep in mind as you begin your journal.

Don’t feel limited to one format

Not all journals are dense blocks of prose written in bursts of creativity. If the idea of sitting down to fill pages upon pages sounds like a drag, embrace brevity. Gretchen Rubin, host of the “Happier” podcast, has praised the one-sentence daily journal as a way of reaping the benefits without putting in too much work: “It’s manageable,” she writes. “It doesn’t make me feel burdened.”

Jennifer Zephirin, author of Misunderstood Millennial Talent endorses going even briefer: “You can just give one-word answers,” she says.

A journal doesn’t have to be a narrative or chronology, either — you can keep lists, dedicate sections to certain ideas, and write manifestos. For example, Marshall says, “I track failures in my journal. I literally have a half a page of failures.” In every journal she keeps…



Anna Goldfarb
Writer for

Writes about relationships and pop psychology for The New York Times, Vice, and more. Author of “Clearly, I Didn’t Think This Through.” Lives in Philly.