How to Journal? 14 Tips

There was a thread I came upon on our playground yesterday which made me both incredibly happy and just a little bit nervous. 😆 Some of my darling girlfriends asked for tips for journaling… I love to be able to help out in any way I can, but the thread kind of made my heart pound (took me back to my schooldays when right before taking a final exam, you’d think “hmmm, am I really prepared to answer this, even if I’ve studied all night?” 😆 )… mostly because I’ve never really scrutinized my writing process. I just know that I’ve been writing since I was a little kid (Writing was both an extension of my love for reading and the result of having 5 older siblings who had more important things to do than listen to the ramblings of the youngest, hahaha!!!) So anyway, because I’d do anything for my playground sistahs, I’m writing what I do know just from my totally-not-an-expert experience of writing, and I hope it helps in one way or another.

Disclaimer: These are just my opinions and so do not take them as gospel truths, okay? And don’t shoot me down if you don’t agree! 😆

1. To W or Not to W?

letter w wikimedia commonsI know that many scrapbook-journaling how-to books will say we need to get the 5W’s in on the journaling. In a way that makes sense, because future generations will want to know these facts when they look at a layout, and it’s a wonderful way to preserve history. Personally, though, I don’t pay attention to this when I write, because I feel it stunts my expression. I figure the fact-details can always be added on a tag or through other ways that are separate from the journaling text itself. It may be because my journaling is usually very personal and from-the-heart, so throwing in the facts could be like having a harsh fluorescent light shining on an otherwise soft-lit corner of the sofa, kwim? 🙂 So maybe, for those who have a difficult time going beyond the 5w’s, just maybe, the “cold, hard facts” might be the root of the difficulty in going beyond the 5w’s… try to journal without paying attention to the “w-facts” first and go with the flow. It might help?

2. Love Words 

Scrabble by GiniMiniGi stockxnchgLove affairs are great, especially when they go on and on. Words are no exception. Seriously.

When I was a kid with long summers and nothing to do, I used to devour all the books that my parents filled the shelves of our library with: Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Medical Encyclopedias, the Webster’s Dictionary (70s edition, the kind that filled two huge books that you had to heave and suck in your breath before you attempted to lift one up), Roget’s Thesaurus, the Great Books (Aenid, Oedipus & Rex, Shakespeare’s countless classics, etc)… I drank it all in. (Can you spell n-e-r-d? 😆 ) I am thankful for those boring summers though, because they are what began my love affair with words that hasn’t ended till this very minute.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, read. Read a lot. Words have a way of sticking in the corners of our brain. Sometimes, even on the tongue (I love the way serendipity rolls on the tongue: go ahead, try saying it aloud). And if you find a word you don’t immediately understand, look up its meaning. The discovery is worth the extra trip to the bookshelf to take down the dictionary. Which brings me to…

3. Make Friends with Mr. D and Mr. T

Mr. DMr. Dictionary and Mr. Thesaurus: great friends of mine. To me, both are indispensable tools that really help put more color when I write. Case in point: 

“Our dog ran out and we chased him around the block. Bingo ran really fast, but there we were, running right behind him. Running after this old dog really tired us out…” I would think there would be more words to use than just run in all its tenses, right?

Consider this: “Our dog bounded out the door and we chased him around the block. Bingo galloped really fast, but there we were, racing right behind him. Sprinting after this old dog really tired us out…”

Oh, and this is really just an aside, but you know what word really gets me? Nice. I don’t like the word nice. I think it’s really rather bland. When I hear “nice” I think of that Charlie Brown strip where Linus says his chocolate drink tastes like hot water with brown crayon in it. I guess “nice” is just so over-used. “She’s nice… the movie was nice… the food was nice… the party turned out nice…”

There are so many ways to say something is nice in much clearer terms: pleasant, delicious, wonderful, great, awesome, amazing, fabulous, pretty, sweet, kind, charming… the list goes on and on. To me, all are far more preferable than just “nice.”

4. Sense-Appeal

Stop and Smell by smojellojo stockxnchgI guess what makes the second set of sentences above work much better than the first is that it appeals to the senses. This is where I make the case for descriptive words. When I used to teach teachers how to teach kids, I used to tell them “The whole concept of a subject must be tangible to a 3-year-old child. If you’re going to teach a child about an apple, don’t just show him a picture of the apple. Let him touch its skin, let him see its shiny red color, let him smell it, let him taste its juice, let him hear how it crunches when he bites into it…”

It’s the same with writing. Your words have to be able to draw the reader into your own experience.

