Does anyone keep a Journal/Diary or notebook, or has had one passed down from a family member? What kind of things are written, for what time period, and what is it's significance?
October 11, 2011 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone keep a Journal/Diary or notebook, or has had one passed down from a family member? What kind of things are written, for what time period, and what is it's significance?

I've been keeping a daily log of thoughts, events, budgets etc for about a year now. I started when I was 18 because I always liked the sentiment of the idea, and thought it was a good age to start.

I'm curious how many others keep this ritual, and what the content of it is. How often do you write? Is it personal, or a simple day runner? Have you found any benefits of keeping one?

Question doesn't have to be answered directly, just curious about people thoughts/experience with Journals/Notebooks.
posted by Snorlax to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I make very basic notes about what I did each day, along with more detailed notes about things that I think are worth remembering specifically (work I did in the garden, bird / wildlife sightings, things my son did developmentally, work-related events.) I use Moleskine's "weekly notebook", so have a blank page facing each planner page, and use that for notes / quotes from reading.

I have a lousy memory, esp. since becoming a father, and have found it helpful to have something to jog my memory / refer to RE: what happened during a specific week if I need to. I also sometimes use the notes and quotes I jot down for MeFi.
posted by ryanshepard at 1:40 PM on October 11, 2011

I do keep a journal. I've not been active about it in the last year or so, but I have a stack of books dating back about six or seven years now.

I started keeping them after a big break up as a way to sort out my thoughts and feelings about what had happened and what was happening at the moment. Around this time I started traveling a lot for work and then for pleasure. As I traveled I took my journal everywhere so that not only would it help me process my stuff, but it would also have my observations of my travels.

Whenever I'm struggling with something, whether it's good or bad I'll generally turn to my journal as a way to sort out those ideas. Have an idea for a home improvement project? it'll probably get hashed out in the journal. Can't decide on which job to take? Hashed in the journal.
posted by FlamingBore at 1:43 PM on October 11, 2011

I've kept a journal, one A4 page a day, since 1999. Flexibility seems to be the key - I've used it as a simple "this is what I did today" record (really helpful later on if you need to track down a specific date that didn't seem important at the time but later turned out to be very important - I know the precise moment when I first met my wife, for example), a place to vent when things are down (really carthartic), a place to write down interesting ideas (and sometimes I don't come back to an idea until a decade later), and a place to reflect on what's going on (I've made many an about-face because, looking back while writing it down, I realised that I should really apologize / give it more effort / cut it loose).
posted by Paragon at 1:51 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am a terrible journaler, but the most useful thing about my journal is that it is a place to reflect and prioritize without involving the internet in any way.
posted by stoneandstar at 1:59 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, man - I've been journaling since 1988. It's been everything from therapy to daily list of activities to pictures to someplace to stash loveletters to weather notations to thinky contemplations about literature. More recently more of my journaling has been online, which means there's sometimes an audience and more interaction, which means there have also been links to interesting things, etc.

There are lots of great books about journaling. If you're enjoying it, try one from the library to see if you wouldn't like to do even more.
posted by ldthomps at 2:09 PM on October 11, 2011

I have my great grandfather's journals from 1910-1911. There are very brief entries for each day of the year, one page per day, and include really basic things like how much money he spent that day (and on what), what the weather was like, and what he did at his job (rural mail delivery, tend to horses, etc.). I really like this style and would probably prefer it over his bemoaning his personal failures over and over (like my journals). I'm also a big fan of Pepys' Diary and the Red Leather Diary.
posted by mattbucher at 2:15 PM on October 11, 2011

I've kept one since I was about 9 on and off, and then in 1976 I moved to the format I still have now. 100 sheets of paper, both sides and bound when finshed. It's not day-to-day, but when inspiration would strike. (Admittedly this happened more often when I was a lot younger and thought I was a lot more unique!) Some volumes cover many more years than others. Then a few years ago when researching back for a story I wanted to write, I realized there was a lot of whining about weight, gushing about guys and in general much stream of consciousness stuff. Though that's fine, and interesting to me to look back upon, I did not get much impression of my day to day life. (What did I do all day? How much was I working? Where was I going out to?) So, starting in 2007 I also began an Excel spreadsheet for a "line-a-day" format. In some ways this has proved more useful in jogging my memory, plus I can search for the last time I went to the dentist and stuff like that. It's unlikely that anyone is ever gonna read all this egocentric crap, but I've been doing it so long I can't imagine quitting at this point!
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 2:19 PM on October 11, 2011

I've fallen off the wagon every time I've started a written diary, but I've found that I'm much better at keeping what I call a "book of days", which I just use my calendar for. If something important or memorable happens that day, I make sure I put it in my book of days. Sometimes it's something as simple as remarking on the weather or who I ran into, other days it's bigger, more important things. I've found it's interesting to keep track of it so I can look back and see where I was and what was happening in my life at a certain point. I started doing this in college (around 1998 or so) and I've been doing it ever since. It's a good tool for perspective. You can look back and see where you once were compared to where you are now.

