How not to f*ck up at journaling (like I did at first)

First, and I think this is important, I never water down profanity—except for how I just did in the title because I didn’t want this thing to get blacklisted or whatever by the nuns who run the Bureau of Censorship online.

Okay, with that out of the way, I want to let myself be a cautionary tale because I’ve been sharing the life-changing benefits of using your journal for self-discovery, healing, and transformation. You should know that I didn’t always do it right. I pretty much fucked it up and wondered why I wasn’t getting the value from it that all the books and experts said I would.

Here are a few things I did wrong right off the bat:

  1. I believed that there’s a “right way to do it.” In my younger life, I was such a rule follower that I always went looking for the list of regulations when I started something new. I wanted, no NEEDED to do it right—get an “A” on the paper. This stilted way of living spilled over into everything and left me always cramped and hypervigilant. More on this in a minute…
  2. I tried to write like a writer. Rather than let it all pour out, I would edit as I went, trying to make it sound good.
  3. I wrote for other people’s eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I never showed my early journals (or my later ones, either) to anyone, but I was so caught up in how others might perceive me that even what can be the safest, most intimate space of all turned into more of me looking over my shoulder. The real medicine in this practice is found in telling the truth and I didn’t know how to be that honest.

I’m sharing this with you because I recently released a free ebook—click here if you’d like to download that now—titled How to Establish Your Creative Self Journaling Practice. Many of the responses I’ve received from those who read it and are using the three simple questions to get started reminded me that it used to be much harder for me than it needed to be. I wanted to tell you the truth about why this didn’t work for me at first.

What I’m trying to say is that journaling can become a daily meeting with your best friend. It doesn’t need to be one of those things you should do.

To me, this practice is where you can go talk to your inner self and say how you feel, what you need, and then begin to slowly heal your imagination so that your dreams come into focus. Your sense of possibility grows. You feel heard and seen. I’ve also noticed that by cultivating the habit of being ruthlessly honest with myself in these daily pages, I started using my true voice out in the real world with other people, too. What would have been unthinkably hard to say out loud before started to get much easier with each passing day? I found myself speaking up, taking a stand, and feeling more comfortable in my own skin.

As Joseph Campell puts it, “This is when the spontaneity of your own nature will have a chance to flow.”

I want to share more about this practice that has changed my life so much and help others avoid some of the pitfalls that turn it into yet another exercise in frustration.

What I really want you to know is that there’s no way to fuck it up as long as you are being so honest about how you feel, what you need, and what you’d love to see in your life. It really is that simple and going about it this way leads to so much more.

If you’d like, please feel free to download the ebook I’m giving away on my site. When you do, you’re subscribed to an ongoing series in which I’ll share more about journaling, meditation, and other things that are meant to heal the connection to your creative nature.

Click here to download How to Establish Your Creative Self Journaling Practice now.

Coming up soon in this series, I’ll share from some very smart people like Julia Cameron, and the author of The Body Keeps the Score—Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Turns out, this journaling thing is part of the protocols that are scientifically proven to reverse the damage caused by traumatic experiences, stressful lifestyles, and stifled truths.

Jacob Nordby

Jacob Nordby

Jacob Nordby is the author of The Divine Arsonist: A Tale of Awakening, and Blessed Are the Weird – A Manifesto for Creatives. His third book, The Creative Cure, was released by Hierophant Publishing in 2021 with a foreword by Julia Cameron. He is the co-founder of The Institute for Creative Living and also a highly introverted person who can often be found working in the quietest corner of some Boise coffee shop.

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10 Responses

  1. Hi Jacob. I just learned about your work from my sister having shared your ebook with me today.
    I’ve journaled haphazardly in the past and still make an effort to do it once and awhile. Your essay here offers explanations as to why I haven’t written regularly, thus never filling an entire journal. I didn’t like my writing. It had to be perfect. And, in some entries, I now remember feeling guarded about what I was writing lest someone got ahold of it and reads it – like, after I’ve crossed?!
    My greatest takeaway from this piece aside from what not to do is be truthful. Not to hold back saying what it is that I want to see in my life. I think that I’ve been saved from myself! Thank you! Nice to be acquainted with you … and,

    All the best,

    1. I appreciate you taking the time to share your experience (and previous resistance) here, Karen. What you said is highly relatable, I feel. Thank you!


  2. I love how this 3 question process makes journaling so much easier! When you make something easy you’re more likely to stick with it! I’ve added a fourth question… "What am I grateful for?" I just love ending my journaling practice in gratitude. Thanks Jacob for all you do!


    1. Oh yeah… I love that fourth question! Thank you for sharing this, Jeanine. Feels like a collaborative project we’re all doing together–all these notes and personal adaptations I’m hearing about makes me happy to be doing this with you and everyone.

  3. Wow, can I relate to those 3 things you did wrong! That’s exactly what I did. I am inspired to dust off the imagination and creativity I think might still be lurking in some dark corner of my brain and try again. I’ve also discovered I "fawn", a 4th part to the fight, flight, freeze trauma response, so knowing what I want and saying it is a major goal. I feel sure this will help me with that. Thank you Jacob Nordby.

    1. Hi, Sandra

      Thank you for your note. I’m so glad to share things that you can relate to!

      Thanks for being here 🙏

  4. As I told you the other day, Jacob, I really enjoyed your little free book, and have been using the suggestions every day since. And synchronistically, as these things sometimes happen, a young friend just wrote me to ask how I managed being honest in my journaling, how cautious she is because of who might see it and what they’d think of her…I sent her this link!

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