My Top Ten Best Rules for Journaling

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If you are someone who writes in a journal with any regularity, you may have heard the comment about journaling stating, “There are no rules for journaling.” And on the surface level it might seem to have some credibility. One could agree. But, I would challenge you to take a closer look at that statement before raising your hand and saying, “AMEN!” Perhaps examining what we actually do in practice, as opposed to what we think we believe might help shed some light on the validity or the inaccuracy of the sweepingly broad, no journaling rules philosophy, or whether we actually do adhere to specific rules for our own journaling. I think we might even have some surprisingy rigid, though perhaps unspoken “rules” that are revealed in our quest for truth.

It’s easy to fall into believing non-truths, or truths that need context which can hinder our ability to move forward. Like a limiting belief, they put a permanent boundary in what should be a temporary boundary setting. They create a sense of safety but can also put us in a box. Are you with me so far? What serves us for a season, might hinder our creativity once we’ve outgrown the need for the statement (rule) that served us- like training wheels on a new bike. You don’t want to keep them once you’ve graduated to the freedom of two wheels!

For example, as much as I say I agree with the “There are no rules to journaling” idea, as I observe my own approach to journaling, I recognize a host of rules held in my head that serve me well. Small things, perhaps, like a date and time for every entry. This is a rule, probably the one rule, I hold closest to heart because I tend to journal in a way that maintains continuity- or as I like to say, “As I Go”. A life progression happening in time, unfolding, day by day is the preferred way I mark and maintain my journaling continuum.

You may say, well, Dawn, that’s YOUR rule for journaling and I would agree. It is my one rule, but I have many as I mentioned, and I believe if you take the time to ponder, you will discover a plethora of rules your journaling journey includes and also excludes. So why is this important to consider – especially if you are merrily journaling along?

Sock it to Me, Socrates

If, as Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”, then I would also say, that the unexamined journaling life is not worth keeping. Actually, I did just say that. At first glance no rules seems like a good entry level strategy to the blank page. However, the reason I believe Bullet Journaling has seen such a surge in popularity is because there are multitudes of entry points and examples to the blank page. It can be overwhelming, and intoxicating for journaling newcomers as they seek to find a place to begin. The place to begin with any endeavor is usually with the origins, the bare essentials- not the most recent alternatives and variations. Simplicity breeds progress, complexity, overwhelm. So where does one go to begin? The blank page? Social media? How does one begin a journey of a thousand steps, or pages, as the case may be? Where does one turn when the well of inspiration dries up? Or how does one get unstuck, or keep on when the words don’t flow, or creativity is far off?

Pondering Unspoken Rules

Whether youve already been journaling along for a few years or you are new to the practice of journaling, let’s examine your “rules”. Even if you have started and stopped your journaling journey, or believe you haven’t quite found your mojo, we might discover some beliefs about journaling that are keeping your writing life progress cramped. Take out an archived journal, or the one you are currently keeping (or failing to keep?). Page through and have a look as if you are seeing through someone else’s eyes. What are the things you notice first? What things occur regularly? What is absent? Observe if your journal is an accurate representation of your truest self? What do I mean by that? Well…first, when you look at the pages, what do they reveal about what you are communicating to yourself? If our journals are accurately portraying aspects of our lives, who we are in time, then we will see something in the details. Who and what do you see in the pages? What is under-represented? Is there uniformity? Are the pages neat or messy? Are you honest in your writing? Are you fearless, or performing for an unseen audience? Are you hindered in your transparency or bold in what finds its way to the page? Do you feel the need to do things right or is it OK to mess up in your journal? Are there rants oinly or superficial musings? What do you see?

