Journaling: Lifestyle, Practice or Process?

Pictured: The Onion Skin Journal and a blurred Phoenix, the very sweet AND annoying cat who woke me up.

Recently, one of our three cats decided it would be wise to rouse me from my sleep at 2 o’clock in the morning. In the…morning. As in before sunrise. Did I mention it was morning…? I couldn’t get back to sleep, feeling awake enough to move, but not actually awake enough to do anything too cerebral. I discovered this fact as I sat before my blank screen thinking I’d write since I was up anyway- that turned out to be a fruitless endeavor. I decided to look for a particular journal from my journal archives, which are kept on two large bookshelves in my office, and as I fumbled to get through the clutter and dust in front of the shelved journals, I found myself focused on the physical act of decluttering. Did I mention it was two…in the morning. Surprisingly, I learned a valuable lesson. The middle of the night is an excellent decluttering and organizing time for me apparently. Not that I want to make it a regular thing, however, I not only found the journal I was looking for but also found that by 5 a.m. I had completely decluttered, dusted, and somewhat reorganized the shelves, and now I sat admiring them.

So, before I settled into the rest of my day I took to Instagram to share my early morning sleepless shenanigans with the wider world (or at least those who follow my @thejournalenthusiast account). I received several comments and questions, and one that came up (and does frequently) is the topic of “process”. As in, “What is your journaling process?” and “What do you write about?”

I really appreciated these questions as they allowed me to step back and evaluate my journal writing activity in an objective manner. The fact is my journaling process is more of a practice than a process. As one who has steadily filled journals for most of my lifetime, I believe it is a lifestyle more than anything else at this point. Anything you are committed to for such a length of time in habit, is somewhat of a lifestyle, right?

I currently have journals dated from 1985 through 2023 in my completed journal archives. Sadly, the journals I kept as a teenager were discarded. I regret it. I do have much of the poetry I wrote in those years, but all the angsty, revealing teen years and perceptions are lost. Maybe it’s for the best, but no matter how awful some of that writing would have been to me now, it also could have given a glimpse into the girl I was, and that is something priceless to be able to see. I would make a recommendation if you are reading these words and are in your twenties or younger and thinking of burning your diaries. Don’t. Pack them away, securely, until you are forty or older. Do not burn, throw away or otherwise destroy the ramblings of youth you poured out on paper. There will come a time you will look for that girl, and you will want to see her, remember her…even if it was, and still is painful. You are going to want to get back to the girl you were and have a chance to show her how it all turned out…and how it really would be ok someday. You are going to want to go back, retrieve and wrap your arms around her because you will see things differently.

Journaling Lifestyle: Practice Vs. Process

I have written about journaling as a lifestyle before- the way I live my life by choice is one that includes journaling regularly. You could say I practice the act of journaling regularly, thereby it could be defined as a lifestyle. It is as part of my life as other things are such as housework-though I think it’s a bit more enjoyable. My mother unapologetically adored housecleaning, but she had no love for the act of writing. She found the same joy in the discovery of a new cleaning product as I would over a new pen or journal. Go figure! Although some see journaling as optional, it is not that way for me. It’s just part of the day for me. But an important one. Not optional, however, there are days I might not write for any number of reasons. But I come back to it as one would a bath or shower. I need to get clean, to attend to my inner self, as much as my physical body. We may not shower daily, but we all have a level of personal hygiene to which we attain, and for myself, this spills over to the less obvious but equally important inner upkeep of the soul, heart, spirit, and mind. I just can’t function well unless I tune into these aspects of my life. I think at different times in life one might prioritize one area over another, but neglect of any aspect over a long period of time leads to imbalance. Surely, we see this around us in our communities and culture too often in diverse ways. I saw it in those I counseled and coached, and I have seen it in my own life. There’s no tipping the scales for long without suffering for it. It’s why we strive to find the balance and keep ourselves in check. There is great suffering in those who struggle to find balance, and who are inclined to certain addictions and behaviors. I empathize and speak from firsthand experience. Learning to function within the confines of time and with good boundaries does not come easily for me. I grew up with ADHD at a time it wasn’t common or even recognized and diagnosed. Especially in girls. I know what it is to battle impulsivity from within and try to fit into a mold that can neither contain nor keep me, in a world that is unkind and often cruel. Journaling became part of what helped me write myself into being, into understanding and finding my own voice, and eventually into finding ways to express and articulate that voice.

