Posted in Of Writingly

Of (Not) Writing A Diary

Journal (Courtesy: Pixabay)

I have a bit of a storage issue. I have diaries lying around, written from the time I was sixteen till present-ish, that I don’t want to look at and don’t want to throw away either. I also have this fantasy/fear of dying before I’ve made up my mind about them, and suffering from post-mortem embarrassment when someone else reads them, if they can cognize my glorious handwriting, and laugh at my pathetic life. Believe me, those thousands of barely legible pages will not serve as inspiration for a moving eulogy. They’re destined for the bin.

Which is why I decided a few weeks ago to be done with diary writing altogether. I justified the practice to myself as some sort of communion with the self over the years. As if my dialogue with myself, about myself, was important to me. I’m glad and relieved to report I had no greater ambition for my diary writing – it was truly for myself, and always certifiably abysmal enough to never be potentially entertaining for anybody else. Many storms have been divulged into them over the course of my life, but written in the most undeliberate manner, so as to never seek an audience. Even I rarely look back at what I write there, whereas I endlessly edit everything else.

I don’t know why, maybe it’s age or depression, but I don’t feel the need for it anymore. I still have feelings, strong feelings and reflections from time to time, but there’s always Netflix to sort that pain. I’ve had the same diary since 2016, and I’ve barely reached September on it. It’s been lying under my pillow for two years, next to my small daily expenditure diary, which sees more inkage than it.

I am more interested in how much I spent on milk than how I felt about a life-changing situation.

Some people laugh at diarists, think we are, as Harry from When Harry Met Sally would say, people who “dot their i’s with little hearts”. Sentimental people. People swimming in a current of feelings all the time, because they find themselves unable to get on with life. Being a diarist, of course, means I don’t have to tell anyone about it. I could be the butchest person out there, and scribble in pink glitter in my bed.

Journal (Courtesy: Pexels)

There are people who often wonder, what do you actually write about in a diary? What you had for breakfast? While that would be a perfectly legitimate thing to do in our age (I am not going to use the word Social and the word Media next to each other because it’s too banal), the whole idea of a diary is anything you want it to be. Over the years, mine have been a profusion of feelings, events, plans, dreams – lots and lots of dreams – and in general, whinings about how life could be better in the past, present and future. I don’t always put everything down, and many large events have gone undocumented simply because I did not want to make them real by writing them. I did not want to ruminate in the mire of insurmountable pain – only bearable pain ever makes the cut. The everyday often finds a way, and my diaries would be great for me to account for my cultural life in the past ten years or so. What I read, watched, listened, participated in, made, dreamed, wished.

But, I have a more straightforward and practical reason to not throw them away. There might be stuff in there that’s good. There’s some popular writing advice around concerning free writing – write whatever you like for a stipulated period of time and word count to get the creative process going, and in general to get better at writing. Like any skill, you only get better if you do it more and more. Because it is the freest form of writing I ever do, and have done for a long time, I believe there might be an interesting phrase or sentence here and there that might be good. That I could use out of context in something else.

But, I’m not emotionally prepared for the task, and I haven’t been for the past several years since I’ve been thinking of doing it. It’s not just embarrassment. Everytime I open a random unit, at a random entry, and come across a random piece of emotion – hurt, joy, anything – there goes my evening. I reminisce, because I seem to have mostly forgotten my life, and I find myself wanting to protect who I was, that vulnerable, younger person feeling that thing, and all the writerly excavating that I was doing just goes out the window.

Journal (Courtesy: Pexels)

The thing is, if I do have to suffer from post-mortem embarrassment at some point, the person reading it would not know what I thought while I was reading it. I could do a React YouTube video to my own diaries but, you know, I’m not hip enough. And if I did write about what I felt while I read them, it would be like regenerating my memories, my writing, my life.

