Tips for Everyday Journal Writing and Illustrating

There is a special magic that comes along with documenting your everyday musings and experiences. However, journals are often stereotyped as adorable little notebooks filled with perfectly organized, dated, written entries that require a great deal of time and an even more immense sense of personal commitment to maintain. “Journals” are supposedly ravenous entities screaming, “feed me!” every time a new memory or observation encodes itself into your brain.

In some environments, keeping a consistent, daily record of your everyday thoughts and experiences may be extremely useful and worth your while, such in a study abroad or travel-based setting. But how can journaling ever be compatible with the stresses and demands of everyday campus life, you inquire?

In fact, I’ve often found that journaling can help you untangle that twisted knot of thoughts contributing to the writer’s block that’s impeding your current paper. But perhaps you don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to commit to a so-called “traditional” journal during college. After all, that 20-page research paper should probably claim precedence over freelance scribbles.

This may require broadening your horizons and dismantling that stereotype of the cute-little-notebook-companion. Perhaps you’re interested in engaging in creative self-expression during those scarce free moments, but don’t have the time to actually develop it into a dedicated hobby. What follows are a few quick tips and ideas to help inspire you to dabble in occasional, stress-free, fun self-reflection! :

1.) Your journal is there when you need it.

Oftentimes, it can be extremely difficult to find a spontaneous, creative moment. To reiterate, journaling does not have to require a huge commitment, especially as it pertains to college life.

2.) Abandon your rampant perfectionistic tendencies.

Focus on release. Think of grammar as a afterthought if you find yourself struggling with perfectionism. Refraining oneself from adhering to a specific format, structure, or style can be an incredibly liberating experience.

3.) Experiment!

This goes back to defying the stereotype of the “traditional” journal. There are numerous ways to free your creative inhibitions, some of which don’t even have to be verbal. Treat your journal like a scrapbook if you feel this really whets your creative juices. I recently received a “junk journal” from Etsy and have been literally stuffing it with various ticket stubs, greeting cards, and other paper scraps to help me preserve particular memories.


Dream journals, whether handwritten or online, are also a fun, less time-consuming alternative to traditional journaling.


I’d also recommend these books by Keri Smith as extremely fun creativity starters:



Altogether, journals can be a fun and fantastic medium to express yourself in a multitude of ways. Don’t think of journaling as just another thing to heap on top of your already overstuffed to-do-list, but rather as a spontaneous opportunity to help you gain inspiration or insight whenever a spare moment might arise.

~Sarah F, peer tutor


The Best Travel Companion: Your Journal

I studied abroad for the summer in Dijon, France followed by a fall semester abroad in Budapest, Hungary. Before embarking on my seven-month stay in Europe, I made a promise to myself that I would write in a travel journal every day — no skipping days and no excuses. I wanted to remember as much as possible about my experience and decided that writing in a journal would be the best way to preserve my memories.

Budapest, Hungary (photo credit:

Below are some of the reasons why writing in a journal is helpful (especially for those of you thinking about study abroad) along with some (hopefully) useful advice regarding journal writing.

  1. The entries do not have to be extensive. Some of my entries were only two sentences. However, writing these brief entries not only helped me accomplish my goal of writing each day, but the items I did write down added valuable details to the journal.
  2. Writing can complement your photos. Pictures are always a great visual representation of places you have visited. However, after I returned to the US, I forgot the significance and  history of certain buildings and monuments. When I read through some of my journal entries, I was able to recall important details which enriched my story telling for my friends and family.

    McDaniel College, Budapest (photo credit:

  3. Write down key words. If something significant happened on a particular day, I wrote down a title for the journal entry. This way, whenever I want to reread a specific detail about a trip, instead of browsing through each entry, I can simply look at the titles of certain entries.
  4. Reread the journal entries. Every month while abroad, I read through past entries. Not only was it fun to reflect on my random thoughts, but I was able to notice some changes in the way I wrote and thought. The progression of the entries demonstrated that my views were consistently changing; reading this was pretty rewarding.
  5. Write at a specific time each day. At first, I struggled to write each night at 11 pm. After about two weeks of writing at this time, I discovered that I could not fall asleep without writing. There were times where I forgot or was too busy to write. However, I made sure to catch up with the entries the next day in order to reach my goal.
  6. Make it personal and special. On random pages throughout my journal, I listed some inspirational travel quotes. Whenever I came across a page with a quote, it was a bit of a surprise, and each one seemed to connect to my journey at the time.
Semester in Budapest (photo credit: Leanna Jasek-Rysdahl)

Semester in Budapest
(photo credit: Leanna Jasek-Rysdahl)

In all honesty, my journal is the most valuable souvenir from my study abroad experience. It traveled with me to ten different countries and contains a written record of my thoughts, worries, concerns, beliefs, and experiences for my seven months abroad. I would recommend journal writing for any situation, but if you are going abroad, it might be one of the best decisions you make. It was for me.

-Leanna, Peer Tutor