Six styles of journaling to write your way through the pandemic


Journaling enthusiast Jacklyn Carter takes an art journaling approach, using the DesignWorks Standard Issue No. 3 Notebook. Photo: Jaclyn Carter

We are living through history right now, and while you stay home safely social distancing, you may as well help historians—and your stress levels—by putting pen to paper. How we see history is not just through a lens of data and charts but through personal stories. The archived issues of a daily newspaper tell part of the story, but the other part, of what life was like to live during a historic time, comes from diaries. Anne Frank’s diary, which she received for her thirteenth birthday, is the most famous example. Its mix of historical events and teen angst has made it one of the most relatable and enduring documents of the Holocaust.

Jaclyn Carter, a journaling enthusiast and founder of Love Jac Creative and Artists & Crafts, sees the value in documenting our personal histories during this time, too. “We are all living this pandemic both together and individually. Six months ago no one would have guessed the world would have shut down like it did. Recording both what’s in the news and the small moments in our lives will hopefully be fascinating in a couple [of] years when people will have a hard time believing we actually went through this.” Years from now your great-grandchildren might enjoy reading about your banana bread recipes, your mask acne, and the long days of social distancing.

Additionally, journaling is known to help with stress and is often seen as a therapeutic practice for many. Emily Chertow of @journalingclasses, who teaches journaling online and in person, explains, “Journaling is important because it gives you the opportunity to put pen to paper—the physical act of writing allows you to slow down which then allows you to process things more in-depth. The act of journaling is an act of self-care, giving you the opportunity to take care of your brain and soul all at the same time.”

It’s not too late to start journaling about your life during the pandemic—the second wave is just around the corner! Here’s everything you need to get started:

Pick a journal that speaks to you and is made for either writing, writing and drawing, or scrapbooking. The Brooklyn Based notebook is lined and features the familiar sights of Brooklyn: water towers, pigeons, brownstones, food halls, wine stores and book shops. Photo: Brooklyn Based

Choose your Notebook

First, you’ll need to purchase a journal. Buy one that speaks to you. “Something that always makes me more enthusiastic and less timid is finding a pen and journal that excites me and feels really good to pull out every day,” says Emily Chertow. “Start by finding a journal that feels good in your lap and pen that feels good in your hand!” Her favorite supplies include a Pilot G7 pen and a hardcover Moleskine journal. For Jaclyn Carter, the paper and size is most important.  “I need some kind of lines to help guide me, but they can’t be too dark because I enjoy drawing and painting bigger images. I don’t want my journals to be too big and bulky, but I need plenty of room.” She uses the DesignWorks Standard Issue No. 3 Notebook that she purchases from Yours Truly (680 Fulton St.). Meanwhile, Lynda Barry swears by a simple everyday black and white college-ruled notebook that you can pick up at any grocery store for a few dollars. You can also purchase one indicative of time and place, like our Brooklyn Based journals designed by Idlewild Co. 

A bullet journal can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. Photo: @mymellowdays

Types of Journaling: Bullet Style Journaling

Second, you’ll need to decide which style of journaling is right for you. For the OCD among us, the Pinterest-perfect Bullet Journal method, where you can log your calendar events, to-do lists, and diary entries in one place, is the way to go. A little blurb with a few lines about your day can be integrated into your life pretty seamlessly if you already are familiar with the “Bujo” or a day planner. The New Yorker recently published a story called “Can Bullet Journaling Save You?” and for the right person, it just might. The entries can be as intricate as you want, and if you like supplies, you’ll love buying different colored pens, stickers and washi tape to decorate with. Whatever makes you happy may help your motivation to continue. 

Some people swear by the freewriting “Morning Pages” practice outlined in ‘The Artist’s Way.’

Stream of Consciousness Journaling

Julia Cameron, the author of The Artist’s Way, has been inspiring diary keepers for almost 30 years since its original publishing in 1992. The book was written to help creatives (i.e. everyone!) get their inspiration back and get unstuck. One element of this twelve-week curriculum includes writing “Morning Pages,” three stream-of-consciousness pages every morning done by hand, first thing in the morning. The act of writing these pages clears your mind of anxiety and helps you brainstorm new ideas and solutions to problems effortlessly. This book was recommended years ago by my therapist and was instrumental in helping me through a sticky time. The morning pages technique is not something I would be able to keep up indefinitely, but a lot of people swear by them as a forever practice. “I really enjoy Stream of Conscious journaling—similar to freewriting, I like to put my pen down for a certain period of time and just find a flow,” says Emily Chertow. “Often, I open my journal with no specific intention and just start writing, that’s when I discover the most about myself which is very healing and has been transformative for me.”

