A 10 Year Old Girl With a Padlocked Diary

iStock_000006933509XSmallWhen I was young, say around 10, I used to keep a diary. It had a pink and green cover with a padlock on the side so I could keep out all who wanted to prise open its covers and read the eloquent truths hidden within. Those eloquent truths, if memory serves me, comprised things like: We had an ice-cream today (huge highlight!), I watched Are You Being Served on the television (I vividly remember having to watch British comedies as we only had one telly, so whatever my parents were watching, I did too, or else I read a book), and Jodie was mean to me at school today, a reasonably frequent observation. I gave each day a rating and the scale was: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Bad and Terrible. I seem to remember that most days fell in the Good range, with weekends usually reaching the dizzy heights of a Very Good or, occasionally, an Excellent.

I’m not sure why I gave up writing in that diary; I’m pretty sure I didn’t run out of pages. I suddenly felt no need to record the minutiae of my days and, besides occasional travel diaries, I haven’t been in the habit of diarising since then (not enough bad British comedy on telly to inspire me, perhaps!)

But, about a month ago, I started again. I’ve ditched the daily rating scale, done away with the TV updates (I don’t watch TV now anyway) and taken a more Didion-esque approach to my daily jottings. In Joan Didion’s essay, On Keeping a Notebook, she talks about the impulse to keep a notebook as being akin to wanting to record, “How it felt to me.” Not how it was, exactly, but the impression it left on oneself. Which is an important distinction.

Didion also says, of keeping a notebook:

“Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.”

I like this idea, that a diary is somehow a way of keeping intact all the former selves that we might shed as we march on through life. I remember very little of the British comedy watching ten year old who wanted to be friends with a girl who was mean to her, because I didn’t keep the diary; as my mother will tell you, I’m a purger, not a hoarder and this does come back to bite me at times.

The reason I’ve restarted a diarising habit is because the excellent Brain Pickings website put me on to a book called, rather self-importantly, Maximise Your Potential: Grow Your Expertise, Take Bold Risks and Build an Incredible Career. Don’t be put off by the title. This book has an excellent section on the importance of diarising for creative people; in fact a disproportionate number of creative people keep diaries. What grabbed my interest was this:

“one of the most important reasons to keep a diary: it can make you more aware of your own progress, thus becoming a wellspring of joy in your day.”

Put simply, the act of noting down what happens in your day means that you don’t just make progress on your book or your project or your plans; you know and you celebrate this progress. Doing this consistently makes you happier and more engaged in your work and being happier and more engaged means you have more ideas, more momentum, more aha! moments. All of which are so important to a writer. It’s also made me stop and really reflect on all the small things that happen, like somebody from one of my UWA Extension courses taking the trouble to buy my books, and seeing that as something to be really thankful for.

Maximise Your Potential also recommends that you read over your diary regularly, once a month or, at the very least, once a year. Doing this helps you to see patterns, both useful and not so useful, and survey what you’ve achieved and become in that time. Which ties back beautifully to Didion’s point about remembering what it is to be you. But also, I think, seeing yourself take shape and change and become something different to what you were at the start of the year, based on what you’ve done and achieved, is a lovely way to find joy and to savour, not just who you were, but how you became what you are now.

Any other diary enthusiasts out there? What kinds of things do you record? Is it a habit that has waxed and waned in your life or are you more regular?

18 comments

  1. I kept a diary from the age of 17 until about 32 – religiously wrote everything in it. All my deepest darkests, took it travelling/overseas to live. I have a stack of them all in an old suitcase, the number of volumes got into the 30s but not as far as the 40s. It stopped pretty much when my daughter was born, so a gap of sorts between ’96 and 2005 which is when I started blogging. Anon/personal blog from June 2005 until now – I count that as a diary of sorts. I always thought writing a diary was so that I’d remember detail – or record it – thinking I had a bad memory. I know now though that my memory is fine, better than many other people’s and so what I was really doing was something similar to what Didion referred to: I was observing myself living my life and in recording it, working out how I felt about my life and other people. And myself. And recording lots of details, the stuff which gets lost with time.

    • I think it’s fantastic that you still have all those diaries. I really do wish I’d kept mine, no matter how amateurish it was. And yes, you’re right, blogging is a form of diarising – I hadn’t really thought about my blog in that way before but it really is. I love Didion’s ideas; she also says in that essay that diarising is probably one of the only things we do that is all about ourselves rather than other people and that is another reason to treasure the habit.

  2. marlish glorie

    Yes! I’ve been diarising for decades. Every single morning, without fail, I write in my diary. It is, I guess without realising it a way of knowing myself, but also importantly for me, I consider myself to be a time-accountant i.e. what have I’ve being doing with my time. There’s certainly a great deal of repetition, which is hardly surprising, given that I’ve been running a household for years. But more importantly, or disturbingly, is that my thoughts are, at times too negative and repetitive! Gotta write down the wins more often, not only for my sake but for the sake of my children who I suspect will be flipping through my diaries, or not, when I drop off my perch.

    • Hi Marlish – one of the things I’ve really been focussing on is all the small but actually pretty nice things that happen to me, that I might otherwise overlook or not take the time to notice. I think it’s generally made me more aware of all the small but nice things that do happen. It’s been a deliberate practise to try to get out of the aura of doom and gloom that sometimes seems to circle around publishing. Of course I do still have days where the small but nice seems non-existent and the negative stuff gets a special mention!

