the winter blog

Journaling: 5 ways to supercharge that empty notebook

Journal writing, when it becomes a ritual for transformation, is not only life-changing but life-expanding.

Jen Williamson

Hello, lovelies! Are you like me, with a stack of empty notebooks you’re not sure what to do with? Today I want to talk a little more about journaling. It has helped me on my mental health journey in ways that it would be almost impossible to articulate. My journals have always been like a best friend who keeps my secrets and a personal assistant to remind me of my good ideas and what days I have appointments. Recently, talking to Dr. W, she told me that I should keep journaling and keep blogging because both are excellent coping mechanisms!

I know I talked a little about journaling in my hobbies post, but I do multiple types of journaling and they all fill a different need, so I wanted to expand on some of the different types of journaling that I do and give advice on how to start and what you’ll need.

My journaling journey

many open journals laid out on a table

I started getting serious about journaling when I was about 13 or 14. Things at home had gotten steadily worse for me over the years and by the time I was in my early teens, depression, anger, and hatred were swallowing me up. One day, while visiting my sister at work at a JoAnne Fabrics/Benjamin Franklin’s combo store, I found an A5 3-ring binder and paper that would fit. I took it home and I lovingly decorated the cover with neon puffy paint. I scrawled my deepest, darkest thoughts and moments in that journal.

I learned a lot with that little book. It taught me that I could release the pressure of my intensifying emotions and I could say how I felt about my abuser in those pages; something I wasn’t allowed to do out loud. I could talk about the dark thoughts that were growing stronger inside my head; sometimes making me believe that I wanted to die. I saw no end to my situation and depression loves nothing more than hopelessness. So, I told my dear diary all about it. I also learned that when you write something down on paper, it is memorialized for whoever decides that they have a right to your thoughts. In my case, it was my abuser. It did not go well.

That didn’t stop me from journaling and it is a habit that I clung to, long after I was safe and away from a harmful situation. For the majority of that time, I stuck with long-form, or stream of consciousness, journaling; sometimes pouring my heart out, page after page. I wrote about crushes and my everyday life. I wrote about my pain and my depression. I wrote about my dreams and my worst nightmares; my wins and my losses. Sometimes I wrote poetry or poetic prose. My dreams of becoming a writer started in those early journal pages.

In 2017, I decided that I wanted to start a writer’s notebook. I wasn’t sure if that was a thing, but I felt like *everything* is a thing on the internet, so I Googled it. In my research, I came across bullet journaling. The more I read, I started to realize that I could create an entire book that tracked not only all of the writer information that I wanted to keep up with but I could track literally any aspect of my life that I pleased with bullet journaling. So, I grabbed a notebook, bought a pack of fine liners, and went to town. That first BuJo (short for bullet journaling) was not great. I stopped using it for *many* months in the middle of the year before I picked it back up again. But, I was hooked.

Bullet journaling taught me to be more open about what a journal or a notebook could be. It could be an art journal or a reading log and tracker, a poetry notebook, or a journal specifically for handwriting practice. I had always just look at them as another place to write my tortured thoughts, but what if I made a journal dedicated to positivity and pushing forward my best ideas (I did!)? The possibilities became endless. So let’s talk about a few types of journaling and what you’ll need to get started.

Without further ado, 5 ways to use your empty notebooks:

1. Long-form and stream of consciousness

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This is what most people think of when they think of journaling; a place to write your inner-most thoughts. It can be very cathartic and therapeutic. It’s what Dr. W calls a “healthy coping mechanism.” I don’t have many of them, but I’m still able to pinpoint a few. The best part about this type of journaling is that you can use anything to journal in. All you need is paper and a writing utensil and you are off to the races. One thing that I have to keep in mind is that not every entry is going to be a poetic tome. Sometimes, you simply talk about how your day was; what you ate for breakfast, how you’ve been feeling, or hash out a great idea. It’s probably my favorite type of journaling.

If you aren’t sure what to write about, you can find all kinds of journaling prompts online, across many subjects; mental health prompts, daily journal prompts, wellness prompts, etc.