I also keep an online blog/journal, which I tend to fill in with more detail. Every now and then, I look back on my journal entries there for many of the same reasons as my book of days.
posted by chatelaine at 2:26 PM on October 11, 2011

My grandfather kept a journal everyday for many years. We have a dozen or so hard bound composition books. His handwriting was immaculate. Each entry is minimal. He touches on the weather almost everyday and whatever he did in the garden or yard. Often he writes of helping a neighbor with a chore, visiting a friend, or receiving a gift. Something I find interesting is that he almost never mentions my grandmother or my mom, and the entries that do mention them are very impersonal, along the lines of "Mrs Carmichael visited Marion (my grandma) today and brought with her 2 dozen cherry tomatoes from her garden."
posted by dchrssyr at 2:27 PM on October 11, 2011

My mother kept some basic journals for a couple of years. They're essentially agendas (a week on two pages), and she wrote notes, often not even full sentences, about what she was doing or thinking about, worrying about, etc. I got these after she died, and it was a really wonderful gift and way to get to know her a little better.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:32 PM on October 11, 2011

i write in a journal that is basically a thought for each day and the best part is this journal was created to last for five years with a thought for each year. i also write in a notepad on my computer if i need more space.

the content of my journal entries and thoughts vary, but it is almost always a discussion of how i felt. however, i rarely consciously think about anything when i write in my journal and let my fingers do the typing or writing instead. i write in the thought a day journal once every day and have started doing this since the beginning of october which is when i purchased that journal. the things that are on my computer are more personal than the thought per day because there is more information that i have delved into. i have disassociated for three years (according to my therapist) and so, writing in my journal is a way for me to keep track of my feelings because i have a terrible memory. it's also beneficial to have the thought a day journal because it will be from the age of 20/21-25/26 so i can record a very important part of my life in one notebook with very limited clutter (not more than one notebook for those five years).
posted by sincerely-s at 2:43 PM on October 11, 2011

when my grandmother died I inherited her journals ( I was eight) and they were full of her time at school, with details about what she had to wear and recipes she made in class. My parents are from India, as was my grandmother, but my grandmother was part English and went to English school and learned all about how to be an English girl in 1920s Bombay, so those journals are amazingly wonderful to me, as well as a piece of history.
posted by sweetkid at 3:00 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I keep a bunch of different journals:
- a "diary" of personal thoughts/musings/accounts of my week, on and off since i was 6.
- a journal of all the books I read (mainly to prevent reading the same book twice unintentionally, since my memory is bad). Been doing this for over 20 years.
- a journal of all the films I watch. Been doing this for about 15 years.
- a work journal, where I keep customer comments, to-do lists, etc.
- a notebook for art/craft projects, completed and planned

I also have a day runner where, in addition to appointments, I list all the places I go, people I hung out with on that day, restaurants I ate at, etc.

Apart from the diary, these are mostly just memory aids and places to store ideas.
posted by medeine at 3:06 PM on October 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a terrible journaller, and I don't follow my own advice,
but I got to read the translated journal of my 130years-great-granfather.

Someone printed some copies as a small family thing? But actually, I think it could have gotten a bigger audience. It was really interesting to read! And I can't get hold of a damn copy.

And, well yes, it all seemed a lot more interesting than my life, e.g. all about going to Australia, not knowing what koalas were (that or possums) and shaking them out of trees (and eating them? Ok, it was 130 years ago), getting caught in basically indentured servitude on an outback farm (sounded like a really, really bad WWOOFing placement), getting caught in a huge really bushfire, nearly dying, then nearly dying of dehydration, then being rescued by aborigines in exchange for the whisky they had on them (along with little facts like, it's illegal to give whisky to aborigines), ending up back in civilisation and scraping together the money to get a suit to get a job as a waiter (I can really empathise with those jobs!), giving up on hot, poisonous Australia and ending up in New Zealand, various adventures, being sent as a soldier to Parihaka, but (reading between the lines) totally falling for the Prophets daughter (and actually being a friend of the family - sorry, this is NZ history stuff). Damn, it was interesting.

