Journaling — the act of writing things down somewhere (where doesn’t really matter) — has many benefits. Here’s an important one:

“It’s not in the rereading that one finds solace but in the writing itself. It’s like crying—you don’t know why, but you feel so much better afterward. Everything pours, streams, flows, out of you aimlessly,” writes Samara O’Shea in her beautifully written book Note to Self: On Keeping A Journal And Other Dangerous Pursuits.

Here’s another: Journaling is a profound — and simple — way to get to know yourself better. To figure out what makes you tick. What makes you happy. What makes you defensive. What makes you giggle or grateful or grieve. What makes you who you are.

Quite simply, it’s a great tool to help you grow.

Throughout Note to Self, O’Shea shares excerpts from her journals, along with journal entries from others, including Anne Frank, Sylvia Plath and Tennessee Williams. She also shares how to get started. These are a few of her tips:

  • “Say anything.” There are no shoulds, only woulds, she writes. Don’t think about what a journal should be. “Write the good, bad, mad, angry, boring, and ugly.”
  • Don’t lose faith if you don’t feel better instantly. As O’Shea writes, “Sometimes, a writing session will be the fast-acting mental medicine needed to release pent-up emotions, and other times, it will just be the beginning of getting to know yourself or dealing with a problem.” She says to focus on the long term. Over time, you’ll be able to witness “your emotional evolution.”
  • Just start. Remember that your journal will develop on its own. Still got nothing? Try a few prompts, such as answering questions or describing your life. Several of the questions she suggests:
  • How am I feeling?

    How do I want to be feeling?

    What do I want to learn about myself?

    What do I want to change about myself?

    What would I never change about myself?

    Describe the room.

    Describe the people in your life.

    Describe yourself.

    Describe the aspects of your life that you’re pleased with and those areas you’re displeased with.

Stream of Consciousness Journaling

Stream of consciousness writing is very freeing — and perfect for journaling! It gives you permission to just start and let it all hang out. O’Shea writes:

“Stream-of-consciousness writing is mental anarchy and spring-cleaning all in one. It’s like going into the basement, turning the tables over, breaking the records in half, cutting the stuffed animals open with a sharp pair of scissors (and feeling much better afterward), then putting it all out just in time for the garbage man to collect.”

I love that there’s no pressure to write things “right,” to transcribe a certain event with precision or create some powerful poem. You just open up your mind — and heart — to write the messy stuff.

To get started, O’Shea suggests beginning with any word (which will inevitably lead you somewhere); picking an emotion that’s been overwhelming you lately or one that you haven’t felt in a long time; or asking yourself a question.

Need more inspiration?

Borrow from others! O’Shea suggests writing down lines from a poem that inspires you, transcribing song lyrics or copying quotes. Each of her journals includes one quote that represents the theme of that journal, along with a slew of quotes throughout.

Many people just don’t have the time to devote to journaling. If that’s the case, try writing a sentence most days — a great tip from Gretchen Rubin.

Do you like to journal? Why? Does journaling give you insight into yourself? What are your tips for starting?