Art journaling is close cousins with scrapbooking. Photo: Jaclyn Carter

Art Journaling

For those interested in having a beautiful journal, but aren’t as OCD as bullet journalers, then art journaling may be for you. Jaclyn Carter fills hers with watercolored phrases, stickers, ticket stubs, and small photos. “I write down my gratitudes, big dreams, and anxieties. I love flipping back through it and seeing how so much of who I am remains the same, while I continue to grow into someone new.” This might be a good method if you are more of a collector and want to gather the keepsakes and quotations from your day and keep them in one place. 

Dividing a page into 4 squares of “Did, Saw, Heard, Draw” is what Lynda Barry proscribes for her journal method. Photo: Lynda Barry/ The Near-Sighted Monkey tumblr

The Lynda Barry List-Making Journaling

If you’re a list maker, like I am, then Lynda Barry’s method of journaling may resonate with you. Lynda Barry is a writer/cartoonist/genius who is also a teacher at UW-Madison and elsewhere. She talks about how keeping a diary rarely ever works out because it’s either a list of what happened or “a hamster wheel of feelings.” My previous journals have been a combination of those two exact things. Her method is a series of lists that you chart on a page, making two columns and dividing those again (as seen in the above illustration.) On the top, you’ll write the date and then write 7 things you saw, 7 things you did, one thing you heard and one thing to draw. That’s it! If anything this helps hone your observational and listening skills. I kept this daily practice for many years, and although I’ve let it slide as of late, I’m sure it will be something I’ll pick up again.

A one-line-a-day approach works, too. Photo: @anibagdasaryan

One Line A Day Journaling

Are you weary about the time investment that keeping a journal will entail? Don’t worry, there’s also a journal for you. One Line A Day journal really hones down the experience to the pure essence of your day. Maybe you want to write something you are grateful for, a meaningful quote, a memory that you’d like to remember, a milestone or something that just made you laugh. Although with just one line, you’d think this would read like a day planner, the fact that it is five years compiled together makes it special. This writer at Buzzfeed calls her One Line A Day journal her most prized possession: “If my apartment were on fire, it’s the first thing I’d save — if my boyfriend wasn’t home, of course.”

North Carolina designer Azzari Jarrett sells her own line of Black Lives Matter-themed stamps and cards for scrapbooking. Photo: Azzari Jarrett


Jaclyn Carter also likes to scrapbook, which she does along with journaling. For her, it’s a way to put a positive spin on memories instead of just the complaining and wallowing that inevitably comes with journaling one’s emotions. “I am a scrapbooker,” Carter says. Since it can feel like every day is the same in quarantine, she has set it up into categories like distance learning, grocery shopping, family meals together, zoom calls, and funny memes. She’s documenting the fun times with her family under quarantine from building forts to watching Star Wars together so that her kids will have good memories from this time. “Our quarantine scrapbook is just that: a visual album of what we are grateful for.” Focusing a scrapbook on one topic is a way to make it feel less overwhelming. The New York Times recently highlighted scrapbooks documenting protests or Black Lives Matter topics in “Scrapbooking Isn’t Just For White People.” Interested? Carter prefers a pocket page 6×8 scrapbook because it provides some structure. One of her favorite places to get supplies is from Kelley Purkey Shop online.

This outside journaling class led by Emily Chertow is dreamy, but she is offering virtual ones for the moment. Photo: @journalingclasses

Ready to Start? Take A Class

Emily Chertow is a Brooklyn based creator, writer, and community builder. She is the founder of Pop-Up Journaling Classes and a Community Manager at The Washington Post. Follow her on Instagram @journalingclasses or connect with her @echertow to find out about upcoming classes. “The biggest take away I have for someone that is attending one of my classes is come with an open mind and leave with an open heart!” she says. “My classes are spaces for everyone, that can be someone looking for community, mindfulness, self-care, and/or journaling. People show up to my classes for  many different reasons and the workshops are created for you to get out of it what you came there for.” 

And while this is not a journaling class per se, Jaclyn Carter is offering adult craft night classes online. The next one on Quarantine Card Making meets for one hour and Carter will lead participants in painting and decorating two cards and an envelope. “We discuss all the reasons we love making art to mail, share about our friends we are writing to, and connect over our love of postage stamps and pretty pens. Now more than ever taking the time to write and mail a letter to a friend is so important.” Thursday, August 27 at 7 pm. Register here.

One Response

  1. Alissa Chen -

    Hi! I really had trouble thinking about a journaling topic to write about so I just searched this up and it gave so much idea of what to write about! Thank you for the amazing ideas!!!


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