How to do this? 2 foolproof ways:

Appeal to the senses: Use words that describe sight, smell, hearing, touch, taste. Use similes and metaphors: You are our shining star (you can actually see the star shining). His words fell on my ears like the soft petals of a newly-awakened rosebud (suddenly you can see and feel what his words were like).

So… for example, instead of writing “The whole place smelled bad,”  you could choose from a whole array of words that would most closely replicate the experience you had: aromatic, fetid, fresh, heady, nasty, pungent, sweet, rancid, rank, funky (this last one always cracks me up when my kids use it to describe a smell)… you get what I mean. 😀

5. Action! 

clapboard by bartgroe stockxnchgAnother foolproof way to let your writing be experiential for the reader?

 Imagine this: which movie would appeal to kids more (and I say kids because I would like to think there’s a kid in us that never dies 😀 ) –one with lots of action or one which requires them to sit back and listen to a lecture go on and on?

Yeah. I thought so.

Action is definitely more exciting, even in writing. So… we could actually do better by using active verbs. What this simply means is that we need to get rid of the primary-school textbook “There is – There are” sort of language and let the action happen. So instead of saying “The cake fell on the floor when you took your first bite…” you might want to say “You toppled over the cake as you excitedly took your first bite…” (You is active, the cake is not). The person becomes the doer of the sentence, and so there’s more action involved.

Here’s an easy way of thinking about it: Show and Tell. When you think of showing an experience, you become more aware of all the little details that sum up the experience, so it becomes much easier to tell someone about it.

6. Know Basic Grammar Rules

No Way by beriliu stockxnchgYou don’t have to be a grammar-fiend, no. This is just important insofar as it helps the reader go with the flow, instead of getting interrupted by words that stick out.

I don’t mean spelling stuff (hail, spell-check!!! 😀 ). I guess for me the thing that interrupts flow of thought most is when the voice of the text changes. For example:

“Finding Danny was the greatest thing that could ever happen in my life. When we met, he was sitting on a park bench and I was running across the grass, chasing after my niece. I tripped. You looked at me, and it was love at first sight.”

Notice the shift? First I was talking about Danny, and then I was talking to Danny. It seems like a small thing, but it does make the readers stop and say “huh? say that again?” and then they have to go back and re-read the whole thing, and you know what they say about a joke always being funnier the first time around…

Don’t worry, knowing grammar rules isn’t a big thing. It just helps. Believe me… just read the next:

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Break Some Rules

Against Sun by asifthebes stockxnchgSee? Told you it didn’t matter that much. 😀

If you try typing Every. Single. Time. on Word, you’re going to get all those warning green squiggly lines that tell you you’re making a huge grammatical mistake. The same thing happens if you type You make me so happy. Because you say hilarious things. Because you make crazy faces in front of the mirror.

I do these things all the time. And I ignore the green squiggly lines. I have no idea if an English professor will slam me for saying this, but heck, I excuse myself by crying “poetic license!” 😀  I’m a firm believer in: if it works for you, then go for it (as long as it’s not illegal, immoral, etc. etc. 😆 ) In fact, when I’ve written for others and editors change what I write because they put in all these grammatically-correct things, I ask them to reinstate my original text. Sometimes the experience just isn’t the same when you go by all the rules strictly, kwim?

8. Write Conversationally

talk bubble by spekulator stockxnchgEver read scientific journals? Last time I read one, it was because I had to, not because I wanted to. Jargon is appreciated by those who speak that particular language, and often it’s not the rest of humanity. 🙂

When I write, I like to write as I speak. (I wouldn’t say “I utilize these” in everyday conversation; I would say “I use these” so that’s what you would see in my journaling).

Journaling is wonderful on layouts, because you can write as you would speak to the person you’re making the layout for. It makes it more realistic and touches the heart more. Think about how you would speak if you were having coffee with your best friend… the informal tone, the heartfelt, honest conversation: that’s what we should try to bring out in our journaling.

So go ahead, don’t be shy: Put yourself in your journaling. Use the word “I” more often: I think, I love it when, I wonder… It’s a wonderful way to add your own perspective to the entire page, and it gives the generations to come a glimpse of you and how your mind and heart work.

9. Focus on One…

target by woodsy stockxnchg…event, feeling, idea… I think journaling about one particular event, one particular feeling, one particular insight, can bring about a much richer message than trying to fill in a text box with many factual details.

