Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Journaling: O = Organize

While the primary purpose of journaling is to get thoughts and emotions out of our head and onto paper, there may be times when you desire to re-read entries.

For this reason, it is a good idea to give some thought to organization before you delve into a deep journaling practice.

I personally subscribe to two different organizational methods. One is to maintain a different journal for each particular subject matter. The other is to journal all thoughts into one notebook.

One Notebook per Subject:

If money and space were no obstacle, this would be my preferred method.

I am a highly compartmentalized person. I have always kept work separate from family separate from personal hobbies and interests. Sometimes there is brief crossover, but for the most part, these areas remain distinct. I even maintain separate Google calendars for each, and they are color coded for easy recognition.

When I first started journaling, I applied this same compartmentalized process. I had one journal for family legacy notes, one for favorite quotes, one for emotional rants and raves, and still another for brainstorming creative projects.

As you can imagine, these journals began to pile up. While I have not taken a detailed inventory, I would guess I have well over thirty journals strewn about the house. This represents just five years of writing. Extrapolate the numbers and you can see how I can quickly run out of space to store them all.

One Notebook for All:

I resisted this style of organization for quite sometime. I equated it to a junk drawer: a jumble of mismatched thoughts twisted into an unrecognizable form. Such chaos inhibits my writing process.

It wasn't until I read Lois Daniel's fabulous book, How to Write Your Own Life Story, that I realized this method could work... with a bit of forethought. (If interested in how I use this resource for memoir journaling, please read this post).

The key to untangling various journal entries is an INDEX.

Whether you designate the first pages of a journal for an index or the final pages... the additional time is well-worth the effort. Three pages should be ample space.

The first step is to pre-number all notebook pages. I typically number odd pages only, in the bottom right-hand corner.

The next step is to somehow identify the journal entry.

I find giving the journal entry a brief title is helpful. Often this does not happen until AFTER I finish writing, as I don't always know what nugget I will uncover during the session. The title need not be long or detailed. Typically the date gives context and the title offers specificity.

The index itself is divided into two columns. The first is rather narrow - large enough to include the page number. The second, wider column is reserved for the journal title.

Once a notebook is complete, I typically label the spine with the date for easy reference.

Multi-subject Notebook:

While I have not used this method, I do believe it has merit.

This is a nice compromise between using one notebook for each subject - and one notebook for every journal entry.

The Multi-Subject system allows you to organize 3-5 journaling categories into one notebook, which makes it cost-effective.

For example:
  • one tab might be reserved for favorite quotes 
  • another tab might designate spiritual journaling entries, such as prayers or scripture verses 
  • a third tab might focus on expressive journaling... getting deep with emotional issues
  • a fourth tab might house personal insights, experiences or values 
  • the final tab might be good for stream of consciousness journaling - brain dumps to clear the mental cobwebs
* * *
Just as there is no one right notebook or pen to use, and no one right way to journal... there is also no one right way to organize your entries. Experiment and see what works best for you.

Up next in this Journaling series: P is for Prompts 



  1. Replies
    1. Thanks Suzanne :) I'm glad you stopped by!

  2. I recently read about the journaling method with an index for an organizer/planner. I thought it was pretty great, but I'm not sure I would be organized enough to keep track of everything in it. I'd probably have to use sticky notes or tabs to keep track of where everything is.

    I used the multi-tab approach when I was in high school for notetaking. I simply got tired of carrying around a different notebook for every subject. It felt like a waste of money and it made my backpack heavy. So now I'm totally onboard with being as minimal as possible when it comes to note-taking or journaling. I don't think I could ever go back to one notebook per topic.

    With Love,

    1. I wonder if the organizer/planner system you mention is Bullet Journaling (?) If so... I am a HUGE fan and will probably write more about it after this challenge is over :)

      The older I get... the more minimalist I become. Of course, I have decades of stuff to sort through before I'm truly living that lifestyle... *sigh

  3. As much as I appreciate actual paper notebooks - in terms of organising my writing I prefer the electronic kind that allows you to shift files back and forth, cut and paste paragraphs, delete and edit away.


    1. Oh... don't get me wrong, Tamara... I can't live without my computer :) But I do find handwriting jumbled thoughts help me make sense of them.

  4. I periodically think it would be a great idea to have just one journal instead of the multiples I keep, and yet invariably after trying for a short time, I return to my individual books. Indexing your journals sounds like a very helpful idea and I'm going to experiment with your method.

    1. I actually do a combination, Deborah :) I have a bullet journal (which I will probably blog about after the challenge) where I do some journaling ... but I still have separate books for my legacy journaling, prayer journaling, and writing prompts.


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