What Long-Form Journalling for Two Years Has Taught Me

It seems bizarre to sit here and ponder resolutions I’d set for 2020, when we all know how that year ended up panning out. One of mine was to take up long-form journalling again: the art of letting my thoughts, feelings, memories and more spilling out onto paper.

Like many others, I was a keen journal-writer as a kid and throughout my teenage years. It provided me an outlet for my thoughts to simmer and cool down before I properly dealt with them; it allowed me to ruminate my own feelings and process them in my own time; and, over time, it has provided me with a perfectly captured time capsule of all of the things I got up to. (One of my favourite journals to look back at is my 2012/13 Filofax, which holds all of the memories from my first year out of Uni and one that was my most successful year of blogging and in my first-ever full-time job!)

Now that I’m feeling much more balanced, content and happy – something I certainly wasn’t when I set this resolution in 2019 – I considered carefully whether to seriously commit to long-form journalling again. Of course, I’ve decided I will: it has given me so much and here are all the reasons why.

It helps to quieten and slow down my brain

In a digital-first world, it’s tempting to rely on iCal, Google Calendar, Notion and the darned Notes app to stay ‘organised’. Who can resist having all of their tasks and to-do’s in the palm of their hand?

But hand-writing my tasks, to-do’s and thoughts has been incredibly beneficial in these wild, unprecedented years. It forces me to slow down and think a little more clearly before I put pen to paper. If I can’t think clearly? I write anyway, and 9/10 it gives everything clarity. Writing things down also helps to remember it, be that a memory or an important task.

I found that long-form journalling felt cathartic and therapeutic, and I’d take an hour or so every couple of days to offload the things that were clogging up valuable headspace.

Journalling is a form of therapy

When I restarted long-form journalling, I didn’t know that I needed therapy. Like I mentioned, I simply recall feeling imbalanced and a little discontent with my life. Over time, I discovered key themes that were cropping up: freelance pressures, the financial burden of having an unemployed then-partner, feeling limited… I eventually began real therapy in 2021, and the two together felt like a holistic form of help for me. If you’re similarly unsure about things in your life, long-form journalling might be a great place to start.

I’m more resilient than I knew

After spending hours and hours noting down my deepest, darkest thoughts and all of the worries I didn’t dare to vocalise, I was worried that I simply wasn’t strong enough to deal with everyday serious stuff. I’d write for pages about all sorts – panicking about my train commute, whether I was friendly enough to the stranger that asked where I was really from, how many times I’d be able to walk Milo this week, whether I was being too strict with my boundaries.

Now when I read those pages back, I realise that I’m more resilient than I knew. It was a worry then, that never developed into a problem, and I’m still here now, evolving.

There’s no right or wrong way to do it

The most common response I receive whenever I talk about journalling is: ‘I’m worried that I can’t keep up with it’ or ‘I can’t make my journal look beautiful’. I suppose this relates more towards bullet journalling, but my reply is always the same: there’s no right or wrong way to do it.

A bullet journal is supposed to be a completely changeable and adaptable, analogue method of note-taking and scheduling. It can be as simple as you like, or as decorative as you like. I’ve always opted for something in the middle. And, I don’t ever pigeonhole myself into journalling in a certain way either. For months last year, I simply wrote a topline recap of my favourite days and added in other bits. Other times, I prefer to zero in on one particular moment and give it a thorough digest. In previous years, I’ve relied on journal prompts – there are brilliant ones all over Pinterest if you’re interested.

I try not to overthink having a consistent journal. Some entries are a line short, others are five pages long. Sometimes I write in simple terms, and others are more embellished and detailed. Some days, I’ll paste in photo memories, others are bullet pointed. The variety all contributes to a meaningful pastiche of what felt important and right that day.

The time capsule feeling is unbeatable

And, on that note, the time capsule feeling of completing journal after journal is truly remarkable. While I rarely go back to old journals, it’s really lovely knowing that those fleeting days are all safely bookmarked away. The beloved 2012/13 Filofax of mine – with its jam-packed inserts and scribbled pages – reminds me of a time where I was chaotically busy, my days and evenings full of fun activities and events. When I look back at my 2014 planner, I recall feeling terrified to emigrate and live abroad. If I were to peek at last year’s, I’m sure they’d bring endless smiles from where I documented falling utterly in love.

Have you ever tried long-form (or short-form!) journalling?

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