How to Break in a Blank Journal

by | Core Journaling, Featured | 13 comments

This is a guest post from the lovely Melissa Donovan, founder of We’re not related, but we should be! Melissa has some fabulous tips on how to overcome that blankaphobia that can plague us with a new journal. Thanks so much to Melissa for contributing this helpful post. Read on! ~Kristin

The blank page is legendary among writers. Some of us embrace it and the infinite possibilities that it holds. That blank page is ours for the taking, and we look forward to filling it with our wonderful, magical words.

But there are a lot of us who dread the blank page and even fear it. How can we turn it into something beautiful or worthwhile?

And if a single, blank page is frightening, then a blank journal must be downright terrifying: a whole book full of blank pages! And we’re supposed to fill it up with wit and wonder? It doesn’t seem possible.

But it is.

A new journal is an opportunity that we give ourselves. It’s a chance to create, explore, and discover. It’s a place where we can learn and dream. We get to fill the pages with our ideas and reflections.

Our journals are a safe place where we can just be ourselves. Nobody’s going to judge us or grade us. There’s nobody to impress.

Still, a new journal can be intimidating. When I first started journaling, I couldn’t wait to get my pen on a blank sheet of paper. I had so much to say that I didn’t have time to be cautious.

Then, I realized that I wanted to be a profound writer, and I went through several years during which blank pages and empty notebooks brought on a catatonic state. I would stare at them for hours, waiting for an enlightening thought that I could write down.

In time, I learned to tame my expectations. I didn’t have to be profound or enlightened all the time. But if I kept on writing, eventually, little bits of wisdom would appear. I also found that I could befriend a blank journal, make it mine, and make it less intimidating by breaking it in.

Making Friends with the Blank Page

A few years ago, when it was time to start a new journal, I found myself in that catatonic state. I was handling the book, a beautiful and pristine hardcover artist’s sketchbook, and I thought about the journals I had filled with my creative writing and realized that over time, they had become comfortable and familiar, like friends.

So, I decided to make friends with this new journal before I started writing in it.

I started a new tradition. I branded my journal. I got out some colored pens and began what would become my new-journal ritual. Here’s what I did:

The Christening

I had noticed a trend in which people were choosing a “word of the year.” Sometimes these were words that defined the past year but usually they were words that were meant to energize the year to come.

I didn’t choose a word of the year, but I did choose a word for my new journal: “Transformation.”

Later, I would christen another new journal with the word “Manifest.” For some reason, the mere act of writing this word in big, bold script on the title page fostered a sense of comfort and the blank journal was suddenly far less frightening.

Plant Some Quotes

You can write a favorite quote on the cover (front or back), on the first page, or choose several of your favorite quotes and either write them on random pages or write the quotes on the first few pages, so they aren’t blank anymore.

Your new journal will no longer be blank and you’ll have interesting slices of wisdom that may inspire you as you continue adding journal entries.

Draw Symbols and Doodles

I like to doodle and draw simple symbols and images in my journal. Sometimes I get obsessed with a particular symbol, which is why my journal from the late 90s has ankhs all over it.

Sketching stars, moons, stick figures, and flowers throughout a new journal helps break it in and leads to fun discoveries later when you find these little treasures deep in its pages.

Make a Collage

If drawing and doodling isn’t your thing but you love imagery, then turn to the art of cut-and-paste, kindergarten style. Lots of journalers use collage to decorate the outside of their journals, but what about the inside?

A couple of well placed photos or pieces of art (Picasso, for example) can bring warmth, inspiration, and familiarity to a blank first page.

I know many journalers use these techniques throughout their journaling process, so that their journal becomes something between a journal and a scrapbook.

My approach is a little less complicated. I like to mark up my journal just enough to give it a little personality, leaving enough white space so that there is plenty of room for discovery.

The next time you’re faced with starting a new, blank journal and find yourself procrastinating, staring off into space, or totally avoiding it, try breaking it in with words, quotes, and pictures.

Give your journal a little personality so it feels friendly instead of unfamiliar. And then, write.

About the Author: Melissa Donovan is a website designer and copywriter. She is also the founder and editor of Writing Forward, a blog packed with tips for better writing and creative writing ideas.


