“I’ve kept a diary since I was 11. It’s a way of taking stock, almost meditative, trying to make sense of stuff because life is chaotic.”– Richard E. Grant
Do you have a friend whom you can trust with all your secrets and who never reveals them to anyone except you?
Your diary is one such friend. You can write your daily observations – how you spent your day, what made you happy or sad and anything that captured your attention. You may not want to share this information with anyone, but you can record it in your personal diary. It is a place where you can be completely honest with yourself. Nobody would judge you for your thoughts, your writing or your spellings. There are topics on which you may choose to remain private.
You can also write your goals and keep track of them in your diary.
You can look back on your diary one day and have a snapshot of who you were when you started writing and who you are now. Or your grandkids might read them – like they did in “The Bridges of Madison County”. Diaries provide valuable views of the past.
The value of writing a daily diary.
“When I write, I can shake off all my cares.”– Anne Frank’s diary 5th April 1944
The most important reason for writing a diary is that it helps us build memories on paper. We can write about moments in our life that need to be remembered and documented for us to cherish at a later date.
There are incidents in our lives which could be sad, happy or painful. For example, if we are grieving the loss of a loved one, we may not feel comfortable sharing our grief with other people. Writing it down in our diary makes us feel comfortable releasing our emotions instead of keeping them bottled up inside.
If you have been keeping a handwritten diary for a long time, you can observe how your handwriting has changed over the years. Handwriting shows your psychological condition at the time of writing.
When you put your thoughts on paper, you let go of any aggression and cope better with mood swings. You can even record the physical symptoms you feel during the day. It helps to reduce anxiety and settle your nerves.
Studies have shown that diary writing is a good tool for students’ self-reflection and teachers’ feedback in academic writing.
Informal diary writing enables students to reflect on what they have learned, the process of learning, the difficulties they face in writing in the formal English language, and what helps them overcome these difficulties. Teachers can learn from student diaries about their challenges and constraints and help remove them.
A daily diary is essential as a self-care tool. It allows you to pause and reflect on yourself at the end of the day. It helps to declutter your mind, which leads to better thinking.
Research finds a new reason for keeping a diary. It shows that expressive writing reduces intrusive and avoidant thoughts about negative events and improves working memory.
According to researchers, writing about a problem for 20 minutes can yield important effects not only in terms of physical health and mental health but also in terms of cognitive abilities.
A diary is a safe, non-judgmental space to explore your thoughts and emotions.
Expressive writing helps in reducing stress and anxiety. If you cling to your problem for a long, it causes stress, but by writing it down and expressing it, you can also find a solution. In the ‘ Himalayan Happiness Project’ conducted by Clinical psychologist Dr. Vandita Dubey, she conducts scientific writing exercises based in research to help people process their emotions. Writing can instill in us a sense of peace and happiness.
One of the most significant advantages of writing a diary or a journal is that it improves our writing skills. You don’t need to have writing skills to pen down your thoughts. There is a misunderstanding among some people that you need to be a writer to write a diary or a journal. It is not valid.
As a coach, I often recommend my clients maintain a diary or journal. Those who do it experience the benefits. Psychologists and counsellors call it writing therapy.
Keeping a diary helps to improve self-awareness. Research shows that keeping a diary helps us to unlock our thoughts and emotions and cope with stress.
Keeping a diary helps us to analyse our thinking process. Maintaining a diary, the recorded information helps to evaluate our successes and failures and their cause. It also supports us in evaluating our past experiences and planning better for the future.
There is evidence that suggests that diaries are effectively used in exploring health issues among older men and women. Diaries written over long periods uncover some of the hidden aspects of their daily lives and their impact on their health histories. If the dairy is well maintained and written regularly, it can act as a record of health experiences.
Types of Diaries.
Different types of diaries serve various purposes. Since you write your daily observations, activities, experiences, etc., other diaries can be made based on what you want to record. Some of the most common dairy types include:
Gratitude Diary–you can write a list of things you are grateful for daily.
Travel Diary: Record your travel experiences in this diary.
Dream Diary–record your dreams and track their pattern over time.
Food Diary– if you are health conscious, you would like to record the daily consumption of food and drink consumed daily. This would help in providing calorie estimates.
Health Diary: You can record your health history in this diary. Major health issues can be tracked on an everyday basis.
Work Diary: You can record your professional achievements, experiences, goals and milestones.
Fitness Diary: You can record your daily workout and exercises, goals and nutrition.
Creative Writing Diary: Many writers keep a diary to record poems, stories, prompts, and ideas that would have crossed their minds.
Famous Diaries from History
Socrates once wrote that the unexamined life is not worth living; the key is to know ourselves. Socrates and Aristotle kept an account of their lives in diaries. The practice of writing diaries is thousands of years old.
Some of the treasured personal diaries are:
Samuel Pepys is the earliest diarist. According to the information available on Wikipedia, his diaries were transcribed and published in 1825. His diary was the primary source of eyewitness accounts of many significant events, such as the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of London.
Writer Virginia Woolf maintained a diary from 1918 till weeks before her death in 1944. The book ‘A writer’s Diary’ was drawn by her husband from all the personal records that she had maintained. The five-volume diary of Virginia Woolf is among the most iconic personal diaries.
