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Make it a Habit or Not

Watercolor Brush 19

Some of the most common advice given to people interested in nature journaling, is to make it a habit. The purpose of this advice is to become comfortable. Regular practice helps to develop specific skills.

However, it is not necessary to nature journal daily, weekly or monthly.

It can feel like a chore, another thing that you have to do.

But you can choose to nature journal spontaneously and sporadically.

“In order to form the journaling habit, you need to find the experience satisfying on a number of levels.”

Cathy Johnson in Artist’s Journal Workshop p101


Do you want to nature journal, but get stuck before you start? 

One of the biggest challenges in nature journaling is putting the idea into practice.

  • How do you start nature journaling?

  • Once you start nature journaling, how do you keep going?

  • If you stop or stall, how do you pick it up again?

  • How do you make it a habit?


Know your purpose

Be clear about why you want to nature journal. Write your thoughts down.

To help you put your reasons into words, ask yourself:

  • What do I want from my nature journaling experience?

  • What do I want to have on my pages, when I look back? Do I want to record moments and move on? Do I want to find sparks for my memory? Do I want information and inspiration for projects?

  • What brings you satisfaction?

Review your motivation periodically. Your purpose is likely to change over time.

Fit your kit to your personality, life and budget

There is no perfect kit, no ideal journal and no perfect pen, pencil or paint.

  • Keep your kit small.

  • There are many useful and fun supplies that can be used in nature journaling. And here comes a big BUT … this can also be a distraction. Looking for and getting supplies can use up time that you could be nature journaling. 

  • Select materials that are easy for you to use. You may love watercolour, but find it difficult to manage in the field when you are first starting. 

  • Be resourceful. Use what’s in front of you when the opportunity arises. There is no magic in the materials.


Make it easy

  • Be prepared. Have some form of a journal close by at all times.

  • Recognise opportunities when they arise, and reach for your nature journal.

  • Allow for sessions that are short and simple. If you can, try some longer sessions where you can linger on a subject and fuel your curiosity.

  • Include nature journaling with the activities you already do. Open your nature journal whenever you are observing nature. Try making entries before, during and after these activities.


Push through start-up resistance

  • Warm-up at the beginning of each session with a bit of writing and sketching.

  • Get something down on paper. Then build on it, or go on to something else.

  • Some days things may flow easily, other days not so.  Accept that you may feel stumped, awkward, clumsy, or overwhelmed. Relax and remember to connect with nature.

  • Use routines in observing, recording, reflecting – help to get over the start-up resistance. Start your nature journaling journey with a standard format for your entries. Or choose a few formats that appeal to you and try each of these out at least once. Check here for examples of formats.


Energise your Efforts

  • Do what you love in the subjects, processes, and materials you choose.

  • Notice, pause and linger on the moments of fun, joy, awe, and curiosity.

  • Break it down into smaller habits – start by always having your nature journal with you, open nature journal as soon as you notice something or are in nature setting, or having a standard way of starting each entry. This gives you achievable goals, successes to build on.

  • Learn from others.


Go easy on yourself

  • Your first entry now is your starting point. Check and re-check your expectations. What is your starting point? You may have drawn, painted or written in the past. This is unlikely to be your starting point now.

  • Avoid the trap of expecting the same results from yourself in the beginning, that you see in an experienced nature journaler’s entries. Other people’s entries are not your benchmark. But they can be instructional, inspirational and aspirational.

  • Make friends with your inner critic – know when to listen to it and when to turn it off. Talk to your inner critic when it places obstacles in your way: guilt, perfection, pressure to do other things. This is not an indulgence or guilty pleasure. It is a way of taking care of yourself, of connecting with the world in ways that are nurturing for you, and it will energise your efforts to improve the world.



  • Apply a learning mindset to developing your nature journaling skills.

  • Cultivate your curiosity. Ask yourself questions about your observations and assumption. Take it further and ask questions about your questions.

  • Expect wonder and embrace small moments of joy.

  • If you want to make nature journaling a regular part of your life, dedicate at least 1 or 2 months to building your practice, or getting to grips with a new skill.


Understand your learning process

Nature journaling involves learning skills and developing an understanding of yourself.

  • Focus on developing one skill at a time.

  • Embrace frustration at plateau points. This often pops up before your skills jump to the next level.

  • Your learning process may differ for various skills and combinations of skills involved in nature journaling.

  • If you compare yourself with others, focus on what you can learn from the comparison.


The Importance of Community

While our connection with nature is fundamentally personal, it is deepened by our social connections.

Nature journaling is becoming more widely practised. There are growing communities with which you can connect. These groups overlap and intersect. They may be focused on integrating nature journaling into a specific nature-focus (like birding), environmental education, home- or formal schooling, creative practices for visual artists and wordsmiths, scientific inquiry, and many more. Whatever the focus do it for fun!

If you are just starting out, try to find a nature journal buddy. This could be a family member, a friend, or someone from a local club. When you cannot gather in a group, or meet others in person, turn to the generosity of the online nature journaling communities which have blossomed. Here are a few to explore:

  • Nature Journaling South Africa - join our mailing list here, or contact us here

  • Check the Wild Wonder Foundation's community calendar here for events

  • The Nature Journal Club, Facebook page – started by John Muir Laws

  • Find a group in many parts of the world on Wild Wonder Foundation's website here

Stalled? Been there? Done that?

Think about your experiences. Ask yourself:

  1. What has gotten in the way of my nature journaling?

  2. What has helped me to nature journal more?

  3. What brought me joy and energy?


Make a plan for how to overcome the obstacles, and how to strengthen enabling factors.


What is the best fit for nature journaling in your life – at this moment?

Get started, or re-started, on your nature journaling journey and find out.


For more on this topic -

Watch John Muir Laws (aka Jack)'s video "Let's Keep Going" about how to make nature journaling a habit. He talks through the ups and downs that you may face on your nature journaling journey.

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