#JournalingInJuly Over 50s Lifestyle

My Journaling Story

July 10, 2019

My next guest in the #JournalinginJuly series is author Molly Totoro. I’ve known Molly through blogging for some time. I knew that she was fond of journaling and has actually authored two books on the subject of journaling. However, I didn’t realise that jouraling wasn’t always her passion. In her post, Molly shares her Journaling Story and also provides some interesting and helpful ideas, for those like me, who just can’t seem to make journaling a habit. You can connect with Molly at the end of her post through her website and social media links. You might also like to check out her two books on journaling which are listed in her bio.

My Journaling Story

I haven’t always journaled, although I always wanted to journal. I loved the romantic notion of keeping a daily diary from the age of eight, and then reviewing life in full at the age of eighty. But unfortunately, I only managed to maintain that kind of writing schedule for one year in high school. And I misplaced those scribblings in the Charlie Brown notebook long ago.

No, my journaling habit has a less romantic past.

The years between 2010 and 2013 are a blur. In that timeframe:
• I cared for my ailing mother (who eventually went into hospice and died six weeks later).
• I saw my youngest child graduate high school and move out on her own, leaving us in the empty nest.
• I became a grandmother for the first time.
• I helplessly watched my son struggle – but ultimately come out on the other side.
• And I continued to teach an average of seven English/writing classes.

I was so busy taking care of business, I failed to take care of myself.

We can only run on empty for so long before our bodies give out. We can only take care of others for so long before we lose sight of who we are. In the end, I found myself speaking words, but I had lost my voice.

I needed to write for my mental, physical, and spiritual health.

Now, six years later, I have filled countless notebooks… and I have found my voice again.

Journaling gave me back my life, and I know it can help others recover their lost selves.

Beware of Journaling Pitfalls

Many people like the idea of journaling, but when it comes to actually writing, they don’t know where to start. If you happen to feel this way, you are in good company.

It is important to remember there is no ONE right way to journal. This is not a high school term paper determining your semester grade. The ominous red pencil should no longer be feared. No one else will read your words so the fear of doing it wrong is eliminated. Journaling is simply a matter of recording thoughts in a way that suits personal needs.

Before discussing practical steps for journaling, let’s address its two primary hindrances: the inner editor and perfectionism.

Inner Editor

The inner editor is often alive and active during journaling sessions. This is the voice in our heads that constantly offers harsh criticism. Sometimes that voice takes on the characteristics of an old English teacher, reprimanding incorrect spelling or misplaced commas. Other times the voice is another authoritative adult telling us to stop whining, simply pick up the broken pieces of our lives and move on. Still other voices shout that our feelings are not significant, not accurate, not worthy to be shared.

While it isn’t possible to completely banish the inner critic from our minds, we can take an active approach to keep her silent.

When her voice becomes too loud to ignore, acknowledge her presence, and ask her to be quiet for a while. I tell her I will be happy to listen to her later, once I’ve finished writing. But for now, she is not welcome.


Another stumbling block to journaling can be perfectionism: the idea that one right topic exists, one right notebook is needed, one right format is mandatory. Perfectionism dictates we use complete sentences with proper English grammar. Perfectionism causes us to pay more attention to punctuation than content. Perfectionism is deadly.

The antidote to perfectionism is Grace. We must learn to treat ourselves, our thoughts, and our fragile emotions with compassion and care.

Misspell a word? So what! Cross it out, rewrite and move on. Better yet, keep it as is. It’s a gentle reminder that we aren’t perfect and that is okay.

Wrote yourself into a corner and not sure where to go next? Take a break. Rules are non-existent in journaling. You do not have to start at the beginning, and you do not have to stop at the end. Simply write until you no longer feel the need to write anymore and put it away. When the time is right, perhaps after a bit of time to offer clear perspective, the nudge to journal will prompt you to complete the entry.