Journals Reveal Life

Can you see as we ponder how we approach the practice of journaling- regardless of the kind of journals we keep, the underlying truth? The unspoken rules you approach your journal with can reveal some of the ways you approach life. The act of reflecting on your journaling process, your rules for journaling, might help you see areas that need to be addressed such as perspective, attitudes, beliefs, and expectations. Yes, journaling can be what you want. It can be artsy, creative, beautiful or messy, bland, bold and practical. It can be all these things, or any variety of these things. It can change as your needs and perspctives shift. But the fact is, you want to look inward, not outward for what you need in addressing the blank page.

“What you do speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you’re saying.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

What we “do” in our journal can help us more accurately hear ourselves IF we allow the journal to be a place where it’s acceptable to be messy, free of our own self-judgement, and free of anything that hinders self-disclosure. Maybe recognizing and creating our own journaling rules is exactly what we need. If we can identify specific instances where we are self-critical, or we observe repeated statements that are self depreciating or loathsome towards ourselves we can address them and grow. Certainly we can admit that if we can’t practice graciousness with ourselves in the secret place of our journal, how will we be authentically gracious with others? If we are constantly berating ourselves in our journal, does it not follow that we will see this in the living out of our daily lives? This is one example of how we can create rules for ourselves if we see these things showing up repeatedly in our writing. The rules can support our journey, our needs in time. However, they will be best utilized if specific and for a season, when it comes to addressing things we see coming up regularly in our writing that we would like to observe for change.

My Rules for Journaling

I have not often thought about my personally held rules for journaling, but as I have asked you to explore your unspoken rules, I know I have to be forthcoming in doing so for myself. So for the sake of growth, and joy of exploration, I give you some of the rules, I think I adhere to whether subconciously (with imperfect awareness) or mostly, conciously.