Focusing on one thing to journal about–an experience, something your child or loved one said, an item that means a lot to you, your nerdy little secret 😉 –allows us to explore that thing deeply. Deep is always a good thing, because you can draw a lot more from a deep well than from a shallow puddle, kwim?  🙂

10. Think Outside the Box

outside the box by eliteds3 stockxnchgThink of different ways of saying the same thing. There are many interesting ways to journal; here are just some:

* use phrases or words (this is really great when we’re not feeling very confident, or when we’re just too lazy to write an entire paragraph 😀 )

* use quotes / he said-she said

* use definitions, dictionary entries, and other ways of presenting thoughts that are out of the norm. I think this is the reason I actually read magazines cover to cover: I spend just as much time admiring ads and when I find one I particularly love, it normally leads to a spinoff on a layout (I take the inspiration and use it to create something of my own)

 * Q & A style of journaling, step-by-step procedures, recipe styles, etc. etc. etc.

You get the idea… there are many ways of presenting our thoughts, and sometimes the particular medium through which we communicate our journaling helps get the message across even more effectively

11. Resist the Urge to Self-Edit

!? by Dhiegaum stockxchngWrite without thinking about how big a space you have on your layout for your journaling.

Write without thinking about words or style or punctuation (that can all come later). I think in journaling class they call this the “free-write.” The idea is to free yourself of inhibitions and self-regulation, and to just keep writing until you’re not aware that you’re writing at all. For those who freeze up at the thought of writing, this is a really effective way to get rid of those fears (and who of us has not known that fear?).

So forget all the rules, all the do’s and don’t’s and just write your heart out. 

Then once you’ve gotten everything down on paper, go back and read what you’ve written. Sometimes you’ll want to keep the entire thing, and sometimes there’ll be just one line that stands out, that you want to develop into a whole different text to journal with.

(PS. But do edit, once you’ve gotten all your thoughts on paper. I rarely ever write and stay with the first version of what I have written; I’ve always found something that needed some editing).

12. Write What You Know aka Write from the Heart

Heart by MaciusWe do our best when we are confident. The same goes for writing. And who would be better experts of what lies inside our hearts than we ourselves? So go ahead and write without fear, write what’s in your heart. Because you know what? No one can say it better than you. Really.

PS. If you’re gripped by writer’s block, forget about who’s going to read what you’re writing. Write as though you would be the only one ever to read what you’ve written. It’s always a great surprise to find the words flowing out so much more easily when we’re liberated from our silly fears. 😉

13. Carry Pen and Paper aka Freeze the Moment

writing in the agenda by jan-willem stockxchngIf you open any bag I have at any given moment, there are just four things there that you will always find, no fail: one of those would most definitely be my pen-and-paper (yeah, that counts as one, because to me they’re inseparable partners, hehe).

This to me is my no-fail go-to solution to journaling. Why? Well, I get struck by thoughts every now and then, and I know that if I don’t write it down somewhere, I’ll forget everything about it by the time I need to summon up that perfect moment to journal about. Writing it down, even in the most general, most rushed outline form, will ensure that I will have something to jog my memory later on.

Also, my kids say the most amazing things, ranging from funny all the way to awww-precious!, and those statements are all too easily forgotten if I don’t write them down. So I do. On my trusty little notebook, as Blue’s friend Steve would say.

14. Just keep writing

e-sign by erkinsahin stockxchngWrite. Write. Write. Write even if you have nothing in particular to write. Pretty soon it’s going to be such a habit, you’d have gotten so comfortable with it, that it would be like second nature to you.

I read somewhere that a sure way to become a better writer is to write more. So, do! 🙂

A little extra tip: Journaling with Text

qwerty by groenmen stockxnchgAll the effort to write loses some of its value if it isn’t read, even if the reader is just you. Make reading your text easy. I’m not sure if many would agree with me, but I’d strongly suggest staying away from decorative fonts for journaling (more apt for titles or accent words, IMHO). My personal favorite for journaling are sans serif fonts because they’re more “now.” Serif fonts are fine too, and are actually said to be more readable in a block of text.

I also learned from the typography books I’ve read that left-aligned text is most readable. If you plan to justify your text, make sure there aren’t those large blank areas, because those cause the brain to stop mid-thought, and those interruptions distract the reader from taking in the whole message of the text. Right-aligning only works if each line is more or less of the same length. (Otherwise, it’s just plain discomforting to keep shifting from end to middle to end to read.) Practical things that have nothing to do with how to journal, but which I think wouldn’t hurt to know.

My Writing Process

Just thought I’d share the usual way I go about journaling for my layouts, just in case you might want to try it out. 😉

99% of the time, I begin with a photo that speaks to me. Once I have the photo, I think of the reason why it called out to me, and I start to write down what it is that I’m thinking, feeling, imagining, etc. So always, always I begin with a general idea: sometimes it’s a word, sometimes it’s a quote from one of my kids, sometimes it’s an emotion, sometimes it’s a thought. Then from that one main thing, I go into the specifics. That’s what becomes the text.