How to Begin

When I share my passion for journaling with others, I typically hear three responses: I’d love to journal but…
• I don’t have enough time
• I don’t know where to start
• I wouldn’t know what to write

First, let me debunk the myth that journaling requires hours of uninterrupted solitude. I often journal in ten-minute blocks of time. In addition, daily entries are not a prerequisite to an effective journaling habit. Setting those kinds of unrealistic parameters leads to writing paralysis.

I suggest an initial goal of journaling one to three times a week.

To help maintain a journaling practice, it is helpful to keep a notebook close by. If the journal is accessible, you will be more inclined to use it. I typically keep one journal on my nightstand next to the bed. That way, it is available for writing first thing in the morning when I wake up, or the last thing at night before going to sleep. Another one sits next to my favorite spot in the family room. If a random thought or idea comes to me, I capture it on paper before it disappears.

While “write whatever comes to mind” is a liberating prompt for some, it can be too overwhelming for others. Some of us need a bit more structure.

James Pennebaker pioneered the method of Expressive Journaling, that is, writing about our emotions and feelings surrounding a traumatic event rather than just retelling the factual details.

Megan Hayes recently published a book, Write Yourself Happy, where she advocates journaling about the positive emotions of life as well, such as Joy – Gratitude – Serenity – Interest – Hope – Pride – Awe – Love.

While there are countless journaling prompt books and internet memes, a great place to start is Sue’s Journaling in July Prompt List. I love how she asks us to spend a bit of quality time focusing on our interests. Each prompt asks us to recall something positive about life. What a fabulous way to nurture self-care.

If you feel so inclined, pick a favorite spot of your home (or away from home). Cue up a favorite play list. Light a scented candle. Indulge in a favorite beverage as you journal your inner thoughts, dreams, and desires.

Treat yourself to this daily mini-retreat throughout the month and you will soon develop a regular journaling practice that works well for you.

Meet Molly

My Journaling Story

Molly is a recently retired English teacher (for the second time) and a self-published author of two journaling books, Journaling Toward Wholeness: A 28-Day Plan to Develop a Journaling Practice and Journal Prompts A-Z. She is currently working on several other journaling books including Journaling through the Seasons and Polaroid Prompts. She occasionally shares examples of Polaroid Prompts on Instagram.

Molly also enjoys blogging about her transition into midlife at Molly’s Cozy Book Nook. She enjoys reading, writing, travel, and photography. She loves connecting with others in this online community and sharing ways to navigate this new season of life.

Connect with Molly



Women Living Well After 50

Living Life Your Way


  • Reply Nancy Dobbins July 11, 2019 at 01:18

    Hi Molly,
    Lovely to see you here on Sue’s blog. I’ve been responding to some of her prompts but, I confess, that journaling, like meditating, is a hard habit for me to get into.
    I like your suggestion to just try for a few days per week. This feels doable. I get down on myself when I don’t do something that I know I should, and keeping a journal is one of those things. I try also to link it up to gratitude…another thing I want to pay attention to on a regular basis.

    • Reply Molly Totoro July 13, 2019 at 21:24

      Hi Nancy! I think a word that should go hand in hand with a journaling practice is “grace”
      We must give ourselves grace when we miss a day (or two or tend). We must give ourselves grace if we only write a sentence (or a bullet point). Journaling is not one more “should” to add to our list of responsibilities …. journaling is to help us manage, deal and sometimes overcome the other “shoulds” of life.

      I’d love to hear how this new practice works for you!

  • Reply Donna Connolly July 11, 2019 at 02:37

    HI, Molly – Thank you sharing your journaling story with us. You make very wise points — especially that the process of journaling is as unique as the individual writing, and there is no right way to journal. Thank you for this inspiration.

    • Reply Molly Totoro July 13, 2019 at 21:26

      As a rule-follower and one who likes limits… journaling is one area in my life where I refuse to do it a “certain” way. If I could draw more than a stick figure, I would even try journaling through images rather than words 🙂

  • Reply Joanne Tracey July 11, 2019 at 08:24

    Hi Molly. Thanks for sharing your story. There is no right way to do this & sometimes the hardest part really is silencing that inner editor, but regular journalling helps you find your voice and often your way.

