Write a journal

By Ali
Category: Personal | Date: Fri 10 Oct, 2008

One great way to get the most out of uni, both now and once you’re no longer a student, is to write a journal.

The experiences you’re having today – and what you make of them – shape who you’ll be tomorrow. Writing about life lets you sort through things, and it gives you a record to read back over in the future.

Keeping a journal doesn’t need to be:

  • Pretentious/artsy
  • Time consuming
  • Boring or unsocial

There are lots of forms a journal could take, whether for your eyes only, written to a friend, or for the world to see.

Take a few minutes on a regular basis to record what’s going on with your life, and how you feel about different issues. In a year or two, you can track how much you’ve changed.

These are some of the types of journal I’ve tried out over the years:

Traditional pen-and-paper journal

This is what most people think of when they hear the word “journal”: a private record kept using pen and paper. If you like writing (in case you haven’t realised, I do!) then this is a great way to take some time out and write about whatever’s on your mind.

For me, this sort of journal is a great way of:

  • Working through emotional or tricky times (exams, rough patches with friends)
  • Recording successes and achievements
  • Sorting out thoughts on big life issues (career, purpose, life path…)

Others agree with me here. Personal development guru Steve Pavlina is a big advocate of journaling, and writes that:

A great time to turn to your journal is when you’re just not clear about what to do. Should you quit your job to start your own business? Should you marry your current romantic partner? Are you on the right track financially? It’s amazing how much clearer things become when you explore them in writing.

Email exchange

Just before my first year as an undergrad, I met a chap at my writers’ group who I now consider my writing mentor. He’s in his sixties, and has years of writing – and life – experience which he’s generously shared. We struck up a regular correspondence by email during my first year as an undergraduate, sending long newsy messages every week or two.

I consider this sort of correspondence a form of journal. My thoughts about what I was studying, my recent experiences and activities, the books I’d read, and the up and downs of life are all recorded in those emails. Writing to a specific person can help if you find that you start off pen-and-paper journals and never complete them. It’s also great to have a “sounding board” who can respond to what you write.


I came across the idea of self-coaching through a written dialogue in Mark Forster’s remarkable book How to Make Your Dreams Come True. His whole book is written in the form of a dialogue between his “Present Self” (the person he is at the time of writing) and his “Future Self” (the person he wants to be). At the start of his book, Forster explains:

What I am doing here is a type of self-coaching in which I am asking myself questions from the perspective of the end result. This should be interesting because one thing that is obvious when I compare the vision with the current reality is that my Future Self is a much better coach than I am!

Although it’s not something I’ve done consistently, I have found this an effective method of journaling. If the “Present Self” / “Future Self” thing doesn’t work for you (I’m not sure I’m entirely sure about it), try writing a dialogue between you and someone who you imagine as a really good friend – someone kind and non-judgemental, but who wants the best for you.

It’s a particularly useful technique when you’re working through worries or problems such as:

  • Revision and exams
  • Difficult relationships with friends or family
  • Career or study choices

Keeping a blog

Many blogs take the form of an online journal, detailing what’s currently on the mind of the writer. That might be recent experiences, thoughts about what’s in the news, reviews of films or books – absolutely anything, really! I kept a blog of this sort pre-university and during part of my first year.

You can get started very easily, and for free, with www.blogger.com. I’d recommend giving blogging a go if you think you might enjoy it. It’s an easy way to keep friends and family updated on what you’re doing, and to connect with lots of great people in the “blogosphere”.

Journaling software

I personally like to write my journal with a pen, in a hardback notebook: I find that I concentrate better when I’m away from the computer. For those who prefer using the keyboard instead of the pen, though, there are lots of journaling software packages available.

These allow you to organise and search journal entries (which could be very helpful if you keep ideas for university work or personal projects in there), and you can also easily add links to websites, photos, audio clips and more. Steve Pavlina recommends David RMSoftware’s The Journal.

Over to you

Further reading:

Enough from me – how about you? Have you ever managed to keep a journal (beyond Jan 1st)? What were the benefits for you? Do you think journaling is over-rated?


  1. Great Post!
    I have been maintaining one since 3 years 🙂

  2. Hey Ali, I really like this idea of promoting the idea that its not all about studying. Many creative and innovative ventures come from taking breaks and enjoying other activities. I know I always seem to find inspiration when I am finally away from the “have-to-get-it-done” kind of stuff. Anyway love to hear from you about what social media applications students are really using these days. Do you find most of your colleagues are blogging, on facebook, youtube or other? I would suggest turning those activities in real world learning experiences. After college they will be just as important for growing your business.

    Cheers and Thanks for the great ideas.

  3. Hey Jayson,

    I think students are a pretty savvy bunch when it comes to social media — I definitely know a fair few student bloggers (several who, like me, get paid to blog on other people’s site!)

    Facebook really started to catch on when I was in my 2nd year as an undergraduate, and virtually every student in their teens and twenties seems to be on it! I think Twitter’s slowly growing in popularity, but I’ve noticed it’s more popular with 20-somethings in the workplace than with students.

    Hope that helps!


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