  1. Penny

    Great post! I was very interested because I know many people who have “blankphobia”- personally, I’ve never had this problem before because I love to jump right into new notebooks. It’s nice to see the blankaphobia persoective, though.

  2. Mary

    Good timing…today is the first day of a new journal for me but due to the press of business I missed writing my morning pages. I like the idea of starting with a quote and already have one in mind. So today it will be evening pages…thanks.

  3. Robin

    These are great tips!

    I always write or draw in new journals from the back to the front. This is my win-win – I can create all I want and my journal looks pristine to the end! LOL.

  4. gretchen

    robin, that is GENIUS! haha – i love it! thanks for sharing. (and another great post, too, folks!)

  5. Melissa Donovan

    Hi Everyone,

    Thanks so much for your kind words about my post. It was such an honor to be a guest writer here at Journaling Saves.

    Penny, I struggled with “blankophobia” for a short time, and it occasionally rears its ugly head when I start a new project (a tell-tale sign, for me, is the urge to procrastinate), but usually my ideas overwhelm my fears and I attack blank pages with total abandon.

    Mary, I love that you don’t skip your morning pages — you just postpone them to the evening. A lot of writers would say “I’m too busy today.” I think your commitment is awesome 🙂

    Robin, that’s such a clever idea! I used to keep a word list in the back of my journals. I also have a journal (which I haven’t used yet) that is structured so the front is for “Daydreams.” Then you flip it over and turn it upside down and write from the back about “Night Dreams.” It’s pretty cool – daydreams and night dreams meet in the middle!

  6. Dana

    Thanks for this post! I recently started an art journal in a pristine, larger-size, watercolor-page Moleskine. It was a bit terrifying trying to figure out where to begin, so I just wrote the word “Blue” in big letters on the inside cover and decided it would be the theme for the book for me to use mostly blue imagery. Blue can mean sadness, or days at the beach, or icy winters, or cool pools of thought…so it didn’t feel restricting and still gave me a place to start. For art journals, I’ve also found that randomly opening a page and doing something with it–adding a layer of paint, stamping all around, writing down a few words and leaving it for next time helps. Knowing I can come back to any of the pages and that they’re never truly finished takes away the pressure to make it awesome on the first pass!

  7. Hanna

    I hope everything is ok. I recently discovered your homepage and it made me start journaling again. I am missing your posts, so I just wanted to make a commment and check that everything is ok.

  8. Liz

    What great ideas! I buy pretty comp books and spirals at the dollar store, so I haven’t invested much money. Still, I feel inhibited about writing in them. Like I’m wasting money or something. I love the idea of putting words on them. The nice thing about comp books is that there is a space custom made for that. I’m going to do that write, er, right now!

  9. Connie

    I’m new to journaling but has anyone ever used little stickers to put some color into their words? I would imagine they have. You can find stickers most anywhere and they can really add some pizzazz to the page.

  10. Leah

    These are all great ideas! I’ve not journaled in years, but am undergoing treatment for cancer and decided that now would be a good time to journal about my journey. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get out the front door and take that first step! This post and y’all’s comments have given me some great ideas. Time to get going! Thanks!

  11. Janakee

    I love this!! It’s soooooo helpful. I dread a blank page and I like it when it’s all filled up. I’m still working on finishing journals, as I don’t have any journals filled up completely. I love filled up things, it makes me feel like I have accomplished something. Unfortunately, I haven’t got there yet.

  12. Sarah

    I love a new blank journal, especially the crack of the spine when you first open it. I used to sit and gaze and the pages for ages, wondering what to use them for until I found an old quotes file from when I was at uni. My favourite journals now have inspirational quotes in the front of them or in the case of my work notebook the line “time flies like arrows, fruit flies like a banana” by Groucho Marks. It might not inspire me to work but at least it is guaranteed to put a smile on my face.

  13. Deborah Watson-Novacek

    Thanks for this great article. Getting started in a new journal is always the hardest part of the process for me, especially if the new journal is really beautiful. I’ll certainly give these tips a try!


  1. Summer 2011 News & Announcements | News | Writing Forward - [...] Saves: How to Break in a Blank Journal [...]