There was a lot of dubious stuff (like, being on the wrong side of the parihaka war, and taking a lot of dick-move soldiering for granted), and a product of his times ala racism etc, but fortunately it was readable as he was clearly massively *less* racist & sexist than his time.
In New Zealand, the only bit that was odd was how he kept explaining that the Maori were *actually* quite smart, handsome, and no really, could be more civilised than many white people he'd met. And no really, having the hots for, and later marrying one of, smart confident educated Maori girls who were better horse riders than he was, saved a lot of esteem I might not otherwise have had for him. He seemed like he'd be doing well by today's standards.
Uh, think I wandered off topic there.

But, even without the whole frontier lands, wars and historical stuff going on, I could see someone writing an awesome journal like that today. He reminded me of a lot of my mid-twenties male friends. The main thing was that he was clearly writing the journal for the folks back home - like a letter, but letters would be too expensive. Though that meant occasionally I think things were bowdlerized (no really, what DID happen with that Maori girl with the flashing eyes, who was the best horse-rider you'd ever met? Hmmm?).
I just googled, and it has been used for historical research because of that.

But yeah, for a journal that will be interesting to you years from now, or family, write it like you're writing to someone else, but in a kind of tell-all way. Also, he was in two foreign lands, so it had a kind of travel diary/anthropological feel, because he didn't assume the people reading this would know anything about the topic - so, he wrote about the appearance of buildings, the food eaten, and the occasional price of things, that really gives it context. So I guess the advice for a 'historical' journal, would be write a tell-all for someone living in a different country, exposed to a different pop-culture, so you don't miss all the current cultural things you're taking for granted.

Unfortunately, I just don't enjoy writing much, so I seem to talk myself out of writing the interesting anecdotes of my week, because I know up front I'll have to write lots. Even though I sometimes end up writing just as much, but in waffly twaddle. Oh well.
posted by Elysum at 3:14 PM on October 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've kept a paper journal since I was wee (although there's been some off years here and there). Typically I write about things I did that day, any interesting events or conversations, dreams, etc.

If you want some inspiration, there's always Embodiment at LJ, which is all about paper journals. I'm a member there and post monthly, but my posts are locked to friends only.

I keep a few journals. I have my normal everyday one (on paper), I have one for Wicca (mostly divination shares), and for a while I had one that was for my dance things too. I also have a weightlifting log.

The biggest benefit is that I notice patterns (such as always feeling super tired after eating massive amounts of noodles) and can see how things have gotten better (or worse) over time.
posted by sperose at 3:14 PM on October 11, 2011

I started at about age 17 and have kept it up sporadically. Mostly it was good for hashing out tricky emotional questions with myself: what to do about a romance that was failing, how to deal with uncomfortable job situations, etc. These days, I have much less angst, so there is much less to write about.

My mother has one that belonged to my great-grandmother (1883-1980) which is barren of emotions but offers striking insight into her day-to-day activities in, say, 1931. She was widowed young with five daughters to raise, so she had to keep track of things pretty closely, so there are notes on expenditures, reminders to alter a dress for Ruthie, grocery lists, notes on the weather, and so forth.

I should actually burn mine, lest my great-grandchildren have to read about my adolescent dramas.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:45 PM on October 11, 2011

I've kept journals since childhood, initially because I didn't remember much in the way of life events (this was disturbing to me), needed some avenue of expression, and was of a poetic bent. Through my early 20s, it was a record of events, personal thoughts and feelings, and poetry/snippets. I've considered burning these journals. Skimming them makes me cringe. A few are currently buried in somewhere in the garage.

My journaling these days is less frequent. It's for problem-solving and externalizing, and is purely functional. It helps me work through obstacles and negative thought patterns. When I read back through these journals, I find them useful.

I recently started a new blog, which serves as a third type of journal. Its focus is mainly on external things. It's a record of beautiful things I see around me: art, poetry, music, writing, architecture, and other random bits I run across in my life or online.

I expect that one day, I'll return to Writing, and that I'll make a fourth type of journal that won't be nearly as painful to return to as the first.


I have ancestors who participated in historically significant events. Their journals are fascinating to read, and have been an important source of information for historians.
posted by moira at 9:44 PM on October 11, 2011

Wow; chatelaine; the title of the Excel spreadsheet I refer to above your post is also "book of days"!
posted by Wylie Kyoto at 6:47 AM on October 12, 2011

My dad keeps a pretty much minute-by-minute log of every day. Has done since about 1961. He was a politician for a long time and has had an interesting life, so I'm sure it's historically significant. He even records his daily stock trades!
posted by klanawa at 10:11 AM on October 12, 2011

I've kept a diary/journal since I was 6 years old. Several boxes full of notebooks from my teens (before I left the US for France as an exchange student), and now a shelf full of notebooks since then. They're a mix of things; as other posters have mentioned, flexibility is nice. I write in it because I want to, and so will write whatever comes to mind, whether it's more mundane events or something I found touching. As a kid, I mainly wrote about my friends, and really wish I had those journals (they're kept hostage by my family...), because I adored re-reading them and rememorating something X had said, a silly thing Y had done, a kind gesture from Z, and so forth. I still do write about friends, but also my cat, job and home. (Yes. I journal about my cat. Not loads, but stuff like "My silly cat is swatting at my pen as I write this journal. The wiggly lines are thanks to him. Soon he'll start kneading my stomach and lay his head on my hand.")