There was a time when I used to say I would have a journal-burning party. A dear friend used to ask when I was going to do it. Funny, I never ended up going through with it. I have lived long enough to see the value even in the shameful, embarrassing entries in those old journals on my way to becoming the me I am today. And you know what, the fact is, Jesus was loving me all the way through… when I ranted and swore and wrote horrible, hateful things, and drank too much, and went on about the many injustices I experienced, and in the world or whatever was happening in my life along the way…or when I pursued every ungodly passion, knowing better, but not yet empowered enough to win the battles. I am not ashamed of who I’ve been, because I know there is a bigger picture, and I am learning to see more like the One who does indeed see me clearly. Oh, if only we all could see the way Jesus sees us. Maybe then we’d see with eyes that are less critical and condemning and more with compassion, sensitivity…and what we were born here for which is to love like Him. If only we could get to that place of loving like Jesus…

Journaling for me is a practice. I define journaling as simply writing my thoughts on paper. If you were to ask me what I need to maintain my journaling practice, I would answer a pen and notebook. This for me is the simplest of answers. I need nothing more to regularly maintain my practice. I have certainly employed a variety of journaling methods, techniques, routines, and exercises. However, my foundational practice and my common approach are usually pretty much the same. I just write, from where I am, as I go. If I feel the need, I might write spontaneously during the day. It is an action that helps me find clarity, focus, and renewed purpose. It keeps from a lot of trouble with others. A journal is a coffee with your best friend, exactly when you need it, without the drive, and price. Do you recall the days when you could go into a phone booth, close the door, dial, and sit in privacy in conversation with the one on the other end of the line? OK, if you are too young you won’t get this so you can just check with Google–unless you watched Superman at some point. But for me, my journal is like a phone booth with a direct line to God, I often pray on paper, pouring out my heart. Believe me, it’s safer than Facebook and more profitable to my soul.

When I am asked what my process is, I can only say-I have none. I simply come to the open book and begin.

But I can tell you a few things I seem to do by habit before I begin quite regularly. And I can tell you what I don’t do. First, I will tell you what I do. I generally write the date, day, and time. Always. That is my entry port. I almost always start with the same opening line, even if I redirect my focus from self to God, to the narrator, to reporting or documenting. I normally always start an entry on a new page. I won’t continue writing from one page to the next, as I prefer a fresh page at the start of a new day. I do love seeing the journals of those who continue a new, dated entry from wherever they ended on a page, but I just never have done that. It feels like the days blur together as it is but for me, I need space, margin, and room to breathe. On paper as in life. and Sometimes if I write multiple times in a day, I might draw a line and or otherwise designate the time and date of writing to differentiate that it is not the same exact journaling session time frame or content. One aspect of my journaling is that I tend to write in a continual manner. So, my journaling is designated by date and time alone and continues from journal to journal in such a way that reflects the context of what I am experiencing and what is on the pages. This is important because over time my journaling has shifted significantly to writing what I am thinking or creating more than specific events that are happening. So, my writing may not reveal details about a day but more about my own experience, which can often be very vague in details. This may seem odd when you consider that many journals reveal the diarist recapping the day’s activities. I use my planner to record my activities and my journal holds what might not be written there.

A process entails more of a series of actions that come to a specific conclusion. I don’t feel this is a good description of my journaling practice, which is more fluid, intuitive, and flexible. The word “process” “brings to my mind manufacturing, and cellular-level science. Neither of which I think accurately reflects what journaling is in my perception. Also, because I do not hold to a specific manner of form or topic, I think the term does not fit my mode of journal writing. Let me know if you hold a different view because I am open to hearing it. Sometimes I think myself into a too tight-fitting box and need help breaking out of it!

So, is journaling a lifestyle, practice, process, or combination of the three at different times? Perhaps you might want to journal about it?

Either way, in my next post I will be sharing the opening line of my January 2023 journal entries from my current journal. I hope it will provide a springboard for others who struggle to find a jumping-off point place in their own journal writing practice. Or maybe it will affirm or encourage you to jump in and journal fearlessly at last. These 31 Journal Entry Points will be a rare glimpse into how I start every journal entry (my process), for my daily journaling sessions (my practice) over the course of time (my lifestyle). See what I did there?

Please be sure and let me know your thoughts, questions, or comments! Was there something I left out, or is there a topic or challenge you want me to address in a future post? Let me know.
Thank you for reading. I pray your journaling brings you both discovery and delight!

A less mischievous moment snuggling with mom.

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

2 thoughts on “Journaling: Lifestyle, Practice or Process?

  1. Hi Dawn! (We met at Sharon’s club).
    I love to journal as well. I enjoyed reading this and particularly a couple quotes.

    “A journal is a coffee with your best friend, exactly when you need it, without the drive, and price. ” ABSOLUTELY!

    “my journal is like a phone booth with a direct line to God, I often pray on paper, pouring out my heart.” I truly do this more often than not.

    I can relate to both of these. I often pray on paper as well, as an ending to pouring out my soul (rejoicing, mourning, or complaining) on paper. Someday I just write paragraphs of stuff, not related to another paragraph. It’s kind of like my day… Not going as planned.

    Thank you for this post. It’s encouraging to know that there really is no format to which I’m thankful. Because I wouldn’t write if there was. Ha!


    1. Hi Kami! Thanks for reading and commenting. So nice to see you here…like a ray of sunshine reminder of the blessed time we share with our group in N.H. How rarely things go as planned, but either way- we are in faithful hands! Take care!

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