Notes on keeping a diary for 2017
Our memories are objectively terrible. They’re functional for the society we’ve built sure – but when you think about how much we experience in our lives compared with how much we can actively recall it is, frankly, terrifying.
So this year I decided I’d keep a diary. Perhaps more precisely a logbook – at the end of the day, I’d write down, briefly and succinctly, what happened. I mean, really really brief, most entries took under a minute. Occasionally, I’d throw in how I felt, or how I reacted, or just some inner-monologue for good measure. There have been a few things that came about as a result of this, lazy in execution though it was, that I like. I’m going to detail them below, and how I’m going to change this process for the next year.
Increased Objectivity about the past
For an extended period this year I was, put simply, not having the best time with things. Actually writing down how I felt day by day allowed me to more objectively assess what days I had that were good or bad, and to get a sense if I was improving or not (or indeed, if a good day set me up for more good days etc).
This way I could look at February vs January and more accurately recall how I felt for the majority of those months.
Think about watching a TV show or Film where you’re engaged and entertained, up until a terrible ending. This is usually your last memory of that piece of media, and for many, this can ruin their opinion of the whole thing.
Sidestepping the debate on the importance of a good ending to the quality of a piece of media – this unfair weighting of the more recent experience is something I saw myself doing before reviewing what I had written. If the month had overall been good, but the last week had been terrible, I could easily give myself the narrative that things were, on average, still getting worse. A look at the diary gave me reasons to think otherwise. More objectivity for me meant to better insights as to what I was affected by, and what made me feel better.
When I had my lowest point, I was able to see the days that lead up to it, which also better helped me understand the whole experience, and avoid it ever happening again.
Your story matters
Hey, I know this is a truth that is repeated on Instagram and motivational internet content often but – you get one life. Your story is being written everyday, in a sense, whether you like it or not. Having a truly objective record of it is impossible – but you’ll have something like one if you create and craft it day by day.
There’s some self-importance to this process that I like. I think you have to believe that what you experience is worth writing down, that you matter. It’s self-affirming too, because you write knowing that in all likelihood it won’t be read by anyone by you. But that’s OK – it’s for you. Too much self-affirmation becomes delusion, and too much self-importance arrogance, but I think keeping a personal diary gives you a touch of these qualities in a positive sense, and not enough for them to become extreme and negative.
A self-dialogue is valuable, cringe-worthy and fun
Have you ever read through an old chat log, or looked at a piece of work, or even an old photo and thought to yourself “what was I thinking?”
You can provide your future self with an answer to this exact question through the medium of a diary!
Now I know this remark is more meant to mean “I have a sense of what I was thinking, and I don’t relate at all to it”. This is, usually, a sign that we’ve developed as people more than anything else – but a diary allows you to actively understand and track that development, and watch how that narrative might change. This is, at the most basic level to me, fun!
Even the small remarks I left myself at the end of days earlier this year I somewhat cringe at the thought of. Despite this, it’s allowed me to actually see in greater clarity the sort of self-narrative I had, and whether it’s one I wanted to continue or alter, or indeed, how it did.
Better recall of the good times
I know the exact day my friend Chris called me while I was at work, telling me he got into Oxford for his PhD. I know the suggestions that I and the two other impronauts called out the night the Impronauts and I went to see Glenda J at Edinburgh during Fringe (which set up the entire show), and everything else about those days.
By going through it all again at the end of the day, combined with a physical record, these are better solidified in my mind.
Though I must admit this is only half true. There are blank entries in my diary, especially during Fringe. I was having far, far too much fun. Which, in a totally opposite sense, I can appreciate more too because of keeping a diary.
A better sense of time
It seems universally acknowledged that time accelerates as we age – our perception is constantly shifting. This might sound stupid, but having this book actually gave me a way to mentally ‘weigh’ the length of a year. Having it contained within a set number of pages in my hands helped me comprehend the length of a year on a more intuitive level than I had previously (despite, you know, living through a few of them).
How I did it
I used a 2017 planner. In this, there was a blank space for each day, which prompted me to always write (as the more I filled in, the more glaring a blank space would be). I liked physically writing in a book. The problem with this is I have a very real space limit, and the weekends (as you can see in the photo) had to be written extremely succinctly, even though often they were the busiest times.
Some other people I know who do this simply do it freeform – they get a lined notebook, and write as much or as little as they feel like. Starting tomorrow, I plan to give this method a try.
But if you’re reading this and haven’t got a planner or notebook to start in, or indeed, if you’re reading this on a day well into the year, there’s no reason not to start! Even if you take the time to write to yourself once a week, or when the mood takes you, in a word document, or even notes on a phone, I believe it will be a good use of your time.