Journaling is a time to be self-indulgent. It’s a place to put backstory and info dumps that can’t go in a manuscript – at least not without serious revision and certainly not at the beginning. I start by picking a font that looks like my character’s handwriting and use it for the headings. One of the characters is a doodler, so I inserted clip art of drawings she might have made.
Then I let my characters ramble until I find their voices. It doesn’t matter if they talk about characters and events unrelated to my story. I’m getting to know them. Sometimes they say things like, “But this isn’t about Gran, Greta, Nelson or even Carlotta. It’s about Calla” or “It’s easy to write about anything except him.” My characters know they’re supposed to be helping me, even when that’s hard to do. Often it takes several pages before I get to a kernel of truth like, “Maybe having an army of mismatched relatives to watch my back makes me brave. Maybe Calla only has me.”