Do you write a journal or diary? For some, it’s a natural part of their daily routine. For others, it’s an ongoing struggle or a failed project. Or maybe you’ve never even thought of it. But perhaps you should…
When I was just seventeen I had a girlfriend who wrote a daily diary of her life. I never got to read it: she kept it secret (but I hoped she had written at least some nice things about me). What astonished me most of all was not that she wrote every single day, but that she had been writing her journal since being a very little girl – and she had a whole stack of them. Imagine having an unbroken daily record of your life from childhood! She had an ambition to be a journalist and went on to be a highly successful reporter and newsreader for a major world news channel. I moved on to college and we lost touch, but over the years I have occasionally seen her reporting on TV and wondered if she still writes a journal. I bet she does. (Incidentally, I don’t watch much TV: here’s why, if you’re interested.)
Journal or diary
So is there a difference between a journal and a diary? I wondered if it was a UK/US distinction, but when I did some research, apparently that’s not the whole story. The differences seem to be:
- A diary is usually a record of personal experiences. A journal can be this, but is also a wider term that can include, for example, published technical journals.
- A diary often infers something more private or secret.
- It has been said that “girls write diaries, boys write journals”.
- In the UK we sometimes use the word “diary” to mean our calendar (appointment book)
So, “diary” and “journal” can have the same specific meaning, but each can have other meanings too.
I feel happier referring to my own daily writings as my “journal” rather than my “diary”. As an Englishman I still think of Google Calendar as my “diary”.
What would I find to write about?
If you keep a journal, the content is entirely up to you, but here are some ideas:
- details of day-to-life
- personal thoughts, feelings and responses
- dreams, ambitions and goals
- a record of books read
- details of your travels
- weight loss facts, figures and feelings
- entrepreneurial goal-setting and achieving
- experiences of school or college life
- record of a weight loss journey
- pet stories
- record of pregnancy
- stream-of-consciousness (just write and see)
…or pretty much anything else you can think of.
One thing I have discovered about keeping a journal is that there is always something to write about!
My journal is fairly straightforward and, I suspect, extremely dull. I simply record what I recall from the day before: places I visited, tasks I got finished, people I met, new ideas I had. It’s probably of no interest whatsoever to anyone but me.
Each day before breakfast, as part of my Morning Ritual, I clear a space on my standing desk and take out an A4 lined Campus Notebook and my favourite pen (a Uniball Eye UB-157 with black ink). Starting with the day and date, I begin to write and continue until I have filled the page. Then I remove the page (perforated) and scan it into Evernote. Finally, I file the page in a 100-page display book, which makes my journal easy to read through later. Having a copy in Evernote (backed up to my Dropbox) means I don’t have to worry about it ever being lost, stolen or destroyed.
Why write a journal?
I guess people keep journals for all sorts of reasons. Perhaps you are creating a “time-machine” to refer back to details of your past or pass on wisdom into the future. Getting things down on paper often helps to make them more real, or helps reduce their negative effect on you. Or maybe it’s more simple: you just want to write. There’s nothing wrong (and plenty right) with that.
My journal has become an important part of my Morning Ritual. I look forward to my writing time with excitement and anticipation. From the space I clear on my desk, the careful removal of yesterdays scrap-margin from the notebook, the selection of the same pen, through the movement of the pen across the page and on to the scanning and filing at the end, it has become a ritual all of its own. The content may often be mundane but the experience of writing is always pleasant: I find externalising and recording some of my main thoughts, ideas and feelings to be a very therapeutic process. The fact that I am writing by hand is a pleasant contrast to my usual word-processed writing. It feels so much more organic, natural and personal.
I have several months’ writing under my belt so far and I am already enjoying reading back through my older journal entries and seeing how my ideas change and develop over time. This hindsight is wonderful: I’m learning that issues I previously considered very important or significant were actually neither. Gaining a fuller perspective on your past in order to take a more balanced approach to your present: what better Self-Improvement could there be?
If you’ve never tried writing a journal, start now. It’s never too late: my newsreader friend started as soon as she learnt to write; I waited until I was 50. Write on paper, on your computer or tablet, in an app on your phone or wherever you like. (Not the walls. Don’t write on the walls.) Commit to a month of writing and see how you do…
If you’ve tried writing a journal before and given up, give some thought to restarting. Do you still have your old journal? Have a read: you might discover something important!
Do you write a diary or journal? Why do you do it? Do you find it easy? What are your biggest challenges? What has it taught you? Please let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you.
To our continuing Self-Improvement and success!
The Self-Improvement Guy