  3. I’ve kept a journal ever since I can remember. I have several of them and write when the mood strikes. I love it.

  4. I was only yesterday that I was looking through the beautiful diaries available to buy nowadays and considering one to start in the New Year.
    Like you I am more of a purger than a hoarder, however I don’t strictly fall into either category. I do hoard, but only one thing. My writings. I never throw away anything that I have written. Be it a diary from my childhood, a poem, lyrics on scraps of paper, old school English assignments, old newspaper columns and letters from friends about days long forgotten. It has been some time since I opened the Pandora’s box of memories but your blog has made me want to go back and rediscover the old me. Only recently I boxed up all my old school-aged diaries and put them out in the shed. What I remember about them as I flicked through each one before packing it into the box was one amusing and consistent feature. They ALL end in March. Obviously March is the month that I lose interest in writing or perhaps nothing noteworthy occurred around then. New Years has past, school holidays had ended along with Valentines Day and my hopes of true love. Another feature that made me laugh out loud was how focused I was on food. I made note of every meal, every day. ‘Last night we had beef kebabs with ratatouille. It was yum.’ (I am laughing out loud just remembering this.)
    Nothing has changed, I still start a diary every year and without fail by March, I have given up. My mother on the other hand is a fantastic diary keeper. She writes about her days events, draws sketches on the pages and glues articles from newspapers and magazines that have taken her interest on that day. No doubt myself and my children will find them a wonderful keepsake in years to come.
    I love my diaries but really wish I had not left everything after March such a mystery!

    • I think its hilarious that all of your diaries stopped in March, that you were so consistently unable to get past that month – beware the Ides of March! I love the sound of your mum’s diaries – they will be wonderful to have as the years pass by. Thanks for stopping by my blog too.

  5. marlish glorie

    Hi Natasha, many thanks for this terrific blog. And yes, sadly, hanging out in the world of publishing really brings out inner doom and gloom in me. In fact, I’ve taken to thinking – why write when I can be happy! -so time to focus on the positives of writing! like subscribing to this wonderful blog.

    • I did have a giggle at “why write when I can be happy” – it does feel like that sometimes, doesn’t it?! And thank you for always being such a big supporter of me and everything I do – I don’t think I’d still be sane if it wasn’t for people like you.

  6. Louise Allan

    I started countless diaries as a teenager, but only made a few entries in each before giving it up. My sister kept one that my mother found and read, and I never kept an ‘honest’ diary after that. I kept one and wrote in it nightly while backpacking around Europe in 1989/1990 — I’d love to know where it is now and remind myself what I got up to. Then again, maybe I don’t need to be reminded of that. I do remember that we sampled a lot of local wines …

    Last year, I started journalling, sometimes on computer, sometimes on paper. I started the year with good intentions, but they dwindled as the year progressed. I started again this year, and the same thing happened … I wish I could be more disciplined about it.

    Your post has come at a good time to remind me that I must find a spot in my day for journalling. It’s such a good tool for writers for so many reasons — sometimes it is only by writing that we discover what we really think, as Flannery O’Connor said. It’s also a great source of blog posts!

    • It would be such a temptation, I think, as a mother, to read your child’s diary but I don’t think I would ever forgive myself if I did. Although ask me again when the kids are teenagers!

      You’re exactly right; it’s a matter of finding a regular spot in the day to write in the diary – there are always so many other more “important” things to do. Some days I don’t prioritise it and it doesn’t get done. Good luck with 2014; I hope you find your diary-writing mojo!

  7. I have always kept a diary, albeit very intermittently, over the years (with huge gaps). Like so many others I start off well and then get busy and the diary / journal keeping falls by the wayside. And funny – I notice I often wrote the diary entries in the third person, just in case anybody found it and read it, they wouldn’t think it was about me – it was just stories I’d written!
    Like Louise, I need to be more disciplined with my writing in general.

    • I like the idea of writing in the third person, Ingrid, and of really seeing your life as a story. I wonder if it gives you the emotional distance we all sometimes need from the things going on in our lives, to really see them as they are, rather than as we assume them to be. Good luck with the diary keeping in 2014 and thanks for dropping by!

  8. Dianne Touchell

    I was a prolific diarist as a child into my 30’s. One day I re-read those diaries and it made me incredibly sad, and angry. I found the introspection obsessive and hobbling. That in itself made me sad and angry. I think I need the softening of distance and selective memory to accept and cope with previous experience. Reading it as I felt at the time of writing it was too harrowing. I also got to a point where diary writing bored me to tears. I’d rather leave a diary on the person in front of me at the time and then move away with as much grace as possible. I am reminded of the criticism Ted Hughes received when he admitted to destroying many of Sylvia Plath’s diaries. He said he didn’t want her children to have to read them. I always understood what he meant.

    • Hi Dianne, thanks for sharing your thoughts about diary keeping. I suppose the way a diary might affect us upon re-reading depends very much on the kinds of things that we choose to write down at the time. I can certainly see that, for certain experiences, re-reading would be almost a kind of re-living and that would be, as you say, harrowing. My diary is more of a self-motivating tool; I am using it to make sure I take a moment to reflect on all the small but wonderful things that happen that I might otherwise overlook, and to record my plans and progress – of which there is very little in the month of December!

  9. I’ve started a diary of sorts this year, sparked by this blog. I’m going to try a scrapbook/journal style approach. I’m determined to get past March this time. Determined! I hope you had a fabulous Christmas and New Year. 🙂

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