For me, the start of a new year means the start of a new diary. Most people who know me know that I keep a diary. But few of them really understand why. So I started to wonder, what motivates me to fill a page a day with words that no one but me will ever read?
My Life in Diaries
When I was a child, my parents often gave me a diary for Christmas, usually a Winnie the Pooh one. For several months of each year I would diligently write a line or two about my day’s activities, Regular entries included trips to the park, complaints about teachers being unfair, or recording what I had for dinner. But when September came and I suddenly had school again, my diary stayed blank.
This pattern continued for several years, until I stopped keeping a diary altogether in my teens. I don’t remember exactly why but I imagine it was because it seemed childish to me then.
But at university, I found that I needed a diary to keep track of exam dates and assignment deadlines. And before long, I was adding in notes of what had happened that day. My need to record my life had resurfaced. I’ve now kept a regular diary since 2002, and receive a new one every year from my parents for Christmas.
A Fascination with Keeping a Diary
The practice of keeping a diary fascinates me. Diaries are labours of love which no one appreciates. They are full of words written not to be read, starting out life as an empty book which becomes more precious to the owner as the year goes on.
But the most fascinating story is one I read about a woman who kept a wartime diary without once mentioning the war.
I’ve read several diary-based books but one I highly recommend is, A Five Year Sentence by Bernice Rubens. The novel is striking for its bleak yet humorous account of a lonely spinster, and how the unwanted gift of a five-year diary changes her life.
Keeping a diary may not have changed my life, but for me it’s a part of who I am. It’s a hobby I suppose, and hobbies aren’t meant to be understood by other people. But, people often ask me why I keep a diary.
Many people dismiss writing a daily diary as pointless. Some have even bluntly asked me why I think my life is so interesting that I have to keep a diary. Others will just comment on my neat handwriting with a baffled look on their faces as I scribble away.
The 7 reasons I Keep a Diary
No one will ever read my diary, I hope, so why do I bother? And in this digital age, why do I continue to keep a handwritten record of my unremarkable life? Here are the seven reasons I came up with:
1. To Keep Track of What I’ve Done
One of the key reasons I keep a diary is a practical one. My diary serves as a record of everything from places I’ve been to books I’ve read, as well as the exact date of important life events.
And it’s proved useful many times. Such as when my husband Gastón asks me for information like the name of that beach we went to in Portugal, or what day his sister came to visit.
And because I make a point of writing it down I also find that I am better at remembering this kind of information. Often I don’t need to consult my diary to recall dates, people and places since keeping a pen and paper record helps to seal it in my memory in the first place.
2. To Reflect on The Day
It would be impossible to write down exactly how I feel in the moment. But, writing in my diary as close to the event as possible helps me to capture how something affected me. It might be to let myself vent about a rude work colleague. Or, it could be as a way to take a step back and see the overall picture at the end of the day.
I don’t force myself to reflect while I’m writing. This reflection is usually something that happens organically as I record what’s happened. But whatever I write, I always feel better for getting it down on paper as a way of drawing a line under the day.
3. To Get Words Flowing
I like words and writing, so another reason I keep a diary is to give me a reason to write each day.
Having a page every day to fill with whatever I like helps me to make sense of the thoughts and ideas flowing around my head.
Simple reflections written down can sometimes sound poetic or romantic when I read them back. And I’ve often surprised myself by how well I’ve expressed something I thought I couldn’t put into words.
4. To Be Honest with Myself
I’ve found my diary very useful as a way of questioning why I do the things I do. I don’t make excuses in my diary and I admit my mistakes. Writing down what I’ve done on paper can make me realise my faults, or show me how unreasonable I’ve been.
I even end up giving myself advice, such as the entry I found reminding me that, ‘I need to learn to share my space and time or I will have too much.’
5. To Record the Now without the Distortion of Time
Another reason I keep a diary is to record my truth as it is now. I know how I feel about that person now, but what did I think of them before? I know everything worked out fine in the end, but how did I feel just after it happened?
You can’t un-know what you know now, so whatever you thought back then will become distorted as time goes on.
If I think back to the years I didn’t keep a diary, between the ages of about 13 to 20, I feel very out of touch with the person I was. It’s a shame because these are the years I’m most curious about.
6. To Learn from the Past
Franz Kakfa commented on the reassuring feeling of reading back old diary and journal entries. These accounts of how you overcame problems and survived events, many of which might seem unbearable now, show your true capacity for survival.
I don’t often read old diary entries, but when I do, I appreciate how far I’ve come. I’m reminded how hard learning Spanish was for me and how much I’ve improved; both in the sense of now being fluent, but also caring less about what people think if I make a mistake. Or how I stand up for myself more than I used to.
It’s this kind of knowledge of my past self that my diary gives which helps inspire me for the future.
7. For Pleasure
Finally, I keep a diary for the simple reason that I like doing it. and I like having my diaries to keep as possessions. It makes me happy to think back to the funny moments, interesting conversations, beautiful views and enjoyable experiences. Also, I feel that writing down these experiences and having a record of them makes me appreciate them more.
Of course, I write about the bad too. The disappointments, arguments, sadness, insults, anger. But getting it on paper means that it’s not just inside my head anymore. Now it’s outside of me and done with, and I can move on.
Why do You Keep a Diary?
Now you know why I keep a diary, I’d love to hear from other people who keep a diary and why they do it. Or, if you need any advice about how to get started with your own diary, let me know!