Anne Frank, a Jewish girl who lived in hiding from the Nazis in the Netherlands, wrote about her life in hiding. She named this diary Kitty. She wrote this diary as if she was writing to a friend. Her diary was posthumously published ‘The Diary of a Young Girl.
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation, wrote a diary in Gujarati during the year of Indian Independence .The diary has detailed jottings by the late leader mostly in blue ink. He also sometimes wrote in pencil. He called it as his ‘experiments with truth’. The diary is a national treasure and is kept in National Archives -New Delhi for public viewing. The diary shows Mahatma Gandhi’s life and work.
Rabindranath Tagore , the Nobel prize winning poet and author kept a daily diary. He recorded his thoughts feelings and his observations of the world around him.
Legendary freedom fighter Bhagat Singh wrote a diary in jail. His diary jottings revealed him to be an avid reader , thinker and writer with a passion for poetry. He wrote four books while in jail. His diary had jottings from what he was reading, notes and poems.
Benjamin Franklin would have a diary entry twice a day. In the morning, he would ask himself, ‘what can I do well today?’ and he would write his answer to this question in his diary. At the end of the day, he would review his goals and then note how he can improve on some things he did not do well.
Nelson Mandela’s diary entries give a glimpse of the man behind one of the most inspiring and iconic figures. It provides details of his galvanizing role and rises on the world stage, the anti-apartheid struggles and his twenty-seven years in prison. This has been published in his book ‘Conversation With Myself’.
Diary writing format.
“Your Journal is like your best friend, You don’t have to pretend with it, you can be honest and write exactly how you feel.”– Bukola Ogunwale
Diary writing does not require a formal format. It can be informal or formal, depending on the writer’s creativity. The pages and entries are organized according to the date and time when it was written. This is useful when referring to events in the past. Each entry can have emotions, thoughts, activities etc., for the day, captured very informally and with first-person pronouns.
You could draw and sketch, stick pictures, photos etc., in your daily diary to make it more personalized. I have even stuck event tickets in my daily diary to remind me of the events I have attended and enjoyed.
What time of day should a diary entry be made?
Diary entries should be made every night before retiring when you can remember the day’s activities and experiences. Since it is a personal form of writing, there is no hard and fast rule for when it should be written.
Writing by hand or by computer.
Traditionally, a diary has always been written in paper journals written in pen and pencil. Diaries have now been converted to electronic form. There are private online diaries available which are password protected. Since these are password protected, they cannot be accessed by the general public.
Writing by hand has its own brain-friendly advantages. Writing with hand connects with the words and allows the brain to focus on them. It also acts as a workout for the hand. Writing by hand also helps us to remember what we have written, and memory retention is better than typing. It is therapeutic and calming. Writing by hand is considered an excellent cognitive exercise.
People sometimes find writing by hand or even writing online challenging and overwhelming. It could be because we must write endless pages of our thoughts on paper. But once we get used to it, it is a fantastic habit to develop.
Writing a diary can be a moment of relaxation.
It is gratifying to read about your best memories and the life you have lived.
Diary writing practice teaches us to be more consistent in whatever we do.
Valuable tips to start a daily diary.
Before you start to write a diary, decide if you would like to write every day without fail. If you are disciplined, choose a diary with dated pages.
If you plan to write about a specific category like a travel diary, a gratitude diary, a health diary etc., you must update these themes. Multiple diaries can be created, or you can have one diary where you can update everything.
The next step is to decide on the frequency and time you would like to make a diary entry. Some people prefer to do this before retiring for the day.
Diary entries can be short, long or detailed. When I started writing my diary, I was writing bullet points. I started writing detailed narratives only after I formed the habit of writing daily.
The best way to write a diary is to write as if you are talking to your close friend or a trusted companion. Write about what you have learned and accomplished during the day. You can write about the problems you want to fix and what’s holding you back from solving the issues. You can narrate your emotions and how you felt throughout the day. You can track your short-term and long-term goals and write about them.
Your personal diary is a judgement-free zone. So let the creative juices flow and write freely. You can express yourself about your emotions and feelings and vent out anger without worrying about perfection. Just be yourself while writing.
How do diaries and journal differ?
The words diary and journal are used interchangeably. A diary can help record specific events or happenings of a specific day. It can be your moods , emotions or feelings for the day.
Diary writing is more factual and descriptive whereas journal entries are reflective and introspective. One can express deeper thoughts and feelings while journaling.
Frankly there is no right or wrong in this debate. Be it writing a diary or a journal , whichever format you choose should help you to organize your thoughts and help you feel more balanced.
Diaries are often kept private but you can share your journal entries with your therapist or a close friend.
“Both diary writing and journaling are expressive writing and have therapeutic benefits” Says Dr. Vandita Dubey the clinical psychologist who leads the Himalayan Happiness Project. “Even if you journal 4 to 5 days in a row for 20 minutes each day, those 20 minutes give time to consciously process what has been written. You can reflect on it , on any obstacles or new perspectives and thoughts. This can help in problem solving.”
“Whether you’re keeping a journal or writing as a meditation, it’s the same thing. What’s important is you’re having a relationship with your mind.”– Natalie Goldberg
Keeping a daily diary is a good solution if you love pouring your heart and feeling into it.
You can get better clarity on your thoughts and emotions, and your mental health will improve.
Daily diary writing is a good habit.
“One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer.”– Franz Kafka