When it’s not even my complete life. It’s just what I chose to share, to think, in those few minutes of that day. And yet, I do miss the faith I had on the system. I’m not big on talking about my feelings. I’m not really uptight about them either, I just think of unloading my sea of emotions on someone as equal to asking them for help, and I don’t like asking for help. Of course, that is exactly where the seeds of a real relationship lie, but we’re all screwed up in our own ways. You may not lie, but you may not always tell the complete truth, or feel, like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, that everyone can handle the truth. Especially, when you certainly can’t.

Even if I’d rather have an appointment with my dentist than read my own diary, I would like to restore the faith I had in writing one. If anything, it certainly helped my craftsmanship. With my writing, the element that is strongest is my own, authorial voice. Anytime someone I personally know reads a piece of mine, that’s what they talk about – the ease with which I can simply start a conversation (for ALL writing is conversation) and carry through. It is suited to the personal essay, but it works in other forms as well. Or, it distinguishes them.

Also, writing longhand is just good for you, period. I struggle so much with spellings and handwriting and grammar these days. I was always good with two out of the three (I was a steady D, sometimes C, with handwriting at school), but always typing has severely affected how I think about things. Previously, I could just brainstorm with pen and paper, looking up stuff after I’ve come up with something substantial. And now, I stop and start and google and stop and start and …, you know the deal. If not for my feelings, then for my intellect I need to be writing longhand again. I’m certainly NEVER writing an online, or even offline computer diary because I don’t want to be entertaining some employee of Mark Zuckerberg with my laughable but private foibles.

Do you write a diary? How do you store old diaries? Did you know people buy random old diaries off ebay for ridiculous prices?


Writer, Blogger, Kate Bush Fanatic

55 thoughts on “Of (Not) Writing A Diary

    1. Yeah, they do! I think it was a Buzzfeed video that I saw. And the diaries they bought weren’t written by celebrities, or had salacious things in them. But they sure paid a LOT.

    1. I realized this myself quite recently. I had to fill in a job application in longhand. I was on the verge of crying, because my handwriting was so bad, and I was shaky with a couple of spellings (which would be auto corrected on typing). Writing long hand is also a skill, using completely different brain muscles from typing.

  1. I have kept a diary for about 35 years. They are all in a rubbermaid container in the basement. Recently I was looking for a letter from an old friend and I started reading the old diaries. OMG I was such a shallow little twit. I thought I had real problems back then. I too would die again if anyone read them after my death. I’m holding on to them in case I lose my memory when I am old. They may entertain me.

    1. Ha ha, that’s one use for them! I wish I could hope for that with mine, but they’re thoroughly humourless! Problems always are “real” at the time, aren’t they? My life’s been so full of ironies, even the phases that I want to be accepting of have had weird twists in the future. They’re mostly what my life could have been, and I feel sometimes the memory of those dreams are more important than what actually happened.
      Thank you for sharing! Your comment was entertaining as well!

  2. I have a bunch of those unfinished things. My FIL kept journals every year. Most of the time they are boring. Sometimes it is interesting. Mine….eye rolling! I used to journal on my laptop. Then, I started blogging and realised most of what I would have said was in the blog! Crazy.

    1. And that’s what gives your blog such a personal touch! Hey, if you can share it in an interesting way with the world, why not? The best writing comes from vulnerability.
      Hope you’re well, Kris.

  3. I only do a diary entry at the end of each year, summing up what was good and bad about that year and my hopes for the upcoming year. A daily diary is just too much confronting of my feelings, I’ll opt for Netflix as well!