  1. Write for myself First and Foremost, without the intention of sharing. My priority is always to understand myself better. To gain clarity on my own personal thoughts, and to hold myself accountable to living a life of reflection and authenicity.
  2. Write with Awareness of Audience…that being said, I cannot deny when I write anything and everything, I am aware always of another presence because of my relationship of faith with my Creator. My audience and partner in life and journaling is the ever-present God who is always with me. So, I do all things with, before and through God. Though my direct attention in writing focus can vary in approach there is always this underlying ackknowledgement. I suggest you challenge yourself at all times to recognize who your’e writing to…(your secret audience) – otherwise you will not be able to be honest with yourself or others. Once you recognize the tendency to write for a secret audience you can address AND even use it to your advantage, but it is one thing that must be addressed.
  3. Write from the Soul-For me this means keep it real, and honest. Keep it human. Go deep.
  4. Write In the Moment– If I am happy, sad, lonely, confused, frustrated, silly…I jut let it roll off my pen onto paper. Life is not a two dimensional endeavor. We are not robots. We deal with emotions we want, and some we’d rather skip out on. We respond in time in our humanity…this is not a crime nor something to deny. A journal is a safe place to go (better than social media platforms) to work out our tumultous emotions.
  5. What Gandolf says Goes– Any Lord of The Rings fans here? “Keep it secret, keep it safe!” It’s worth the risk to be honest on paper, but do your best to protect your privacy. Don’t let fear of exposure keep you from getting naked on paper! Gandolf also said, “You shall not pass!” In my home, privacy is respected, so this is not an issue. However we all need to take action to secure our writing privacy if we feel this is needful in our specific envornment. Take whatever action necessary to insure you are free to be you on your pages!
  6. Don’t worry about the When, BUT… I’ve been journaling for many years. I do it mostly every day, however, sometimes I don’t. I don’t worry about it. I journal as needed. That being said, I always (unless I forget- which is mostly never) DATE the page, and write the time of day or night I am journaling.
  7. Dr. Jekyll and Ms Hyde– sometimes I’m exceptionally neat and systematic . Sometimes I write beautifully. Mostly, I don’t worry about how it looks, because my messiest writing is my most creative. For me, pretty journaling methods mean I am actually being LESS creative. My messy, scribbly writing is where poetry is born, and from where blog posts spring forth. That doesn’t mean I don’t like to make pretty pages and play creatively, however, the fact for me is this: where there is scribbly notes and messy writing there is GOLD!
  8. Documenting the Daily or Head in the Clouds– I mostly shift between prayers, ideas, random writing and thoughts in my writing. The area most omitted and sadly overlooked is often the daily unfolding of life. For me balancing out my writing means sometimes attempting to write what I actually did. I generally note this stuff in my planner but I really love the idea of documenting daily life. It’s just not my default. I tend to be very random, and stream of concious. I think it is good to challenge myself to write in the way I don’t more often. You can benefit from doing likewise. Give it a try. DO you mostly write about what you do? Try going to what you are thinking or feeling. Do you only decorate pages but find you are fearful to put words out there? Challenge yourself to do a non-decorating journal session. For me, I have to work on writing more details about what actually happened…instead of whate is happening in my head!
  9. Be Willing and Open to Explore Anything! They say curiosity killed the cat, but actually for humans NOT being curious is like dying a slow, torturous and boring death…ok, maybe I am being dramatic, but there is great truth there. Stay open, stay curious, be willing to ask questions, and forget yourself. Get lost in life’s inquiries…don’t settle for superficial answers but be an everyday explorer. Keep looking, keep digging, stay awake to ordinary moments, and the extraordinary will present itself. Mark my words! Let life surprise you. Your pen will follow where your curiosity leads, one way or another. AND exploring can mean collage, or any form of journaling creatively that is cathartic or helpful for you.
  10. Fight Perfectionism with Love– you’d think a journal would be a place that breeds freedom, not restriction. But, I guarentee if you have ever seen a beautiful journal, you worry about breaking into it…you worry about how it must stay perfect. A beautiful journal does not have to be or stay “perfect” and a perfect journal is a journal that maybe won’t be the kind that helps you breathe new life into your heart and soul. A perfect journal is one that may or may not reflect truth. A perfect looking journal, like all perfect appearances can be a facade. Let your journal be a place of love, acceptance, truth and beauty- not a facade! Even if there are some ugly bits. They are your bits, and in time they will be accepted into the whole of your being, like the rest of the beautiful bits and pieces that make up the whole of your life and which are reflected in the pages of your journal. Fight the urge to keep a perfect journal, so you can enjoy the freedom of wings created in pages of grace. There is no greater freedom we give ourselves than the gifts of honesty, and acceptance. It starts with us. You and me. It’s the only way we can truthfully live it out and offer it to others. You can’t give what you haven’t first received.

I hope my list of rules to journal (and live by?) makes sense to you. I would love to know if anything spoke to you or if there is something you would like me to clarify or further expound upon. I think the most important thing is to recognize hindrances which keep one from discovering the joy and delight of journaling for themselves. I think it’s also helpful to remain flexible. Are there really no rules to journaling? What kind of rules do you conciously or subconciously follow? How could you challenge yourself to grow deeper in your journaling practice by reflecting on your journaling approach and exploring new ways to grow, live, and love which stretch beyond the page? I’d love to know what you come up with!

If you decide to discover or create your own list of journaling rules, I’d love for you to share with me: Tag me with your own on Instagram at thejournalenthusiast !

If you are new to journaling, I have written a book called Journaling for Discovery and Delight.

If you are in the neighborhood, Rhode Island- I will be signing books and leading a workshop on March 12, 2022/Saturday from 1-3 PM at Rarities Books and Bindery Details are right here .

If you are looking for some inspiration for journaling in general, Click Here. I have a list of quick links to journaling articles and some prompts as well!

If I can support your journaling journey, tackle a subject, book, or product- let me know!

Until next time,

Enthusiastically, Dawn

The Journal Enthusiast

Published by enthusiasticallydawn

Dawn Paoletta is the author of Journaling for Discovery and Delight. Her writing is included in several anthologies and her poems have been included in the Wickford Poetry and Art Exhibit and Books. Dawn is currently working on her next book. Inquiries at

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