    • Reply Molly Totoro July 13, 2019 at 21:31

      Oh believe me, Joanne, I am well-acquainted with my inner editor. In fact, I’ve given her the name Delilah to try to keep her in place 🙂 I completely agree… if we give our inner editor any room in our journaling session, she will silence our voice and our thoughts – defeating the purpose.

      t took some work, but I am now able to lock her outside the room when I journal – and she is always there waiting for me when I open the door.

      One suggestion I might offer others who may read these comments… if your inner editor is telling you to censor what you write for fear others will find it … I highly suggest using a password protected app (Day One is a great one) … or a password protected website (Penzu is good). This way you can write what you NEED to write without fear of repercussions.

  • Reply Deborah July 11, 2019 at 10:20

    I love this advice from Molly, particularly re the perfectionism and editing. I bought a lovely book when I was Italy I’d intended to use for writing-related stuff but then I was too afraid to write anything in there because it was so beautiful and I didn’t know how to start it off – conscious I’d always be seeing the scribble on the first page whenever I opened it!

    • Reply Molly Totoro July 13, 2019 at 21:34

      I have a suggestion, Deborah… if you’re game.

      Intentionally make a mistake on that first page. You will find that the journal is very forgiving 🙂 and it will help you relax and use the journal as it is intended. Sometimes it is hard for me to remember, but true: our words are far more precious than the paper.

      On another note… I’d LOVE to see a photo of that journal. I know Italian leather is gorgeous!

  • Reply suzanne July 11, 2019 at 10:21

    Molly, I have been a journal writer for over 40 years and have found it invaluable at times. I really appreciate that you mentioned the pitfalls of journal writing. Letting go of the compulsion to write perfect sentences, with no spelling errors promotes free, fluid writing that comes from the heart and soul. Establishing journal writing as a habit takes time, and is a very individual pursuit. Thanks for offering your insights.

    • Reply Molly Totoro July 13, 2019 at 21:36

      Suzanne… what a treasure you have! How I wish I had years of journals to review (and how I wish Mom kept a journal so I could learn about her). Have you kept them all? How do you store them?

      As I mentioned in the post, I’ve only been journaling about six years now. I’m sure you could offer me some insights. I’d love to hear 🙂

      • Reply suzanne July 16, 2019 at 09:18

        Hi Molly, I have journals dating back to 1990, but the ones before that were from a difficult time in my life and too personal to keep around. I keep all of my journals together in a cabinet in my bedroom and at least one time per year I pull a few out and read them. It makes me feel nostalgic for the past, but also very happy about where I am and who I am today.

  • Reply Leslie Susan Clingan July 11, 2019 at 11:18

    I am enjoying this journaling series so much, Sue. And Molly, thank you for the bits of wisdom you shared. I can get so frustrated with myself when journaling because my handwriting is becoming quite illegible. Partially because I use a device and type everything these days and partially because I am 61 and just don’t write like I used to. And then I am usually writing with a squirming kitty on my lap or trying to bite my pen. But I need to just keep on and not worry about the penmanship. I am not writing a great piece of literature!! Thank you, both!!

    • Reply Molly Totoro July 13, 2019 at 21:41

      You have offered yourself GREAT advice, Leslie 🙂

      While I believe handwriting provides several benefits (most notably for me – an opportunity to slow down and discover what I really think. The kinesthetic process of handwriting also helps me process differently and gain a new perspective) … I also see value in using a computer keyboard (for me – it is mostly a way to quickly capture my thoughts on a page). Perhaps you could try a combination of both (?)

      I LOVE that you have a fur-baby join in your journaling sessions 🙂

    • Reply Sue Loncaric July 16, 2019 at 04:22

      HI Leslie, I’m so pleased you are enjoying #JournalingInJuly and Molly shared some great tips in her guest post. I hear you re handwriting. I used to pride myself on my handwriting but after using computers for so long I have to take a lot more care when writing on greeting cards!