I always write my journaling on my computer. (So I guess I should say I type 😛 ). I think it’s because one, I’m not very fond of my chicken-scratch penmanship, and two, my fingers are never as fast with a pen as they are with a keyboard. I also like the ability to cut and paste (and save), hehe.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I type my journaling, but never, ever directly on my layout. For some reason unknown to me, writing directly with my text tool on my layout stunts me. (Go figure). So I’ll type in Word, then when I’ve gotten my heart out on the paper, I’ll read through it and do the editing (but only after I’ve gotten out everything I’ve wanted to say). When I’m satisfied, I copy/paste my journaling onto my layout.

Sometimes a photo will be so powerful that I will write immediately, and the words flow easily.

Sometimes I will need to go back into my little trusty notebook, because I know there’s something that I jotted down before that’s related to the photo I’m looking at, and I’ll develop that little note into the text of my journaling.

And sometimes, not very often but a few lucky sometimes, there’s an emotion so powerful that the words take center stage and the photos come after.

Illustrations of the “Sometimes” Writing Moments:

The last layout I made developed from a quote that my friend Lisa gave us on the playground to play with in a challenge. (The quote is by Mary Ann Wise from Designer Digitals–love that site!) I admit, it was quite difficult to decide which of my five sons I would use the quote for. Eventually, I asked myself “Which of the five would I want, right now, to be in my place so he could know exactly how I felt?” This helped me zone in on my eldest; I then looked for the photos, and the journaling came after.


NOTE: I know I said sans serif / serif fonts were most readable, and this just proves the point, right? 😀 I chose to break that rule this once, because I wanted this layout to exude the aura of a private diary entry or letter… So really, at the end of the day, do what feels right to you, even if it means breaking some rules! 😉 (I speak of journaling, okay? 😛 )

Journaling reads:

It seems like it was just yesterday when hugs were abundant as were declarations of love. But time stops for no one, and all too soon the little boy is replaced by a young man, eager to strike out on his own and establish his independence. Today, the hugs are a rare commodity and saying I love you is bound to cause embarrassment and shy shuffling of feet. I respect that; am even amused by it. So, understanding, I stifle the urge to embrace you and swallow those three little words. But, though unspoken and undeclared, you know that I do. And for now, at this stage of your life, that will do  just fine, my dear, first-born, teenaged son.   


Mary Ann Wise – Wish Quote; Gunhilde Storeide – Folded Frame; Cafe-digi – Life’s Journey Bk frame; Petit Moineux – L’airdutemps paper sheaf, papers, rusty brad; Annie Manning / Paint-the-Moon – CharmesdAntan Kit: distressed bird stamp, pressed orchids, velvet leaves, paper (clipped on photoframe) | The Naturals Kit – leaves wrap; Anneli Andersson – pocketwatch

This next layout, done when I was just beginning to learn digital scrapbooking, was a result of one of Jessica’s first challenges in the beta Up & Running course. This is a perfect example of how journaling came first, before the photos. On the day of the challenge, I had just picked up my 5-year-old son from school where he had just had his first “fight.” The exchange between us flooded my heart so much so that I knew I needed to get the emotions out on paper in order to give my heavy heart some sense of relief. This layout was what resulted from that (and the photos came after… these were actually cheat-photos, since I had taken them not on that day but sometime before, when my son was in one of his pensive moods right after waking up one morning).

Oh Honey

Journaling reads:

You had a funny look on your face when I picked you up from school today. I knew something was wrong. You were heartbroken because your friend at school had fought with you. True to form, you didn’t fight back: “I only gave him my angry eyes.” As always, you held your tears back with great effort. You whispered to me, “I don’t want to cry. I don’t want to be called a baby.” When I embraced you and told you it was okay to cry, you put your head in the curve of my neck and sobbed your heart out. It was all I could do to keep my own tears from falling. Oh, honey, go ahead and sob your heart out. Real boys cry. And when you do, I’ll always be here to hold you, my little five-year-old man.


Papers-Amy Teets & Chris Beasley; Stamp-Katie Pertiet; Ribbon-Anita Spaberg; Date dial-designing-on-the-edge; Bubble wrap tag-Lindsay Jane Designs

And that’s it!

I apologize for the extreme length of this post and hope that you don’t regret asking me for input. 😀 I think it’s safe to say I kind of got carried away. 😆 In any case, if this has helped just one of my girlfriends, then it would’ve been worth the whole day spent on getting this down here. 🙂 Thank you, di and the rest, for asking: I thoroughly enjoyed the inspection of the process (even if you may have wanted something less thorough, hahaha!)

