There are no real rules when it comes to journal writing, but thematic journaling is the approach National Journal Writing Month encourages. In this article I explain why.
The thematic approach to journal writing involves focusing on a theme for an extended period of time in order to dive deeper into your personal experiences, goals, and challenges. This approach is different from the traditional stand alone writing prompts that don’t always have a connection to one another.
Types of journal writing include chronicles of one’s day, reflecting on past experiences, using writing to process personal challenges and goals, and documenting one’s life as it is lived. The thematic approach includes these different types of writing and genres, but the prompts focus on a particular theme.
While we should not rely solely on writing prompts for journal writing, good journaling prompts invite us to explore topics and insights that we may be reluctant to or may never explore in our journal writing.
The first time I actually responded to journaling prompts is when I participated in Dolly Garland’s Kaizen Journaling Challenge back in 2011. Many of her prompts opened the door to topics I probably would never had written about. I looked forward to her daily prompts by setting aside time for responding to them in the early morning while eating breakfast.
Even when I felt the prompts didn’t apply to me personally, or when I couldn’t immediately think of how to respond, I took the challenge and responded to those prompts anyway. When I read back of over the entries, I had definitely learned more about myself, and I felt more empowered as a journal writer.
After I co-sponsored a month-long digital journal writing challenge with journaling coach and podcaster, Nathan Ohren, I decided to form National Journal Writing Month, suggested to Nathan and I by a Twitter follower.
Why the Thematic Approach
In developing NaJoWriMo I decided to take a thematic approach to journal writing for several reasons.
- The thematic approach encourages writers to focus on a particular topic for an extended period of time, instead of jumping from topic to topic each time they write.
- The thematic approach can help journal writers develop a journal writing habit because the thematic prompts are related to one another, and the respondents have a goal of completing the prompt sets.
- The thematic approach is useful for reflective writing because as writers respond to the prompts, they start drawing connections in their writing, and in the end they can reflect back on what they learned from responding to the prompts.
- Writers can respond to the prompts based on their own experiences, and they are encouraged to customize the prompts to fit their own writing needs.
NaJoWriMo consist of the following four themes, for the four times a year NaJoWriMo is held. While each theme has a different set of prompts, your responses to the prompts are based on your personal experiences.
Personal Growth and Goal Setting (January)
This theme was created specifically for the new year when you may be setting goals for yourself for the new year. The prompts focus on:
- What goals do you have for the new year?
- What goals have you accomplished in the past?
- What motivates you to achieve your goals?
- What are the challenges you face when trying to reach your goals?
Personal Renewal (April)
This theme is similar to the January theme, but it’s more about what changes do you want to make in your life. The prompts focus on:
- What’s something new in your life that you could try?
- What’s a habit you to need bury or develop?
- What have you lost and want to bring back into our life?
- What new paths do you want to start on?
- What about your past has shaped who you are?
Travel: Places and Journeys (July)
The theme for July is about travel, both physical travel, and the figurative roads you have traveled in your life so far. The prompts focus on:
- Places you have visited and the experiences you gained.
- The personal journeys you’ve taken and the mountains you have climbed so far in your life.
- Reflections on what type of traveler you are and what is your favorite mode of transportation.
- Reflections and goals of places you would like to visit and how you plan to travel to those places.
The theme for October is exploring your creativity. The prompts focus on:
- What are the ways you express yourself creatively?
- What challenges get in the way of your creative expressions?
- What motivates your creativity?
- How do your creative expressions help you grow personally?
Each thematic set consists of 30-31 prompts. After you subscribe to a set of prompts, an individual prompt from that set is emailed to you daily, so that you can respond to them during the journal writing challenge.
Note: Though the thematic prompts are set for the four NaJoWriMo months throughout the year, you can subscribe to a set of prompts anytime you like, and you don’t have to choose a designated set for a particular NaJoWriMo month. You can choose any set you wish, and that you think will be helpful to you.
You can order a prompt set here. If you plan to use a prompt set to complete NaJoWriMo challenge, you should order the set the day before the challenge begins. So for example, if you’re taking the NaJoWriMo October challenge, order your prompts on September 30th so that you receive your first prompt on October 1st.
By focusing on a theme for an entire month, you can review your journal entries and reflect on what you learned about yourself, and which journal entries might inspire new directions, insights, and ideas in your life. Good journal writing should inspire you to think more deeply, develop self-awareness, and make sense of your goals, challenges and personal experiences.
“If you don’t know what you want, start writing. Writing makes its meaning.” –Write It Down Make It Happen, Henriette Anne Klauser
One of the benefits of NaJoWriMo is that participants can engage with the project in any way they like. You are not required to respond to each prompt, nor do you have to share your journal responses to prompts with other participants.
One of the keys to meaningful journal writing is that you write honestly for yourself. No one should be looking over your shoulder or reading your journal, which means you can be truly open and frank in your writing.
Being honest in your writing is why I strongly encourage journal keepers to keep their journals secure and private from others. It may not even be a good idea to draw attention to your journal writing. It’s better to keep it personal so that you can connect with your inner thoughts without feeling judged or censored.
While responding to thematic prompts, it’s also useful to do some reflective writing about how you are engaging with the theme, and how the writing itself speaks to you.
Hopefully in the course of writing, you write yourself into thoughts, ideas, and insights that you didn’t have before you start writing.
And sometimes it can be painful to reread your journals, and it’s for that reason that I recommend tagging or bookmarking entries to review later. Some journal entries should not be reread until you’re ready, or not at all. In fact feel free to delete or tear out pages of any entries you don’t want to revisit.
I have received positive responses to NaJoWriMo, and I hope that subscribers are finding the thematic approach useful to their journal writing.
I love NaJoWriMo! I don’t comment here very often and I don’t have a twitter to tweet about it, but I absolutely adore the idea behind it. I wouldn’t even mind if this was a month-long event every month. Prompts are very thoughtful and inspirational and get me thinking about things I haven’t thought about before. So really I just wanted to say thank you, Bakari, for creating NaJoWriMo. —NaJoWriMo subscriber.