  • Reply Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au July 11, 2019 at 11:19

    I find that the definition of “journalling” seems to vary from person to person Molly. My journalling is more spasmodic than yours – probably once a week I sit down and do a bit of an overview of my week and my thoughts, my blog is also a version of journalling (but less personal – there has to be more consideration of other people’s privacy when you’re online!)
    I like how thoughtfully you approach the process and I ‘m so glad you’ve found it helpful – I certainly gained insight several times when I looked back at previous difficult patches I’d written about and conquered – and then knew I could get through it again!

    • Reply Molly Totoro July 13, 2019 at 21:44

      You bring up a very good point, Leanne: journaling takes many forms and blogging is a GREAT way to express our thoughts and feelings in writing! While I consider journaling for my eyes only – and my blog posts for the eyes of others – I think they are both interconnected.

      There is certainly no one right way journal 🙂

  • Reply Min @ Write of the Middle July 11, 2019 at 14:26

    Thanks so much for sharing your journey to journaling (see what I did there?) with us Molly! I’m like Sue in that I can’t seem to get into journalling … but I do think that my blog is kinda my version of journalling. I have a cousin who has written in her journal every day that I’ve known her. She does it at night just before she goes to sleep. It’s an amazing thing to have. She can look back on any day of any year and know what she did, what she was thinking, what the kids were doing. It’s a fabulous gift she can leave to her children. #TeamLovinLife

    • Reply Molly Totoro July 13, 2019 at 21:49

      I LOVE the idea of my journal illustrating my “journey” through life, Min 🙂

      While I love to write and never have a problem filling up space, my daughter struggles. However, she adores her “one line a day” journal and I must admit, I like the concept. Each day of the year is one page (and a short page at that) … and each page is divided into five sections. The idea is to write a sentence (maybe two) a day … and use the journal for five years. I like the idea of looking back over each day of the year and gain a 5-year-perspective of life at a single glance. Like your cousin, she makes time to complete this short exercise every night before bed.

  • Reply Vanessa July 11, 2019 at 16:25

    I’ve been wanting to create a spot for it in my study but haven’t found the right place to leave my journal yet.

    • Reply Molly Totoro July 13, 2019 at 21:54

      Logistics is definitely a consideration, Vanessa.

      While I have numerous journals all over the house (and in the car)… I know some keep their journal on their nightstand (end table in an office) – or perhaps their desk or a bookshelf. If you don’t mind leaving it out, then I might suggest a place where you will more likely see it and use it.

      If privacy is an issue (you are afraid of others looking inside) then I might suggest keeping the journal in a purse or drawer (I’ve been known to hide a journal in my underwear drawer). OR… you might consider using a computer to journal and then password protect the entries.

      I hope you find a spot that works for you – and you can begin a journaling practice soon 🙂

  • Reply Debbie Harris July 11, 2019 at 22:37

    I really enjoyed reading Molly’s story of journaling. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas Molly. I like to set a time limit when I’m writing and then a quick edit at the end. I’m really enjoying Sue’s July journaling challenge and responding to the daily prompts gets me thinking, then writing. Great post Sue!

    • Reply Molly Totoro July 13, 2019 at 21:56

      I sometimes set a time limit too, Debbie… especially if I am regurgitating negative thought. I don’t want to wallow. James Pennebaker suggests twenty minutes – and I find that works well for me too 🙂

    • Reply Sue Loncaric July 16, 2019 at 04:23

      Thanks Deb and I appreciate you joining me and promoting the series on your blog and social media, as well as being my co-host for the link up. xx

  • Reply RJ Thesman July 12, 2019 at 07:48

    Excellent post! Thanks for the reminder we don’t have to be perfect.

    • Reply Molly Totoro July 13, 2019 at 21:57

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Rebecca! You are always an inspiration for me to silence Delilah and tell my story 🙂

    I love hearing from you and your comments are important to me

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.