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How to write a diary entry — 5 tips for beginners

If you’re new to keeping a diary and are finding yourself challenged with where to begin, try one of these tips, or several of them! One of the best things you can do when you’re starting something new is to be flexible with yourself and allow yourself to try several different avenues.

1. Try a similar prompt each time

Some diary apps, like Diarly, allow you to make customized templates for each new journal entry. Some people find that creating prompts for yourself to answer each day can be helpful in establishing a jumping off point for that day’s reflection. For example, you may ask yourself the following questions each day:

  • What did I do today?
  • What was one emotion I experienced during the day today? What prompted it?
  • What is something I learned today?
  • What is something I hope for tomorrow?

By answering the same questions each day, you’ll give yourself some structure with which to get into the practice of writing regular diary entries. Over time, you may find that you are so adept at reflecting through your writing that you don’t need to continue to use the same prompts. If that’s the case, that’s fine! Use the structure for as long as you feel like you need it, and be willing to adjust. The most important thing about a journaling practice is that it works for you.

2. Try a different prompt each time

The opposite of #1, this tip will allow you to explore something new every day. Some people are intimidated by not knowing what to write, whereas others are intimidated by having to write the same exact thing every day. If that sounds like you, it might help to have a different question you’re answering every day. You may think about asking, over the course of a week:

  • What was the biggest thing that happened in my day? What activity dominated my time, or what issue dominated my thoughts?
  • What is something that I would enjoy doing but I haven’t made the time to do? How would doing it make me feel? What would I need to set into motion to make it possible to do it?
  • Think about one person in your life who made a difference for you. Write about that person. Who are they? How do you know them? What did they help you achieve?
  • What is a decision you were recently faced with making? How did you decide what to do? What was the result of that decision?
  • If you had to change one thing about how your day went today, what would it be? What do you think that change would result in?
  • If there was one thing you could be sure would happen tomorrow if you just wished hard enough, what would it be?
  • What was the best thing that happened to you today? Why did it happen? How did it make you feel?

3. Challenge yourself to be as honest as you can possibly be

A diary is all about working through your innermost thoughts and feelings. When you are just starting with a diary practice, however, it can sometimes feel unnatural to be open and honest with your feelings. What if someone reads them? If you’re using a digital diary in a computer, iPad, or iPhone app, you can password protect your diary, which should alleviate some of your concerns. Still, it can be difficult to wrap your mind around the concept of being totally open and honest right out of the gate.

It may help to challenge yourself to admit to one or two thoughts you’re having each entry. Remember, you’re only admitting these things to yourself, but putting them into your diary may be cathartic. If you feel yourself starting to avoid telling a truth to yourself through your diary entry, pause and recognize that feeling, and dig deeper. Release the truth into the diary entry, and feel good about it every time it happens. It means you’re making progress in your practice.

4. Write with abandon

At least once in your early diary-writing days, give yourself this assignment: for ten minutes, I am going to type literally every thought that comes to my mind, without trying to make sense of it or find any narrative or storytelling structure in it. As people, it’s in our nature to want to tell structured stories. But there is also value in allowing ourselves to express in a stream of consciousness. Letting yourself record a stream of thought for a certain period of time can be a really fulfilling exercise, and it can also fill the pages quite quickly. As long as you’re typing the whole ten minutes, words will come.

5. Don’t give up

If you find yourself sitting in front of your diary and you feel like you have nothing to say, don’t close the diary for the day. Doing so won’t get you to where you want to be, which is a daily diary writer who feels the benefits of journaling. Instead of giving up, write about the feeling of wanting to, and let that reflection take you wherever it wants to go next. Chances are, you’ll end up reflecting on something else, and in turn, you’ll be well on your way to creating a diary entry.

Lauren Harkawik
Author

Lauren Harkawik

Lauren Harkawik is a journalist, essayist, and fiction writer based in Vermont. You can read her writing on her website.

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