Journals, journals everywhere so how the heck to choose?!
Chances are, if you’re asking this question, you believe that choosing the right journal will dramatically improve your odds of developing a long term writing habit.
While there’s some truth there, the bottom line is that the only thing that will really get you to journal every day is you deciding to do it. And being willing to get back on the horse if you (when you) inevitably fall off. Be patient and curious with yourself (the very things journaling is designed to help you with) and keep finding ways to come back.
I needed to say that up front so you don’t spend unnecessary time and energy overthinking your journal choice.
Now that we’ve got that sorted, let’s talk about the pros and cons of guided vs blank journals, as well as some of my recommendations for each type.
Guided or Structured Journals
These are journals that often follow a theme of some sort. They have a basic direction they’re taking you in and supply you with prompts and ideas so you never have to come to a blank page and wonder what to write.
- You always have a starting point to your daily practice
- You can pre-decide on a theme of exploration and then stick with it (as opposed to journaling on whatever tickles your pickle any given day). For example the I Will Teach You To Be Rich journal is an excellent way to dive into improving your personal finances.
- Guided journals often take you places you wouldn’t necessarily have gone yourself
- Since they usually have a set amount of space that the designer has allotted for each question, it can feel more manageable to those intimidated by large, empty pages.
- They are often filled with inspirational ideas and quotes that can shape your thinking over time
- They help you step away from the drama or rumination of a difficult time and help you focus on something more productive
- It can feel stifling to have to answer a question that doesn’t speak to what’s on your mind
- Someone else has decided how much space you need to answer a particular question and if you get on a roll, it can be frustrating to not know where to put the parts of your answer that don’t fit
- Some of the prompts can feel cheesy
- You may journal daily without getting to the root of what’s bothering you if the prompts don’t speak to what’s going on
- Perfectionists may struggle with blame and shame if they start (yet another) guided journal and don’t finish because life pulled them in a different direction not addressed by said journal.
- Sometimes the very thing that draws you to the journal (its beauty and artwork) can feel intimidating (especially for folks who don’t enjoy their own handwriting) so you stall.
Some popular guided journals (in no particular order) that can help kickstart people’s daily writing habits are (some of the links below are affiliate links which help support this blog at no extra cost to you):
- The 5 minute journal: Wildly popular, this journal has you writing for literally 5 mins in the morning and reflecting for 5 mins in the evening
- The Morning Pages Journal: for longer form reflections following Julia Cameron’s brilliant “The Artist’s Way” process. You can use the journal without having read the original book.
- The Evo Journal: Take a quiz to determine your brain type and receive a journal that helps you reflect on your work style and habit building with insights customized to how you best function. This one’s more for productivity than self reflection.
- The Self Journal: This one is more for goal setting and personal productivity as well
- The Good Days Start with Gratitude journal: This is an extremely simple format that repeats page over page and helps you stay focused on what’s going well.
- The Self Care Journal: For tracking fitness and diet
- Rage Page: A journal for when you’re going through a really maddening time
- A Question a Day journal: There are versions for yourself, kids and couples. This allows you to create a time capsule over 5 years with just one sentence per day so it’s very manageable to track your evolution.
- The Happiness Project Journal: Is a fun alternative to typical gratitude journaling.
- Glennon Doyle’s Get Untamed Journal: One of my faves for self reflection with refreshingly non-cheesy prompts.
- Moorea Seal’s 52 Lists series: If daily feels like too much, these journals are great for once-a-week reflection and make for excellent gifts.
Unguided or Blank journals
These are journals that are essentially blank notebooks and let you decide what you want to explore any given day.
- You can write as long or short as you want
- You can write, doodle, scribble, paint or stick stickers and each day can be a totally different experience. No need to lock yourself into some pre-ordained experience
- You can dip into prompts from different sources to guide your thinking if you need some structure but have all your answers in one place
- You have a wild variety of paper textures, formats, binding, etc to choose from. There is literally something for everyone
- You can get lined notebooks for under $1 at the dollar store so there’s no financial barrier to entry
- You can journal digitally vs on paper
- The blank page can be intimidating
- Until you’ve “found your voice” with journaling, it can be really helpful to have at least some structure and blank journals don’t provide any (download my printable on how to create it for yourself in your blank journal)
- If you choose to index your journal for later reference, it can be irritating to have to number pages, etc
Honestly, because blank journals are well… blank… and can become anything you need them to be, there aren’t very many cons to choosing this route.
For a deeper dive into choosing a blank journal that’s right for you, along with some recommendations read this article.
Bottom line: You don’t have to choose
Lots of folks choose to have more than one journal at a time. You can purchase structured journals and then use only the prompts that appeal to you in your blank journal and create a hybrid that’s totally custom to you.
You can rip out pages from structured journals and stick them in your blank journal or simply copy out the prompts and give yourself as much (or as little) space as you need.
You can also choose to use your blank journal most of the time and dip into more structured journals for occasional inspiration.
Want to turn your blank journal into a super simple guided journal that has enough flexibility to always feel fresh and non-cheesy each day? Click here for my 3-prompt system that has gotten a fair number of skeptics into loving journaling.
Featured Free Download:
Transform your blank journal into a productive guided one using my simple daily 3-prompt system.
I’ve designed it to be a printable that you can download and stick into your journal or have handy at your desk so the prompts are always visible and you don’t have to (unless you prefer to) copy them out over and over each day.
Okay, your turn, tell me in the comments what your fave journal is and which guided journals you think we should try.