I aim to fill a journal completely (except for a few pages which I keep intentionally blank). But sometimes I feel that I’m at a point either in the calendar or in my Spiritual life that I need to start a new one. I started my most recent journal with when I want to BAP in April. So that it didn’t feel like I was carrying around everything that had happened before.
I’ve kept a journal for over 5 years now, so I’ve gotten into habits of what I do to ‘set up’ a new one. I always begin the process of setting up the new one, even if I haven’t finished the one I am on. This just means that it is ready for me when I decide to come to start in the new one. Seeing as it is a new year soon, it may be that you are deciding to take up journalling, so hopefully this will give you a few ideas as to how to ‘set up’ your journal.
Deciding what kind of book to use.
I have always preferred to have blank pages in my journals. It allows for me to both write and draw should I wish. I also wanted pages that weren’t too thick. With some handmade journals, the pages are too thick and would feel to precious to use.
When I first started journalling I felt drawn to this red felt covered book with an embroidered bird on the front. Thankfully it completely suited my purpose, and I now continue to buy that same type of notebook just with different covers.
Paperchase, Paperblanks and Moleskin all over several kinds of notebooks with everything from lined pages to blank , colourful covers to plain and big to small. The essence of beginning with journalling is to find a book that you will enjoy writing in.
Don’t be concerned if you don’t find something works for you straight away. Honestly, I have a few books that I have only written in on the first few pages because I end up disliking it. It’s important not to throw these away!
Adam Feldman in his book Journaling: Catalyzing Spiritual Growth Through Reflection talks alot about his love for moleskin journals. He even has a whole appendix about how he ‘sets up’ too. He prefers something small and portable, which is favourable if you are a plain ‘pen and paper’ journaler.
As for me I want something a little more robust and special. If I want to write whilst without my journal, then I will on a separate bit of paper and then stick it in later. I like to take the time with my journal and my art supplies when I can. So for me its important to have a journal that will stand up to my creativity.
The key is to get a balance between a book that you really love, but one that you will feel able to use. Everyone is unique! The kind of notebook you will want will be different because your type of journalling will be different.
One of the biggest prompts for me to get serious about journalling was a means to explore my calling. After a little while I jokingly wrote ‘Discernment, denial and despair’ in the front cover and it kinda stuck. Since then my journals have been different volumes of that title. Perhaps when I move onto a new season I will pick a new title.
Not everyone has to title their journal in such a way, but it is helpful to have some way in knowing what time frame is represented in the journal. Particularly if you use moleskin notebooks without any distinguishable way of telling the difference. If you are looking for an entry from a particular date then a small date acknowledgement is handy. I date all of my entries anyway, but this just helps knowing what year it is, or where I am geographically.
The first thing I do in the back of a new journal is set aside a page or two for the titles of books I’m reading.
It helps me to see what texts are influencing my thought at any time. Sometimes I will write notes/quotes from the book in my normal journal pages, so it is helpful to remember if I read the whole thing or just picked up the quote somewhere.
Particularly useful as you can see from some of my previous journals I read Michael Ramseys ‘Christian Priest Today’ twice, but my notes from each reading are totally different. It is also an encouragement to read more. If I get to the end of a journal and I haven’t read all that much then it gives me a target to read X number of books more then the last one! So it is always helpful to note what you are reading!
Setting a challenge
I know that for some people journalling in itself will be a challenge, but if you’ve been journalling for a while then it might be time to take up a challenge.
Someone I knew from university used to keep a gratitude section at the back of her journal, and when something happened that she was specifically thankful for she would write it down. I’m challenging myself to do something similar and try and write something I am thankful for everyday. As I’ve said before, I am rubbish when it comes to committing to a daily activity. But hopefully even if I don’t get to journal properly, I can take 5 minutes to be thankful about the blessings in my life and record that in my journal. Its one of my Spiritual New Years Resolutions!
The intentionally blank pages.
A big part of journalling is the reflection. Every now and again coming back to your journal entries and looking back on what was resonating with you at the time.
I leave about 10 pages (20 sides) at the back of the journal blank for reflection at later times.
It’s useful when I come to certain prayers/trains of thought and I wonder where I first prayed that. I can use the pages at the back as a means to communicate with myself. For instance if I find that a bible verse is really sticking me then I can write that in the back of my current journal with references to my other journals. Or sometimes I will read through a whole journal and put my thoughts down on that time on one of those back pages.
Adding Personal Touches.
If you are just setting up a new journal for the first time, and you arent too creative then think about putting something simple in your journal like a prayer card.
I like to put a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe in each journal, whether stuck down or just loose. It’s usually the last thing to go in before writing, so it signifies the ‘handover’ between journals. If you are using a loose postcard/prayer card/picture then you can always transfer it over when you move onto a new journal as a nice way to keep something continuous.
For some reason I also collect the stamps from the cards/letters that I recieve that year and put them on one of the covers. Not sure why but it adds a personal touch!
The most important thing about journalling is that the journal you use should feel like yours. These are just some of the ways in which I set up a new journal, but you may have your own ways.
Remember if it is your first journal, or fiftieth the important thing is to make your journal yours.
Peace and Joy.