Unconventional advice: Don’t schedule time for journaling

Have you ever googled something like, “how to start journaling” or “journal tips for beginners?” If so, you’ve probably come across one piece of advice that is suggested consistently on pretty much every single web article that has to do with keeping a journal/diary/whatever: you’re supposed to make a specific time in your schedule to write in your journal, and do it at that specific time every day.

That’s some bunk, yo.

I journal regularly. Probably excessively. But for a period of time I tried and tried and just couldn’t get into it. It wasn’t until I broke the supposedly iron-clad rule that says you’re supposed to journal at a specified, consistent part of the day that I was able to make it a regular part of my life.

Let me throw the proponents of scheduled journaling a bone here. I am totally onboard with the idea of building habits and establishing a routine. I am absolutely onboard with the idea that it’s important to carve time out of your schedule for self-care. I get it. I don’t disagree. I can also see that for some people, setting aside a consistent time block for journaling is helpful.

For some of us, though, it’s more of an obstacle than an aid.

Certain people have the type of lifestyles where they can lock down a daily routine and stick with it. These are probably people who have jobs like, I don’t know, blogging about writing in journals for a living. When you have the freedom to control what you’re doing at what time, and the deciding factor for how closely you adhere to that schedule is your own will to do so, it makes sense to organize your life in that way.

On the other hand, there are those of us who have a lot of shit going on at random, unpredictable intervals throughout our day. Aside from writing this blog, I work a day job. I am a musician and a radio DJ. I’m part-owner of a house that’s in a continual state of DIY remodeling. I have five kids, ages toddler to teen, on two different custody schedules. I’m working on my master’s degree at night. Because of all of this, it is extremely difficult to set aside any block of time during my day for anything not vital because of the amount of other responsibilities and (more relevantly) other people that need my attention at unpredictable times.

In my circumstance — and perhaps you’re in the same boat — trying to schedule self-care time is the surest way to make sure it doesn’t become part of the routine. If I plan to write in my journal before bed, and a kid is sick and can’t sleep and needs my care, which obligation am I going to prioritize?

So, for those of you living the crazy life, I propose a different rule: make your journal-writing routine flexible so that you can adapt it to your lifestyle. 

Ideally, this means being able to journal any time, anywhere. Therefore, an obvious corollary of this is that your journal and associated materials need to be portable.

Depending on what you carry with you daily, this may mean sacrificing the big fancy 9″ x 11″ hardcover journal in favor of something smaller, lighter, and more flexible. I started out with Moleskine Cahier softcover notebooks, until I discovered the Traveler’s Notebook system. Both of those work really well for me, because they fit into my KAVU sling that I carry around as a man-purse. I also keep notebooks for specific purposes — finances/investments, special projects, etc. — and I’ve found that the good, ol’ fashioned Composition Notebook works great.

You should also put some thought into what tools and materials you use. Perhaps this is the deal-breaker for some, because I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who mainly writes in their journal. If you do a full-blown photo collage on every page, it would be hard to pare that down. But for those of us who are content to write/sketch/etc., it’s not that hard, but does require a little forethought. Aside from the pencils (or pens, ugh) you need to write, I suggest picking up a good pencil bag, a small portable sharpener, a click/pen eraser, and maybe some accessories like tip protectors, a bullet stencil ruler combo, and such. Obviously you don’t need to go hog wild on buying stuff because the whole point here is to pare everything you need down into one small bag that you can carry with you — or even just stuff in a pocket.

One specific suggestion I have is to get a keyring pencil sharpener. I lose pencil sharpeners like crazy, so one thing that helped me was grabbing a Maped keyring sharpener and attaching it to the zipper pull of my sling. It’s not my favorite sharpener, but it works well, and it’s not going anywhere. Therefore I always have a pencil sharpener with me. There are lots of different models out there if you don’t like the Maped version I have.

The point of all of this is to have your complete journal and “kit”, with everything you need to start writing, accessible to you at all times (or as close to that as is feasible). Then, the only missing ingredient is the will to write. When a thought strikes you, wherever you are, all you have to do is pull out your journal and a pencil and start writing!

When I first started writing in a journal, I took the popular advice and tried to set aside a regular time to write. It was a disaster. On the other hand, getting a portable set-up and giving myself the freedom to write in my journal any time, anywhere has been by far the most significant change I’ve made in my journal-writing routine. It is really the thing that enabled me to start writing consistently. The fact is, I have breaks in my day for self-care and reflection — I just can’t predict when they’ll come. So now I’m on my toes and I’m prepared to write when I get the chance.

So if you’re struggling to stick to a journal-writing schedule or find the time to write, I suggest focusing on portability, throwing the schedule out the window, and allowing yourself the freedom to write whatever, whenever, and wherever. I went from journal fail to burning through notebooks like nobody’s business once I made this one simple change to my approach. I hope that it helps you, too!

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