Have a happy day!

25 thoughts on “How to Journal? 14 Tips

  1. Pingback: All The Best Scrapbook Journaling Tips To Make Writing On Your Pages Even Easier | Fun Times Guide to Cardmaking and Crafts

  2. I don’t think I’d be using the word ‘nice’ around here much anymore 🙂

    Thank you for the journaling tips, I really appreciate all of them.

    I read more when I was a kid than I do now. And I’ve always said that writing came naturally to me when I was younger. Now? Blah blah is all I can come up with…


  3. What a treasure to have! People would pay a LOT of money for this detailed writing tips that you give so freely. I learned a lot and got a new perspective on a few things that I thought I already knew.

    You totally ROCK my world Liv! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving up a day of your life to enrich mine! Love ya!!!!


  4. Dear Liv
    I’m sohappy for coming here and know you, know your amazing work.
    Congratulations for your generosity, for sharing with others tour talent and knowledge. Thank you very much!
    Vera ( From Brazil)


  5. Thankyou so much Liv for all the wonderful information you have supplied us with. I have studied it in detail and am now ready to put more effort into my journaling.

    I have a dictionary and thesaurus sitting right behind me that rarely come off the shelf, but they are about to become my friends.
    Carol 🙂


  6. Whoa! If only I could insert a link from your brain to mine…
    You are an amazing woman…TFS!!!
    I do struggle greatly with journaling, so I will refer to your tips many times.


  7. Liv- You make me want to stop whatever I’m doing and just start journaling. You were concise and told us exactly what can happen with good journaling. Thank you so much. I too like to write, but I have a hard time getting away from humor and being more serious.


  8. Liv–this is so well done. It’s one for the 3-ring binder of “good stuff” I keep. I especially love the “think outside the box”. Thank you for sharing your wonderful (althought sometimes crazy mind) with us. You are a treasure! Thanks GF!


  9. Okay Kelleigh, breathe . . .

    Oh, I just loved that post. The whole thing. The part about the words and journaling and speaking from the heart just made my heart race. We are kindred spirits, my friend.

    And, I loved your layouts. Absolutely precious. Reading your journaling makes me want to go hug my boys and inspires me to capture every little moment. I’m just now starting to journal with the heart rather than with the W’s, and it is so exciting and freeing. I feel alive putting my emotions down on paper.

    Wow. So inspiring.


  10. Nice….(LOL, only kidding). I just started reading this and I know that I want to print this out and keep it with me (11 pages and all)!
    I always struggle with my journaling and tend to go towards the simple graphic LO’s like Joan.
    This is going to be invaluable to so many Liv. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing this for us. Happy Valentines Day GF!


  11. Thank you for giving us some insight into your wonderful relationship with words. I enjoyed reading this post and found it to be very inspiring. Your writing style is so smooth and entertaining. Reading your blog is a wonderful way to brush up my Englisch 🙂
    There is also so much I can learn from your wonderful layouts. Pictures, journaling and design are so perfectly balanced! Being a newbie your work is very much helping me to find a style I really like. Thank you for letting me sit on your porch and listen for a little while.


  12. OK…gotta leave a comment about the lo with your little guy and his fight..that brought tears to my eyes..what a great lo..and your mothering skills are so wonderful…..wish I was you mother and taught you those things 😉


  13. Ask and we receive! You are so amazing to share this information with us who struggle with “what to say.” Ten years ago, when I first started scrapbooking we were taught the “W’s” and I’ve tried to get a way from that and just express my feelings; but it doesn’t come easy at my age. Loved the graphics that you added! You are so cool!


  14. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful talents with us – you truly are one of the great teachers right up there with Jess! And it isn’t too long – love the graphics – wish my lit class would have been this fun in highshool!


  15. And what a post this is! Remarkable that you took the time to share all these thoughts, ideas and opinions. I agree wholeheartedly with all you have said and thank you for so eloquently (had to look up the spelling) expressing them.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I absolutely love and admire your way with words.

    Happy Valentine’s Day!


  16. Wonderful, Liv. I so struggle with journaling hence my love for simple graphic LO’s. Thanks for your advice on the written word. You sound so pro-ish. Love ya and I too learn so much from you. Wouldn’t want to be going thru this digi process without you.


  17. This is absolutely amazing! Thank you! So glad I met you through NWR and discovered your blog! I appreciate so much that you took the time to write all this down for us! Your layouts are just incredible! Thank you (oh did I say that already?)


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