There is something daunting about the crisp, first page of a new journal.
I have been journaling for more than 15 years, but I still struggle with moving past that first page. There's a feeling of wanting it to be "just right." Well, relax—there is no right or wrong way to begin a journal, just as there is no right or wrong way to maintain one. Take a deep breath and begin writing. HERE ARE a few ideas to get your pen moving:
1. Blank Page
Skipping the first page may seem like an obvious choice, but I struggled with many journals before the idea occurred to me. No rule says you MUST start with the first page. Give yourself permission to begin randomly anywhere within the pages of your new journal.
Write a greeting to your journal as a way to open communication and honor the intimate relationship you will be sharing. Welcome your journal into your life, reflect on the place where you are now, and look ahead at the places to which you hope to journey within the sanctuary of its pages.
Many published books begin with a dedication page. Try this technique to honor someone who has been important in your life or who has brought you inspiration. Explore the ways this person has impacted your life.
Begin with the story of how you acquired your journal. Was it a gift? What prompted you to purchase your new journal or notebook? Has a significant event or transition in your life prompted you to begin a journal?
5. Goal Setting
"If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else," Yogi Berra wisely warned. Outline your short-term and long-term goals. Consider the areas of your life you want to nurture within six months, and those in which you hope to grow within five years. Reviewing your progress and accomplishments is a great way to keep on track. The first page of your journal is a great place to host these goals. Not only will they be easy to locate, but you will be reminded of them each time you open your journal.
6. Table of Contents
Leaving the first couple of pages blank will allow you to make a quick reference table of contents as you fill the pages with entries. Number the pages in your journal so you can more easily reference each topic and page number in your homemade index.
Add a third dimension to the first page of your journal by including some of your favorite items. Photographs, ticket stubs, dried flowers, drawings, comics, horoscope clippings. Add to the collage as you add to your journal.
8. Practical Matters
Record birthdays, anniversaries and other important dates for easy reference on page one. Or consider using this private place to list pin numbers and passwords for personal and computer accounts. Still another practical suggestion is to use these opening pages to create monthly calendars to keep your appointments and priorities organized.
9. Personal Mission
Take a cue from successful businesses, and craft a personal mission statement. This should be a focused statement of purpose in which you identify the most important roles, relationships and other priorities in your life. Who do you want to be? What do you want to do? To whom and to what do you want to give your life? What legacy do you hope to leave? What principles would make sound anchors for your existence?
Pen a prayer, verse, meditation, mantra or affirmation. Use this space to examine your progress thus far in your spiritual journey or to define your personal theology. Find a picture from a magazine or postcard that symbolizes your spirituality, and paste it onto the page next to your writing.
Write the lyrics to one of your favorite songs. Explore what makes the song so special to you. Try www.lyrics.com for a free directory of thousands of lyrics indexed alphabetically by artist.
12. Current Events
Take some time to capture the events that are shaping history. What is going on in your city, your country, the world? What are your thoughts and opinions about these events?
Draw a diagram of your family tree. Reminisce about your family's history, and recall your favorite childhood memories. What funny or sad stories can you remember or have you been told about your relatives?
Choose a theme for your journal, such as Nature, Dreams, Inspiration or Wisdom. Write the theme boldly upon the page and find quotations that relate to this word or phrase. Look up the definition of the word, or write your own. What does the word mean to you? How will it apply to your writing?
Compose a letter to a lost friend or loved one. Write a letter to someone who has inspired you or to someone with whom you have unresolved issues. This therapeutic exercise can often stir some heavy emotions.
16. About You
Paste some snapshots of yourself to the page, and write a synopsis of your vital statistics—height, weight, occupation and current circumstances. You may want to do this again on the last page of your journal to see what (if anything) has changed.
Grace the first page of your journal with a special poem. I used Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Success" at the beginning of one of my journals to remind me that there are many different measures of being successful. Emerson's words were a comforting reminder when I found myself journaling some of life's disappointments. If you are a natural poet, this is a great place to showcase one of your own favorite poems.
Draw a circle with the word "journal" in the middle. Write down all of the words that come to mind. Circle each word and draw a connecting line between each circle. Use free-association to build upon each word or short phrase. This exercise will probably generate ideas for writing past the first page of your new journal.
Instead of concentrating on the first page, try randomly writing quotations, prompts or drawings at the top of other pages. This technique will give you inspiration down your journaling road.
In the words of a French proverb, "Gratitude is the heart's memory." Use your heart's memory to list the people, places and experiences for which you are grateful.
This article appeared in the August 2003 issue of Personal Journaling.