I have kept a diary from a very young age, mostly because my dad believed that writing was an important skill trait that should be developed every day–and he was right. Even as I grew out of childhood and he did not enforce his rule of daily diary writing, I continued to write on my own.
Nowadays, keeping a diary is being hailed by many as a great means of self-care. It lets you release yourself of emotions, dive into your deepest thoughts, record how your life is going at that very moment, cleanse your mind of ailing doubts, and more.
However, keeping a diary can be surprisingly hard–so if you really want to hone your journaling skills (and I don’t mean the arts & craft kind), then here are a few tips that will let you truly get the most out of your experience!
7 – Write everything–from the good to the bad
I realized at one point that I kept turning to my journal whenever I was feeling particularly down or stressed. I would rant in it, deplore life in it, and basically use it as an outlet for bouts of depression and anxiety. In 2017, I decided that positivity would be my main New Year’s resolution, but it was a very rough year for me. I created a bad habit of associating my diary with only negativity–negative feelings, negative memories, negative thoughts. If I could see the energy or essence of the diary, it would probably be a giant black ball.
That’s when I realized things had to change. This diary was inaccurately portraying my life as a miserable hellhole when there was also a lot of good and–especially important–many things to be grateful for. It’s imperative to show all the facets of your day in a diary–you can’t make it only about one thing. A diary is supposed to give you perspective on your life, but if you are so blinded by all the good or all the bad, you are making a narrow lens for you to look back on.
If you only make it about the good, you might be in an unhealthy state of denial or failing to learn despite opportunities for growth. If you only make it about the bad, you are choosing to focus on and stress about all the suffering and pain rather than fostering a positive mindset.
Plus, what you write shapes how you view the world, so credit the world with the full, magnificent range of experiences that derive from its existence.
6 – Write everything–from the big to the small
Apart from the vibe or energy you lend the diary, you should also try to be as thorough as possible–write everything from the big news to mundane details. When I was little, I mostly wrote trivial things, like an account of what I did that day if the police were to interrogate me, or petty complaints of things that won’t matter even the next day. Once older, because my dad would no longer check if I wrote my daily entry, I usually wrote only when I felt there was something to talk about–when something big or significant happened. Now, I do a little bit of both.
I realized that the big things are no doubt important, but the trivial things are what stay with me. The mundane things I take for granted everyday at this very stage in my life will gradually shift and I’ll forget about them when I’m older–but those are the things that will strike me with a bout of nostalgia. They’re the easiest to forget because they’re taken for granted, but they are what truly shapes my life at that point: the habits, the cycle, the everyday tasks. For example, I have a vague sense of how college days went by for me, but when I miss it, I wish I could read back on more detailed accounts so I could have fond and specific recollections. Then I could truly relive it in my mind for a moment.
So if you really want that flashback on your life through your diary, it is highly recommended to write about the small things as well, like what you said in the morning that made your mother smile or the weird way your dog pees or even a reminder on how to file your taxes because that’s something you do every year.
5 – Reread what you wrote periodically
Another thing I had noticed I was failing to do when keeping a diary was actually reading the diary. You’d think, “Of course,” but surprisingly, people are so focused on writing a diary (making sure they write everyday, wondering what to write, eager to write when something big happens) that they forget that the process of keeping a diary is writing and reading.
This means that, sure, you’re reflecting as you are doing the writing, but you’re not reflecting on what you write at a later time. I wrote a whole post on this before on my other blog, about how weird it is every time to reread some of my diaries from childhood. I can no longer recognize that voice. I realize negative traits about myself that I have grown from or have yet to grow from. I am given a fresh perspective on old things I may have forgotten about.
When it comes to keeping a diary, you are your greatest teacher and example. You. Just the other day, I was watching a Will & Grace episode in which Grace kept criticizing her mother, then Will criticized her for the exact same thing later. In denial, she goes through her past diaries and is hit with the reality that she is flawed in the very same way as her mother. Her voice is her mother’s voice–and she was only able to tell from reading her own voice through her diaries. Perspective!
For me, I was shocked rereading my diary because I had started it with such a positive and cheerful attitude. I was intent on improving and finding happiness. Somehow, that initial intention got lost on me as the year progressed and I spiraled into negativity. When I realized that I had not always been so down and dark, it was like seeing a friend again after a long time.
4 – Comment on what you reread in retrospect
Now that you’ve reread your entries, it’s important to comment on them. The way I did this was through a blog post, actually, but it’s good to reflect on your past self and memories through your diary, as if you just read a book for school and it’s time to analyze the narrator. This way, things come full circle. After all, keeping a diary is all about evolving, growing, and learning from yourself, by yourself, with yourself.
If you did something you were proud of in the moment but now feel ashamed about, note it. If you rediscover a better version of yourself before life wore you down, note it. See how much you’ve grown, where there is room for more growth. Then take note of all of it.
3 – Write “fantasy” entries for the future you want
A great suggestion from another blogger and YouTuber whom I recently discovered and absolutely love, Lavendaire, is to write diary entries of yourself living the dream life. Write about an accomplishment you wish to someday achieve as if it is happening that very moment. Live in the moment, envision its reality, and you will truly feel the motivation and drive to work towards that feeling for real.
A journal is not limited to your day and your thoughts–you can use it as a tool for what you want to turn your life into, and what better way than to take a fictional turn in the hopes of making it a reality?
2 – Do it manually with pen and paper
Sometimes it can seem easier to just type out your diary on your computer. I am guilty of doing this when there is a lot I want to say and I don’t trust my hand to write quickly and legibly enough without cramping. However, I would stick to manually keeping a diary for the most part–with the good ol’ pen and paper. There’s something a lot more intimate and personal about putting pen to paper. It’s just you and a blank piece of paper, not the glaring screen on your computer as you pound out words on your keyboard.
This is a precious moment for you and yourself. Put anything else with a mind, real or technological, away, so you can focus on your own.
1 – Keep your diary close
Now that you are bound to a physical copy of your diary, keep it on your person as best you can. While I do think it’s nice to carry it around in your bag so you can write in it at any time no matter where you are, some people may not be comfortable with this, which is fine. In that case, leave it on your bedside table so you will remember to write in it at least once that day–before you go to bed. And this is really the perfect little wind down. You can look back on your day, reflect, and record. You could even reread a past entry or two before falling asleep.
Keep it somewhere you know it won’t be forgotten or ignored!
As a BONUS tip, I would also suggest keeping a diary for different purposes! For example, point number three on “fantasy” entries can all be done in an aspiration diary if you don’t want those to get mixed in with real life. Have a dream diary next to your bed so when you wake up, you can record your dreams. Have a travel diary for excitement overseas! Have a gratitude journal, friendship journal, new parent journal, career journal, what-have-you.
After all, you have all that cute stationary and notebooks, don’t you? In the end, do what works best for you, but I hope you’ll keep my tips in mind! Happy journaling!