Keeping a Diary

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A few years ago, I went to an exhibition called “The Augustus Griffin Diaries, 1790-1855.” It was organized by the Oysterponds Historical Society, out on the East End of Long Island. The exhibition included his diaries and artifacts from his lifetime–clothing, fishing gear, quill pens, inkwells, Bibles, a desk, farming implements, photographs. It was a wonderful exhibit, and filled me with appreciation on how one person’s story gives us such an intimate look into history.

Born in Orient, NY in 1767, Augustus Griffin lived to be 99 years old. He documented day-to-day life in his diaries. He reminisced about his boyhood memory of his father jumping out of the window into the snow to avoid capture by British soldiers and Tories. Griffin shared his doubts about his ability to hold a steady job and make a living; his moral turmoil as a tavern owner about selling alcohol. He also chronicled events large and small in the town–marriages, births, deaths, accidents–the results of which can be found in the graveyards and mailboxes 145 years after his death. “If it weren’t for him, many people wouldn’t know their lineage and history,” said Ellen Cone Busch, director of the Oysterponds Historical Society. “He had a keen sense of how fast life goes by, how temporary life is – and if we don’t write it down, it will be gone forever.”

I would like to start a daily diary to note each day in the year I turn sixty – 2012. My question to diary and journal keepers out there – how do you stick to it? The other area where I need some guidance is – what do you write about every day? I was thinking of just writing the first thing that pops into my mind to keep it spontaneous, and take the pressure off from trying to sound elegant or profound. As I think about it, I am almost afraid of how I will sound to myself.

Advice appreciated! Thank you!

9 thoughts on “Keeping a Diary

  1. Thank you all for your fabulous suggestions and sharing your own experiences. I have printed them out, and will keep them in my diary if I go dry or feel I need some inspiration. All of you will be my “support group” as I embark on keeping a daily diary. Thanks so much again – Karen

  2. I was lucky enough to go to the Morgan Library’s exhibit a year ago about diaries of famous and not-so famous people, and it rekindled my interest, so I started to write again. I think anyone who wants a bit of introspection and perspective in his/her own life has to keep some kind of journal. Personally, the act of writing actually helps to clear my mind and order my thoughts. No small feat!

  3. Like Eileen, it’s part of my bedtime routine. I keep a Rhodia Webbie in my nighttable drawer and I write every night before I go to bed. I used to keep a dated page-a-day calendar and record that way, but I found I like the flexibility of writing more than a page on a given day. I’m still getting used to it. The dated page-a-day kept me honest about writing every day and I’m still adjusting to writing every day with an undated journal.

    This habit started in college when I went through a major depression. I bought a weekly calendar and every night I made myself think of at least one positive thing that had happened to me that day and record it. It forced me to realize that there was something to be salvaged in even my worst days, even if it was something as simple as having an old lady smile at me at the grocery store. As I found myself out of the depression, I kept it up because I realized I was learning to appreciate the beauty of every day life.

  4. I started a diary this year and decided that, unlike in years past, I would stick with it. I keep it next to my bed and each night, I write about that day. As for content, I just stick to the facts and avoid most personal feelings. It’s kind of a miracle to me that I’ve been so faithful, but I think setting aside 5 or 10 minutes right before I go to bed has become a nice way to remember the day and write it down before I forget.

    I actually prefer to alternate two different inks every other day so my pages don’t look monotonous. I’m using a weekly planner, so all seven days fit onto a two page spread. October entries are light purple and grey, and I will switch pens in November.

  5. i have taught journaling workshops online and have done a little coaching. i try to give journaling tips on my blog from time to time. one thing is when you are writing about something do NOT assume you will remember aspects of it. write down everything you want to remember. though it may seem dull now, day-to-day events are important, just like Augustus Griffin’s diaries. I’m sure at the time people would have thought what he wrote as pointless and useless, yet now we value it. you can have a template for your entries, such as a list of things to write: activities, weather, etc. if you want to change it up a little bit you could make a list of 30 items you want to journal about and assign each topic to one day of the month and on that day you will write about family, or love, or hobbies, etc. or you could just pick out seven topics and take one each day to write about. but be sure to include day to day events. those are just as important as the other topics that give insight into who you are. another good prompt is to take a headline from the news that day and write about it from your perspective. this gives a personal take on what will one day be history.

  6. I think what makes diaries interesting is, as you say about Augustus Griffin, that they chronicle day-to-day life. I keep a daily diary in which I just write down the events of the day, very little elaboration or rumination. Most days are, let’s face it, merely routine, but keeping such a diary doesn’t take much time, so it’s easy to keep at it every day. This isn’t “journaling,” which I also did for many years — writing long entries on an almost daily basis about all manner of things. Lately I’ve grown weary of my own opinions, so I’ve dispensed with the journaling. But keeping my daily diary is easy, and fun, and someday someone may find this mundane chronicle as interesting as Augustus’s!

  7. 1. Keep it handy. I use loose leaf pages in a folder on my desk. If it’s not handy it won’t be used.
    2. Get the habit. Takes a while, but when I get that ‘I want a change ‘ feeling I often turn to my journal for that break.
    3. Write. No matter what it’s about, if you’re thinking it, it’s part of you, so write it.
    4. Switch pens till you find one you like. Then when that feels not right switch again. I keep the ink constant over many pages even if the pen changes, that keeps the look ‘similar’.
    5. ~After a while it becomes a habit. Then you miss it when you omit it.
    Gets easy after a few hundred pages. Honest. And it’s enjoyable. If it’s a chore, forget it until you miss it. No obligation, just something you do.

  8. Hi Karen,
    I got lucky in that I took a creative writing class with Laraine Herring who said her favorite book was “Harriet the Spy” and then later I took a journaling class from Sue Meyn (www.journalmagic.com). Re-reading “Harriet the Spy” gave me eyes like a kid again and Sue taught me to just GO! We start each journal session with a 5-minute sprint on “What’s going on right now?” That usually leads me into my day and onward from there.
    I personally write every morning when I get up. Only a page, maybe two. Sometimes I write when I get home from work or later in the evening just before bed. It depends on what’s been going on in my life.
    So, my advice, I guess, is as Sue says: Just GO!

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