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How to Break in a Blank Journal

by | How to Journal

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.

Yours in journaling,


hey, friend!

I’m Kristin. Welcome to Journaling Saves. If you’re new to the site, start here for the grand tour. Thanks for coming!