Whether you’re new to journal writing or you’ve been journaling for years, sooner or later you’ll come across the roadblock “I don’t know what to write about – I have nothing to say.”
This roadblock can be especially crippling when you’re just starting out. Many new journal writers feel extremely self-conscious when they first start documenting. Even if you know nobody else is going to read it, you might feel silly writing down your thoughts. “Who am I talking to, anyway?” You may worry you’ll spontaneously develop an invisible friend or delve into multiple personality disorder and starting signing your entries “Love, Sybil.”
It’s awkward at first. Let it be.
Remember that the point of journaling is the process. The process is putting words one after the other on a page. It’s as simple as that.
What to Write About
If you sit down for your journaling session and don’t have a burning topic to jump into, look around. Sometimes the act of writing anything at all – even the day and place, is enough to get the words flowing. I always start my journal entries with the date, time, and location.
Describe Your Surroundings
To get warmed up, start with observations about your environment – internal or external. A description of the room where you’re seated, what the weather is doing, or how you’re feeling physically is often a good way to get moving. Sometimes if my head feels empty, I’ll write about my surroundings for the full journaling session. Often though, I’ll start writing about the room surrounding me, which kicks me off on a tangent toward a meatier topic.
“The café is crowded this morning but I got my comfy velvet seat by the window so it’s okay. I’m having a hard time getting moving this morning – Monday, of course – and the rain doesn’t help me feel any more enthusiastic. Speaking of enthusiasm, my hangout with Jamie yesterday filled me with some great ideas I’m excited to dig into – her energy is infectious…”
Describing your surroundings can be an indirect way of accessing your deeper concerns. One morning you describe how the rain is relentlessly pelting the window. Another time, the rain makes everything sparkly and fresh.
Use a Prompt
You may find value in selecting a prompt to start each journaling session, a question to get you moving. Even Twitter knows the value of answering the question, “What’s happening?”
Take a page from Anais Nin’s journal and ask yourself, “What feels vivid, warm, or near to you at the moment?”
Some of my favorite jumping points stem from the spoiled three-year-old that possesses me in weaker moments: I want. I hate. I need. I love. No need for fanfare: just fill in the blank to get the ball rolling.
Recount the Day
Much of the time, I write about events. I’ll write about what I did the previous day (since I write in the morning), and how I felt about it or what issues arose. Even if I’m lacking profound thoughts and insights on an event, documenting still helps me create structure. The written record also serves as a great archival tool for future reference.
Emphasize Process over Product
An important purpose of journal writing is simply expressing and recording your thoughts and feelings.
Concentrate on the process of writing—keeping the flow of words rather than worrying about the end result. Setting a specific time where you write without stopping can be enormously helpful.
Keep writing even if you have “nothing to say.” The brain is an immensely curious machine, and mine certainly has a brief attention span. After spending three minutes writing about how you have nothing to say, your imagination will kick in with anything just to change the topic to something more engaging.
You may even find yourself thinking about topics to cover before you start your next journaling session just so you won’t have to write “I have nothing to say and I’m sick of saying I have nothing to say!”
Use the Parking Lot
Maintaining a “parking lot” for journaling topics is helpful. Keep a list handy for topics you want to write about when you have more time. Ideas that come to mind in line at the grocery store, for example, or while on the phone.
The longer you keep at it, the easier journaling becomes. After a while, struggles with what to write about will be rare. When those little dry spells pop up, you can return to these simple tools to get you moving again.