I had a pretty unkind (abusive) family growing up, so journaling has given a sense of stability and anchorage that I think I'd miss otherwise.

As for other journals, the only journal-like thing I have is a Norwegian songbook from my great-grandmother, who shares my name. She wrote a few things in it, and it's so neat to have it.
posted by fraula at 10:14 AM on October 12, 2011

Something exactly on this subject by the poet Charles Simic just popped up on the NYRB blog.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 10:47 AM on October 12, 2011

I have kept some form of journal since I was a child in the 1960s. There have been gaps, but I've been pretty consistent. Besides chronicling daily events, it's also provided a forum for me to "work things out" by writing - emotional problems, difficult situations, etc., and tons and tons of rants and vents.

These were kept on paper until the 90s. Now they are electronic. I am now with a person who is resentful and suspicious of the content of these. I have switched to a two-level process: an open unpassword-protected and emotionless chronicle of the day's events; and a private password protected and deeply buried document where I record everything else. Works well for me.

Overall the journals have been excellent for answering questions about family history (i.e. what year did we go to Expo; when did the first dog die, etc.), and I am turned to as a resource when those kinds of questions come up.

But mainly they keep me sane and I wouldn't know what to do without them.
posted by reacheround at 1:38 PM on October 12, 2011

> What kind of things are written, for what time period, and what is it's significance?

From my grandfather's diary, typed up by my mother:

[first page]

Burma Glasgow.

July - 1918

5 Left camp devens
6 Boarded ship at Mont.
7 on St. Lawrence R
8 Stormy
9 rough seasick
10 Landed in Harbor of Hal
11 Left harbor, Halifax
12 at sea
13 at sea
14 at sea
15 at sea quite rough
16 rough shot at sub
17 at sea (32 shots)
18 at see [stet]
19 at sea [corrected from see] met destroyers (12)
20 at sea
21 at sea
22 Sailing up R. Thames
23 Landed at London
24 Rest camp Winchester
25 saw sights at Win
26 Moved to South Hampton
27 Landed in Havre
28 Left rest camps Havre
29 Spent day on the train
30 Arrived in Bruere
arrived to Meillant

[second page]

Meillant (cher) R O - 773

31 day of rest
1 Drill
2 "
3 inspection with Rif
4 Church
5 Drill
6 "
7 "
8 "
9 "
10 "
11 "
12 "
13 "
14 "
15 Worked in Blacksmith
16 "
17 "
18 "
19 "
20 "
21 "
Untill [stet] Nov. 2.

[third page]

Montrichar [stet] RO 727

9. 3:30 left
Meillant. (Cher)
9. 10:15 P.M. Arrived rest sole night
St. Aignan (Noyers)
stayed over night
10. 9:50 A.M. left for
Arrived at 4:53 P.M.
18 miles hike
11 day of rest
12 Drill
13 P.O. 727
14 41st Div 163rd Inf
15 Provisional. Bta
16 "
28 Moved to Bourre
at P.M. 2:45. Attached
to Co. J[?] 163rd Inf.
Jan. 1919
2 Trasvered [stet] to
M.G. Co 163rd Inf.
3 Regimental Res [rest of word illegible]
4 " Revesu [ or Reveser?]
5 6 months in France
17 Transfered to
Pont Levoy

[fourth page]

161st Sup. Co.
20 Left Boure 12:45 A.M.
27 Arrived at Brest
hiked down camps
5 miles hike. 11:25 P.M.
31 Reviwed [stet] by Gen. Pershing
and Deloused. 11:45 P.M.
1 Stayed at Camp.
since Jan 28. up to
6 of Feb.
6 Boarded ship at
Brest at 9:25 P.M.
7 Left harbor at 9:15 A,M.
19 7:40 Arrived
Hoboken N.J. lock 41
passed statue of
Liberty 4:05 P.M.

I keep a line a day diary myself, keeping in mind that it could be read by my grandchildren. It's just a sentence or two about the most important events of my day -- like my grandfather's but with fewer torpedos and delousings.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:17 PM on October 14, 2011

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