    1. I think it is healthy to think about yourself some of the time. It helps to write down about your life. We plan and prep and reflect so much on our work, but we don’t put much thought into the people in our lives or ourselves. We just go on. I’m not saying this sort of reflecting has to be a compulsion, like a daily diary, but I think there is an ease and clarity in communicating that, even to yourself. Once a year sounds just fine for that.😀

  4. I wrote a diary in high school during a really rough patch of my life. It ended up not being a very helpful method of overcoming for me because every time I would open it, it would be a reminder of all of the negativity I thought and experienced thus far. It is now locked up somewhere and I hate finding it because opening it just takes me back to those memories like they happened just yesterday. People say when you truly get over something, you can have a neutral emotion to them and observe from a more eivenkeeled position – that is total bull, based on my personal experience. I am very happy in my life and part of my getting here was learning to feel the pain and move on from it. It doesn’t mean when returning to it that it doesn’t feel fresh. — I also wrote a diary during a summer adventure of my time hitchhiking Alaska. This journal is filled with magic and whenever I read it, I feel like I can’t event recognize that person. This is a bittersweet emotion because although I have grown and experienced far more greater experiences in my life, when I read this journal, I feel melancholy of how fearless I was and ignorant to the dangers of the world. I am so aware now, because experience does that, but I documented a time when there wasn’t a single ounce in my blood. That is special to me. I no longer diary, but I do blog and it is kind of like a public diary; still very personal and it has thankfully connected me with amazing people from all over the globe.

    1. Those are some interesting experiences. Psychologists differentiate between writing therapeutically and ruminating, where all the negative talk and self-loathing can make matters worse. I think it is a very difficult distinction to make when you’re encouraged to write to deal with painful experiences – especially when you don’t feel good at all. But, something valuable can come out of the pain – something true and honest anyway, whether the writing is artistic or not. I think there’s this innate need in some of us to record affecting experiences. Some take photographs or draw or record in some way, in the same way that we write. It may not be pleasant or even useful, but it is important.
      Thank you for sharing and commenting!

    1. Me too! I’m a bit of a stationery addict, and journals in particular are my weakness. I might share some of them in a blog post or a video! However, I don’t want to waste them in making boring to do lists. I’ve actually been thinking about writing out the interesting phrases and sentences I find in my old diaries in my prettier journals! Thank you for sharing and reading!

      1. Right? I used to just not get stationary addicts but ever since I realized pretty stationary actually does exist: my hoarder’s come out haha. That’s a great idea! And it was totally my pleasure ^^ ❤

      2. I’ve always enjoyed it (was rather proud of my pencil case collection as a kid!) but didn’t realise, like you, that so much pretty stationery existed!

  5. Aren’t diaries the most honest things in the world. Please do continue.
    I love them, they know all your dreams and secrets. Of your love and of your fears. You need them, buddy. Keep them and that is how we become amazing people.

    1. I’ve become more regular with mine since I wrote this blog post! Writing about not-writing helped in writing! I’m enjoying it again, though I still have to regain that easy trust I had in the practice. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  6. I loved your post right after reading, “I have Netflix to sort that pain”. I used to keep journals and I do occasionally refer back to them to see if I matured or digressed(or remain stagnant), I laugh at myself or cry when I read old words. But the older I get, the more I’d like to write fiction than personal facts and I find that I want to “do” more to express myself or relax or let ballads sort out my confusion. Great post!

    1. Thank you! It’s interesting that you look back and analyse. I find myself unable to do that even in the same diary, because I’m always disturbed/embarrassed by them. Fiction is the great escape, but there too, I can write about what I observe but rarely about what I experience. I know these are just personal issues and others have more of a “maturity” when it comes to dealing with them. Write what you know is the way to go with fiction after all, right? Thank you for reading and sharing!

      1. Embarrassment does happen when I look back. It is like cold reality. You are right about fiction, we should write what we know. In speculative fiction I hope to write what I wish to know😀 Oh and I have not matured much… Maybe 30% lol

  7. Ha! How relatable! My old diaries were thrown (sorry shredded) into the bin a while back! I couldn’t bear to read them, let alone anyone else!! They worked for me at the time though!

