Do you keep a diary?

Posted on February 19, 2015

diaries for writersAfter reading this post this morning where Famous Writers talk about the Creative Benefits of Keeping a Dairy, I was left to contemplate my singular lack of progress in this area.

I remember my first diary, received as a gift when I was perhaps 10 or 11. It was a pink-checked affair, with a pretty old-fashioned girl on the cover, the title My Dairy in gold script, gilt-edged pages, and, the most important bit, a lock and key.

I treasured that book, taking the trouble to hide it in my top drawer, locked, with the key kept separately elsewhere (I can’t remember where… it’s entirely possible the key is still there.)

Unfortunately, I never wrote in it. Oh, maybe once, with a terribly important opening page that said something along the lines of ‘Keep out! B & C if you ever read this you will die a terrible death‘. But that was it. Poor B and C would have gone through all that pain and suffering for nothing had they ever bothered to open said book.

My next diary was an A4 notebook, with a solid, composite cover, which I took with me to Thailand when I went with a friend (and her Mum) after our HSC. I rummaged about earlier and unearthed it from the box labelled ‘Stuff Al Cannot Throw Out Despite Her Best Intentions’, discovering long and rambling descriptions of cocktails ($1!), a convoluted story about singing karaoke with some bar girls in Pattaya, and serious lamenting about the lack of toilet facilities during an elephant trek near Chiang Mai.

As a contrast, Anais Nin wrote passages like this in her diary:

This personal relationship to all things, which is condemned as subjective, limiting, I found to be the core of individuality, personality, and originality. The idea that subjectivity is an impasse is as false as the idea that objectivity leads to a larger form of life.”

I have three other diaries (see above), all written during the two years I spent overseas. Pretty much every entry in these diaries begins like this:

Another day gone, another day behind… I’m beginning to feel I’ll never catch up with this diary.”

Another day to write up at the end of this – will it never end.”

Now a mere two weeks behind – I honestly don’t know why I bother with this.”

Do you sense a theme here?

I don’t think I really got the hang of keeping a diary until I started blogging. I used to approach them as a record-keeping exercise, describing in excruciating detail what happened every day (hence my inability to ever actually ‘keep up’), rather than choosing one thing and exploring that. I get it now.

Anais describes her diary like this:

In the Diary I only wrote of what interested me genuinely, what I felt most strongly at the moment, and I found this fervor, this enthusiasm produced a vividness which often withered in the formal work. Improvisation, free association, obedience to mood, impulse, bought forth countless images, portraits, descriptions, impressionistic sketches, symphonic experiments, from which I could dip at any time for material.”

After reading that, and with what I have learnt from blogging, I’m willing to give a journal another go. But, despite my love of beautiful stationery, I think that I would need to simply open a Word document and type it there.

A diary is of no use to anyone if you can’t read it, after all…

Do you keep a diary? Where/how do you keep it?


  1. Carla Macleod

    Yes & they have changed over time from the daily entries from age 8-12 to something more like morning pages. Love journals just like you do Allison and I’m ok doing my ‘writing that can’t be read’ because it’s about me getting stuff out – it’s not for reading back. Love your podcast with Valerie Khoo.

    • Allison Tait

      Thanks Carla! I’m so impressed by your diary-keeping commitment!

  2. pavinee

    I have bought so many beautiful books for diary but just wrote in a few pages. I don’t know why it seems I don’t have anything to say. But then when I go digital, Things just flow. I’m now keeping a blog instead 🙂

    • Allison Tait

      You and me both! It seems like the best way. 🙂

  3. Kristyn

    My handwriting is like chicken scratch so I go digital. I write on a word doc/notepad on iphone and then bind the doc into a book each year. I now have six!

    • Allison Tait

      I think that sounds like an excellent plan, Kristyn. I have books created from my blog posts and I just love them!

  4. Chris Bailey

    I always WANTED to keep a diary. My first one was much like yours. Three or four entries, and then loads of white pages. Even as a ten-year-old, I had a strong self-editor and a great fear of someone learning what I thought. As an adult, I finally kept a daily diary as part of a writing discipline for about a year. The big takeaway from that experience was that navel-gazing ranges from boring to depressing. Fiction is fun! I kept the daily discipline of writing, but ditched the diary.

    • Allison Tait

      Sounds like a plan Chris!

  5. JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)

    My blog is my diary for now. I used to religiously keep a diary between the ages of 11 and 17. I think in total I have five of them that I just can’t throw out. Every now and then I come across where I’ve hidden them and sit and read. I lose a massive chunk of time, getting lost in a world of teenage angst. I did try again when I was about 21 to keep another diary but life gets in the way.

    • Allison Tait

      It certainly does!

  6. Holly

    I dabbled in keeping diaries as a kid and teen but not consistently. These days I do project life which is a Scrapbooking form of a diary I suppose, just much prettier as it has photos lol and maybe not so personal. My husband actually has that travel diary from the pic from his Europe trip when he was 12 lol

    • Allison Tait

      Project Life sounds really interesting! And clearly your husband had excellent taste at 12!

  7. cassie

    I have three young children and keep a journal of the funny things they say and do. Re-reading it gives us all a laugh. But I find if I write my own thoughts and feelings about ‘big stuff’ I sound like a dick. This kind of makes sense-it’s the events of life-what people say and do that makes a great diary, not just airy-fairy commentary.

  8. Helen K

    I don’t have a diary as such, but I have notebooks where I write out emotions or experiences (generally negative ones – for some reason, I don’t feel I need to capture the positive ones, maybe because I might pick them apart in the writing process) – so they make great reading (not). Travelling holidays I do capture, but no longer in the written diaries (I did write every day, and it was almost like a record / recommendation list – so diligent in those days. Now replaced by a blog site for the trip).

    Oh, and for capturing quotes, great articles, etc, I have always had books – but I’m moving more on line with those. Facebook, an annual letter to the family, and a birthday letter to each child, seem to be replacing the diary. It’s now seeming like something from the past.

    • Allison Tait

      I think you are a diary-keeper in disguise Helen. All of those feelings and thoughts and impressions will be invaluable for writing down the track.

  9. John James

    I couldn’t keep a diary – 9 times out of 10 I’d have nothing to say – more like 99 days out of 100…

    …I lead such as quiet and mundane (but happy) lifestyle… most of my days and weeks are exactly the same… I just don’t see the point…

    • Allison Tait

      Better to focus on creating new worlds in fiction!

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