Image Credit: United International Pictures , 2001
In a recent feature, Muse spoke to York finalists and graduates about the greatest disappointments from their time at university. A frequent regret amongst the ex-undergrads spoken to was how they wished they’d kept a journal or diary so that they could better remember their time at York and look back on it in the future.
Diary, journal, whatever you want to call it; writing regularly with no other purpose but to get your thoughts down on paper perhaps feels more like a school project than a student pastime. But with many of us suddenly now finding ourselves with a lot of extra time on our hands and living though what will undoubtedly one day form a significant chapter in our children’s history books, recording our day to day experiences is starting to seem like a good idea.
Not only do diary entries form a crucial element of historical archives but recording our thoughts is as important for our individual wellbeing as it is for our collective memory. Research from the University of Rochester Medical Centre has found that by helping us to organise our thoughts and prioritise problems, fears and concerns, keeping a diary can help people to manage anxiety, reduce stress and cope with low mood.
In this time of increased social isolation, greater health concerns and uncertainty over the future, keeping a diary could be for some a useful tool for coping with their emotions. With the improvement to mental wellbeing often in turn reaping physical health benefits and strengthening our immune systems too.
So, if you’re bored at home this isolation period, willing for something to do and the research is telling us that keeping a diary is so good for our health, why not? Well, as anyone who’s ever watched Bridget Jones and felt the afterglow of inspiration it provokes will tell you: starting a diary isn’t hard, keeping one is.
And so, as someone who has kept a diary for coming up for three years now, here’s my completely unsolicited advice for how to start a journal and stick at it.
- You don’t have to write what you did that day
Of course, you can if you want to. But generally writing out a little story about what you did that day is pretty boring stuff. Instead just write whatever words come in to your head, it doesn’t need to flow like a narrative, it doesn’t even need to be in full sentences. If I read back through my diary I don’t think I’d find much information about what I did on any given day, instead there’d be a lot of quotes from whatever books I was reading at the time, random thoughts I had that day, conversations I had and if I’ve been sat in a café (which let’s face it if the day had a ‘y’ in it I will have done) my thoughts on the conversations I shamelessly overheard there.
- Write as if no one’s reading (especially yourself)
Following on nicely from our last point, the reason you don’t need to write out a list of what you did each day is because the only reason you’d write is if you have future you in mind. And while it might be interesting for future you to read back through what you did during uni, forget about future you. Let’s hope that they’ll have more exciting things to do than read back through old diaries. If you give up the idea of having to write with the idea of someone reading it in mind (even if that person is you) it takes so much pressure off – you can make mistakes, scribble things out, you can write things you probably won’t agree with the next day but it doesn’t matter - no one’s reading.
- It doesn’t matter what it looks like.
Instagram will try to have you believing otherwise but (and I cannot stress this enough) no one, not a single soul cares what your diary or journal looks like. As soon as you start placing pressure on yourself to make it neat and pretty, you’ll stop writing. Unless of course, you’re one of the fortunate out there who has enviably neat handwriting 24/7 and can’t help but always have a well thought out design idea on hand, in which case all power to you. But if you’re a mere mortal like me, your journal will look an absolute state by day three. And that’s because the times when you’re going to feel most like writing are unlikely to be the times most conducive to neat presentation. It’ll be the middle of the night or first thing in the morning when you’re still lying in bed and writing at an awkward angle. But it doesn’t matter - give up now any hope of your journal looking aesthetically pleasing and you’ll be a far happier and more consistent diary keeper. Remember, it’s not a school art project, it’s just life.
- Just keep it at home
Whilst not really a concern for those of us self-isolating at the moment, let’s assume for this that you start your diary, stick at it and then feel inspired to carry on for the next year or so. In which case, please don’t carry your journal around with you everywhere. While I know some people will suggest always having your journal on hand is the best way to encourage you to write, personally I think just keep it at home. Personally, my diary sits on the table next to my bed and it does not move. Unless I’m travelling in which case it would stay in my rucksack because who’s writing anything that honest or heartfelt in public with all the distractions and why would you want to run the risk of losing it or having someone rifle through your bag and find it. If you suddenly think of something you want to write down in the middle of the day just shove it in the notes on your phone like everyone else and save your journaling for home.
- Make it something for yourself.
Closely tied with the last point, just keep your journal for yourself. In an environment of fakery, writing is the perfect antidote for social media crap. You don’t have to pretend that things are good if they’re not. You don’t have to put a filter on anything and you don’t have to worry about what anyone else is going to think because no one will be seeing it. Writing in a journal is an opportunity to have something for yourself and no one else, there’s no keeping up appearances involved. Enjoy that and try not to make it something you broadcast to everyone you meet. It doesn’t have to be secret but it doesn’t need to be something you share and talk about with everyone either.