2. Bullet Journaling

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Bullet Journaling is a planning/journaling system that was invented by Ryder Carroll to help him manage his ADHD symptoms. His version of the system is a simple set of at-a-glance calendars, bulleted lists, and simple symbols. You can find out more here or you can look for the book The Bullet Journal Method. It is a combination of DIY planner, collections, lists, to-do’s, reminders, etc. You can track anything you want in a bullet journal. There are no rules.

All of that said, bullet journaling has changed and morphed over time. Some people do elaborate, beautiful, and artistic spreads. You can find great ideas on Facebook, Google, and Pinterest. After several years of BuJo, my best advice is to start simple. Even if you don’t start Ryder-Carroll-simple, don’t put too much on your plate until you find the system that works for you. It can cause you to become overwhelmed and stop using it. This happened to me with my first bullet journal. I stopped using it for about 6 or 7 months that year. When I was ready to return, I just picked up where I left off as though nothing happened. The beauty of bullet journaling!

Keep in mind, the most important part of your bullet journal should be its functionality in your life. Pretty spreads are nice to look at, but if they don’t fit into your life or schedule in a meaningful way, it isn’t working the way it’s supposed to. There is an entire community of bullet journalers out there and I know from experience that they will welcome you with open arms, regardless of your skill level. I adore the online bullet journaling community; in my experience, they are supportive and kind. I have settled on a nice mix of minimalist and artsy and I use lots and lots of stickers, stencils, and mildliners for color.

To get started with bullet journaling, these are the things that I think of as bare minimum supplies:

  • A notebook – In my opinion, dot grid notebooks are the best for BuJo, but you can use any notebook that you have on hand. My first bullet journal was a spiral-bound, lined notebook.
  • A pencil – You don’t have to have this, but I like to sketch my spreads in pencil before I line them in pen. If you think you might need to make adjustments, start in pencil.
  • Fine tip markers or pens – I prefer to use water-resistant pens and markers because I do a lot of highlighting and sometimes even other mediums like watercolor. My favorites are the Sakura Pigma Micron pens with archival ink.
  • Highlighters or Zebra Mildliners – these aren’t a necessity, but I added them to the list because they are nice for adding color or even color coding your BuJo. In last year’s bullet journal, I used a different color for work, personal, and my kiddo’s info so that my eyes were easily drawn to the specific colors when looking for something.
  • Ruler – I eventually stopped using a ruler and just use the dots on the grid to draw my lines, but sometimes my hands shake (hello, anxiety!), so I still bust out my trusty straight edge from time to time.
  • White Out – MISTAKES!!

Here are some supplies that I use, but you by no means need to start a bullet journal:

  • Markers, colored pencils, and paint
  • A glue stick or crafter’s tape (it looks like white-out, but glue tape comes out instead)
  • Washi tape
  • Stickers – you can use regular stickers and they also make a plethora of beautiful planner stickers, specifically for planning.
  • Post-It Notes
  • Paperclips or binder clips

I have one last thing to say about this, and every other, type of journaling. It should be fun. You should enjoy it. You should never be stressed out about a journal. You should never feel guilt or shame over a journal. Always remember, it’s just a notebook…and it’s your notebook, at that. No one will ever see it if you don’t wish and you can put whatever you want in it, however you want. Also, if you try it and you hate it, that’s okay too. It’s not for everyone. I’ve heard many, many people with ADHD laugh in the face of bullet journaling because it wasn’t a fit for them. If it doesn’t work for you, set it aside and come back later or just chuck the idea and use your notebook for something else.

3. Mixed media art journaling

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I discovered art journaling soon after bullet journaling and, again, I was hooked. Mixed media art journaling is using whatever materials you may have at your disposal to make art. Again, this is a type of journaling, where there are no rules. My first few spreads were mostly just paint, haphazardly splashed on a page with stickers and stencils for décor. You can find a million YouTube videos and Pinterest pins that tell you how to make cool pages and designs.

Let me state clearly; I am not an artist. Well, I wasn’t an artist. Writing and acting were always my art…especially writing. Up until a few years ago, I would tell people, “I can’t draw. I can’t even draw stickmen.” Here’s the thing. The more I art journaled, the more I wanted to learn. I wanted to make my art as well as I could and I found that I loved getting lost in these fun creative projects. So, little by little, I started adding sketches and drawings to my pages. I started learning how to hand letter. I have practiced and erased and sometimes it takes me hours to complete a project. But I’ve gotten so much better. As a person with ADHD, my art journal taught me to slow down, take my time, and enjoy the process.