    1. Ha ha! I’m so sorry, but it’s best to let it go, rather than regret it. I tore up all my previous diaries at age 16 (I’d been writing regularly since age 13) as some sort of exercise in self-loathing. I read somewhere that many of the famous diarists, including Pepys himself, wrote in a much more coherent way. I’m embarrassed that more than the content, the writing in my diaries itself will be laughably poor! Thank you for sharing and reading!

  8. I’d never written a diary, I’d had the intention of writing one many times, especially when I’ve been travelling, but just never got round to it. Until 6 weeks ago. We were setting off on an adventure to the Outer Hebrides and I bought a large hardback sketchbook with lovely thick creamy paper, to write in. Not to type, but to write, with a pencil. To record the places we’d been, the people we met and the snippets of conversation that give a place character. I did this too because I have a tendency to forget, not just detail, but whole places and times, like sand through my fingers. The pleasure in putting soft pencil to clean paper was immense and now I have a travel journal to remind me of those days. More than that, I can marry up the photographs with my scribblings, tying images to words to create a picture. And that’s how I came to start my blog. I’m decanting my travel journal and photographs, a day or two at a time and the pleasure for me is now doubled as I relive the moments that I might have otherwise forgotten.

    1. The idea of keeping a travel journal is brilliant! I normally pack in so much into a day, that I only ever write about my travel after it has ended. However, the immediacy can inspire so much more, as I’m sure you must have experienced through your writing. However, I do have this Europe-themed journal that I’m saving to fill in on a trip sometime in the future.
      Thank you for sharing and reading!

      1. You’re welcome! I’m a bit of an amateur songwriter too, and again for me the method is good old fashioned pencil on paper. For me, there’s something lost when you type somehow.

  9. I just saw my dentist and would much prefer to read an old diary, of which I have several overflowing from bookshelves. My journal is my best confidante.

    1. Ha ha! It was a joke on my part of course, but lately I’ve found myself disinclined to do either. I don’t look at my diaries, and it’s been months since I should have gone to the dentist! Knowing myself though, I’d prefer physical to emotional pain.

  10. It so funny, and wonderful!, that I ran into this piece. I was just talking about some of these exact things on my blog. My grandmother kept a diary almost every single day of her life and I am SO GLAD they were never thrown out. It is the project my blog is based on. Her diaries are VERY different than you or I write. I am a bit older than you but we seem to both have been brought up in the same journal writing culture, so to speak.
    One part of your piece really jumped out to me. You expressed that you felt you weren’t excavating because you would get lost in reminiscing. I wonder very much if that is a part of the process as a writer of excavating. It may be scattered and uncomfortable and painful, but what an experience you are having reading them, or even choosing not to read them. I think it could all be very powerful for you as a writer. I’d like to try going back and reading mine, but I have 80 years of my grandmother’s to get through, first!
    Thanks for such a wonderful blog and I look forward to following. In fact, I would like to ask your permission to share this piece on my blog, giving all due and clear credit, of course. I have a thing on my blog called “Sunday Share.”

    1. That is incredible! To have written a diary for one’s entire life! I look forward to reading your blog and learning more about your grandmother. Please go ahead and share mine if you want to. I deeply appreciate it.
      I understand your point about how reminiscing maybe part of the excavating experience, but I find if I’m not dispassionate at times, say when I’m editing, I just cannot get the work done. I still haven’t been able to get anywhere with this excavation project, and I’m worried I’d prefer destroying them to reading them! Thank you for reading and sharing. Happy writing!

      1. Thank you for checking out my blog. I understand what you are saying about getting stuff done. DON’T THROW THEM OUT! If I have learned anything from this experience with my grandmother, it is that paper sticks around for a long time. I can still clearly read, hold, and handle 80 year old journals. There is no time limit to your project, what you might excavate!

  11. I have all my old diaries. I still write in my current diary from time to time because there are things I want a personal record of, so it goes in my diary.

    1. I think it is a good idea to be recording, in any medium of one’s liking, important events. Some take photographs or videos, but writing about it can also serve as inspiration for remembering the experience later. Thank you for sharing and reading!

