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journal of a ubc student
February 18, 2022
5 mins read

Creative and unexpected ways of journaling

You don’t have to be Van Gogh to be creative. You also don’t need to love writing to be a journaler. In this blog post, I introduced the basics of journaling. Now, let’s dive into the fun!

Did you know that journaling doesn’t have to mean long-form writing? It also doesn’t require a regular time commitment, nor need to be ‘complete’. It doesn’t have to be anything—other than a form of expression, done by you, for you.

Let’s explore some cool methods—and meet some UBC students and grads who use ‘em!

Gratitude journal

The gratitude journal is like a reverse bucket list. Instead of listing things that you want to do in the future, list the things that have already happened that you’re grateful for.

This is a great way to count your blessings and appreciate the little things in life. When you feel down, reading your gratitude journal can put that smile back on your face!

Here are a few things you can include:

  • Inspirational quotes
  • Achievements
  • Coincidences
  • Happy moments
  • Travel adventures
  • Names of people who inspire you
  • Names of people who make you happiest
  • Favourite foods
  • And more!

Want more inspiration? Check out Pinterest for ideas on how to format your journal, but don’t feel pressured to make it perfect.

Creative journal

Think of the creative journal like a scrapbook for your mind—there are absolutely no rules to what goes in here. It may look really messy at first, but when you take a step back, you might be amazed at your creation.

Shawn’s story

Shawn’s creative journal is a beautiful, messy work of art. Every page is filled with something unique.

“I always had a vision where I would keep a personal journal in which I could record all of my random revelations (kind of like r/showerthoughts), favourite quotes, and lists of references and allusions that I find fascinating.”

Over time, his journal has become “something more eclectic and entropic,” containing pages like:

- Lyrics that Reduce Me to Tears

Sassy Replies for Roasting People

- Dynamic Romantic Duos

- Literary Archetypes

“Whenever I hear a phrase that sounds interesting, I stuff it into the notebook. Often I would find myself flipping through the book, recalling memories, straying all over the place, swinging between contrasts, sifting through the everyday banality to discover the always in the never, the fertile in the sterile, the staggering in the stale.”

Shawn with his creative journal and 5-year diary

5-year diary

Need something quick and easy? The 5-year diary prompts you to write just 1-3 sentences every day for (you guessed it) 5 years.

Here’s Shawn again with his 5-year diary:

“As I add a new entry each day, I can’t help but reflect on the beauty of documentation. This was me 2 years ago. This was me a year ago. This is me today. I have been here before, on the same page, scrawling with sprawling print—but everything else is different. Different places, different thoughts, different stories. What happened on this day last year? What was I doing? Who was I?”

Local bookstores often carry 5-year diaries, but you can also shop online! (Amazon and Indigo have some awesome options.)

One second a day / A photo a day

Maybe you prefer capturing your life through visuals.

Try One Second a Day and you'd be amazed at what you can create within a span of weeks. It's as simple as it sounds—take a second per day to record a brief clip. The app will stitch your daily collections together to create a movie of memories (kind of like this one). 

You can also try taking a photo a day. This can be done through apps such as Collect and Journey, or simply find your own way! Over time, your photo collection will grow into a masterpiece of your life’s little moments—micro memories that might otherwise be forgotten.

Dream diary

We often forget our dreams minutes after we wake up. Imagine keeping a notebook by your bedside, and jotting down your dreams the moment your eyes flutter open.

Sometimes, dreams tell us more about ourselves than real life. Maybe that dinosaur chasing after you in that nightmare actually symbolized a dramatic change happening in your life. In the world of creativity, there’s no such thing as too ‘out there’.

Your dream diary might also become inspiration for other creations. Some best-selling books are based on ideas generated in the author’s dreams!


Poetry is a beautiful way to convey your feelings. Experiment with different styles such as free-form, haikus, rhymes, or even sonnets if you’re feeling old school.

Poetry allows you to focus on the abstract aspects of your life, and reflect on your experiences in the grand scheme of things.

Jordan’s story

Jordan on his laptop

Jordan enjoys poetry because it’s an outlet for him to get creative while documenting his emotions. He uses the natural flow of poetry to jot down sensory details with pure authenticity.

By writing free-form poetry, Jordan can explore his thoughts in an uninhibited way. “It kind of feels like I’m following a current, and when I'm done, I have a better understanding of why I feel the way I do.”

His advice: “Be open to alternatives and just express yourself!”

Bullet journal

If your guilty pleasure is doodling on anything within reach, this might just be the perfect remedy. The beauty of bullet journaling is that you can take it in any direction you want.

Among all methods, however, this form might require the most practice and patience. Never worry about getting it perfect—journaling (like life!) is a process of trial and error.

Bullet journals can be extremely powerful, however you choose to execute it. Buy a dotted notebook and some colorful pens (maybe even brush pens if you're feeling fancy) and let the creative juices flow!

Here are some things you can include:

  • Monthly or weekly calendar spreads
  • Daily schedules
  • Course schedules
  • Gratitude journal
  • Goal or habit trackers
  • Sleep trackers
  • Mood trackers
  • Recipes
  • To-do lists
  • Grocery lists
  • Reading lists
  • Daily diary space
  • The list goes on forever...

Tiffany’s story

The bullet journal is perfect for Tiffany because it combines 2 things she loves: organization and art. She uses it to sort out many aspects of her life, while getting creative with the blank spaces.

Time commitment shouldn’t be an issue; Tiffany spends roughly 10 minutes per day, or however long she feels like.

Her advice for beginners: “Don’t feel pressured by the ‘perfect’ bullet journals you see online. Do what works for you!”

Emily’s story

Emily loves lists.

Beyond to-do lists, the #bujo is a great way for Emily to see her life through different perspectives.

With the bullet journal, it’s both structured and loose; Emily enjoys how you can adjust it to fit into your life at any given time. For example, during Winter Break one year, her #bujo was filled with lists of dinner reservations.

Emily has adapted her journal to whatever she needs at a particular time, and she doesn’t follow any “bullet journal rules”. Remember: you don’t have to impress anyone!

How would Emily describe bullet journaling? “Structured creativity.”

Maham’s story

Since Maham began bullet journaling, she saw a boost in her daily productivity. She also loves referencing her bullet journal to tell stories of her experiences.

“When starting off with bullet journaling, you need to figure out its purpose and how it can benefit you. The pretty stuff is just the extra cherry on top. At the end of the day, it can just be you and a pen and paper.”

Bullet journaling to Maham in one word: “Calming.”

That’s not the end...

Here are even more ways you can journal:

  • Blogging
  • Using a drawing book
  • Decorating your wall with quotes and photos
  • Scrapbooking
  • And more… what’s your beginning?