If you want to start an art journal, I recommend the following supplies to get started:

  • A notebook – you can use any kind of notebook, but I would recommend getting something that has good quality paper or made to take liquid mediums. If you use any kind of paint or liquid adhesive, it can mess up the paper and cause bleed through.
  • Gesso (pronounced J-esso) – this is an amazing product and you can get a good amount of it for relatively cheap. While generally used to prime paint canvasses, you can use it in your journal to prime your paper. If you use a notebook that has “regular” paper, you can use gesso to combat bleeding and buckling. Certain types of gesso can cover bleed through and mistakes. It dries quickly and comes in a variety of colors and types.
  • Any preferred art mediums – this can include, but is in no way limited to, paint (watercolor, acrylic, gouache, etc.), markers, spray ink, etc.
  • Stencils
  • Ephemera – if this is a new word for you, you are not alone. Ephemera is literally any material that was not meant to be kept or preserved. Huh?! It can include magazine cutouts, business cards, mailers, old pictures, etc. I even include things like scraps of ribbon, old buttons, and pressed flowers in my ephemera collection and they look great on the page.

Again, just remember to have fun. Art journaling (ArtJo?) should be relaxing, centering, and grounding. Like all other journals, it is yours and only yours and it can be anything you want it to be. Collaging, drawing, painting, or all of the above!

4. Creative writing or poetry journaling

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Photo by Thorn Yang on

Though I do have a poetry journal (very much a book that I keep to myself), I haven’t created a creative writing journal yet and I think it’s going to be my next project so I decided to add it to my list. This is exactly what it sounds like…a notebook for writing creative short stories, essays, or poems. Like long-form, you can use any type of journal that you’d like, though I think for mine, I will be using a school-sized 3-ring binder and loose-leaf paper. You can jot down any creative writing ideas that you have here and you can then nurture and grow them.

There is a wide variety of creative writing prompts online, as there are for most other types of journaling. I even have a couple of pre-printed prompt books that have space for writing directly into the book. This type of journaling is pretty self-explanatory but is good for working out the imagination and your writing skills.

5. Micro-journaling

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I left this for last because it is the shortest and easiest type of journaling. Micro-journaling is simply writing the date and then jotting down a list or a few sentences about your day. You can write down what you are grateful for, what made you happy, or just any memory that you want to memorialize. A lot of people who use pre-printed planners save space each day for their micro-journaling and I think that is a perfect way to keep up with it. If you are intimidated by the other types of journaling, you can start here and build up to something more, if you wish.

That’s the end?

I plan to do more posts about journaling, where I look into each type of journaling much more in-depth. Stay tuned for next Sunday when I talk bout journaling prompts and how you can use them…there may or may not be some free downloadable printables involved.

So, that’s all I’ve got for today. I hope that you found this informative and I hope that you learned a little something about journaling. Do you have a favorite type of journaling or have you been thinking about starting a journal? Did you try journaling and found that it just wasn’t really for you (which is completely valid)? Tell me about it in the comments. Don’t forget to like and follow or subscribe to the blog. You can also sign up for my email list so you never miss out on an update and even future freebies! Until next time, my friends!

Love and light! Keep fighting the good fight. 💜💜

ADHD Beans

Still depressed, anxious, and traumatized. Still an ADHDer. Still kicking ass and taking names when it comes to busting stigma. Changing hearts and minds, one post at a time.

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  1. Long form journalling is my jam! It’s just meditative and allows me to process the day easier. Loved this. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Same. I can’t think of many things more cathartic for me than just letting my brain explode onto the page!! I’m glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for reading. 😊😊

  2. Definitely going to try out Bullet and Artjo. Always good to get some clarity know? Hehe thanks for the post

    1. I’m glad I could provide some clarity. I hope it brings you as much joy as it has brought me. 💜💜

  3. I am a stream of consciousness kinda gal’ 🙂 I love the way it helps me deconstruct and sometimes come to helpful conclusions ! Great article 🙂

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