  12. I keep a literary diary already since more than twenty years. I have a habit of taking notes when I’m reading a book that figures in the top 100 of the canon of world literature or when reading a nonfiction book. I don’t take notes when I’m just doing some fun reading; books from Terry Pratchett, Stephen King, etc…Sometimes I expand the resumes and comments in my literary diary with some personal experiences concerning the subject at hand. For me it’s a tool to get a handle on an ever more complicating reality.
    I’m extensively using my literary diary as a source of inspiration and documentation for my own writing.

    1. That is such a interesting idea for a diary! I started keeping a reading journal at the end of last year. I keep track of my reading with Goodreads, but I don’t always write a review, or just thoughts I’ve had on what I read. I do discuss what I’m reading in my regular diary, but not in a detailed and deliberate manner as you do. It is an excellent thing to be doing, as it makes you get more out of your reading, prolonging the experience after the book has been read. I might consider doing one myself in the future! Thank you for reading and sharing!

  13. I have kept all of my old journals too. I dont womant anyone to read them after I die but I cant seem to rid of them either. When I did read them I would tear out any page of it i wanted to save but when that become too many I quit. I think we’re I wouldn’t move them again. But guess what? I did. Good luck!

    1. I feel your pain! I thought I’d scan the pages – that way, I could destroy them and retain what they contain, without potential embarrassment. But, handwritten diaries are protected in their own way – who knows what Google might do with them, if they had them!
      I never read them back either, not even recent entries. They are installments in self-pity, but maybe if they found a sympathetic reader, they wouldn’t read as bad. Writers often aren’t the best judges of their work, after all. People too, don’t always judge themselves fairly. I just don’t want anyone who knew me to read them. Not necessarily because I may have written something about them, but because I’m a private person by nature, and so much of myself is something no one is privy to. On the other hand, I’d be slightly intrigued to know what a stranger might make of them!
      Thanks for reading and sharing!

  14. I have a whole two cabinets of old diaries. For fun, I selected sentences from various diaries as highlights I shared in blog posts. Some were funny, happy, troubling, or sad. These days I am HORRIBLE at writing frequently or at least once a week. I used to feel an obsessive need to record my thoughts and feelings for almost every day. Now it seems I only ever write if I can’t sleep and I need someplace where I can unload myself.

    And no, I did not know people buy diaries off ebay at ridiculous prices. That is weird. I mean, why would people want them?

    1. I saw a Buzzfeed video on it, and the person who had bought the diaries was being very generous with the person who had written them. Usually people want to read them for potentially scandalous stuff, but the person who bought it was actually quite sympathetic. I don’t know if people buy used old diaries all the time, but I’m not going to sell mine even if they pay me all the money in the world!
      “Unload” is a good word for it. I used to call it my place to blow the “daily steam” off. I’ve been slightly more regular since writing this blog post, but it’s nowhere near as regular as it used to be. Highlighting and sharing is actually a good idea! I scanned a “confession” I had written when I was 18 and uploaded here recently. I was happy to find something from the past which didn’t make me cringe!

  15. I have a journal/diary but I am not able to regularly write on them. I also tried mobile apps for diary for easier writing, but I think handwritten diaries/journals are better as I can feel that I am bringing life to my emotions and I can relive/revisit those days.

    1. Oh, I forgot to express in my comment above that your post is inspiring and made me go back to writing in my diary again. 🙂

    2. I’ve read in some psychology journals that writing longhand helps the brain process better than typing. Whether it is writing a personal diary or notes/to-do lists, writing by hand helps you analyse the information better. Therefore, I would totally encourage you to write in a physical journal. You don’t have to do it everyday, or at a particular time. It doesn’t have to specifically be about anything. I write more often about my opinions on the music I’ve been listening to than real life events! Just try and see whether it serves any purpose for you. If not, you can always stop.

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