When 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?