I started keeping a journal of daily events about 10 years ago. At the time, my symptoms were at their worst and my mom suggested that I start recording all the weird stories for posterity. I never felt like I was ever doing anything very important, but I found that writing things down was an enjoyable process.
One of my favorite discoveries what that often I didn’t know what I thought about something until I had written it down and looked at it on paper. Putting ideas and arguments down on paper forces you to flesh out your thoughts more deliberately.
I’ve written before about how memories either change or vanish entirely. Leafing through a journal last night showed me just how few of my memories I retain. That can’t happen to memories that are written down.
But there are other reasons to keep a journal and other journals to keep.
Reading habits and books
“Commonplace book” is an antiquated, fancy name for the notebook in which you track your reading habits and experiences. A commonplace book can contain lists of books you want to read, books you have read, your thoughts about books, favorite passages or quotes, et cetera.
I’m not obsessive about keeping track of my reading. I do it because I enjoy it and I have some concrete reasons for logging the books I read and my thoughts about them.
The most important is that the books I was reading at certain times in my life say more about who I was and how I felt and thought than anything else. I go back through my daily events journals and rarely find anything unflattering or incriminating about myself, even though there were times when I was a total idiot. I wasn’t honest enough to tell myself the whole story sometimes.
But I can look at my literary timeline and know when I felt happy, sad, scared, or confident just by zeroing in on a month’s worth of reading and looking at the titles.
For anyone who thinks this sounds too cumbersome, there’s hope! Librarything is a giant social network of books and book people. It makes tracking your reading as simple or as complicated as you want it to be.
Here’s an example. You can go in and browse my virtual bookshelf . I only add books to this catalog once I’ve read them.
On a sidenote, there’s no journal better than a book you actually write yourself. When I read my novel The Knot, it says more about who I was during the three years I spent writing it than anything else I can think of.
Tracking your reading habits and daily experiences are not essential to your progress. But if you are into physical strength or fitness, you have to keep a training journal. You have to. Numbers don’t lie and keeping track of your numbers makes sure that you don’t have to guess at your progress.
You’ll never have to wonder how many pounds or reps you did in the last workout, or which exercises you chose. You can see it right there in front of you. Then you can make goals and know the path you took to beat them.
But seriously, keep a daily journal of your stories — it can be really fun
Here are some examples of things from my journal 10 years ago. I can remember the context of about half of them. The rest are real head-scratchers.
- I hate comets…
- Blackie McDougal, where is your bugle?
- We drove to Pasadeena, I showed some birds my weenah. Now we’re back, the van is black, and out of gasoleena!
- “The Purpose of life is to love whoever is around to be loved…” Kurt Vonnegut
- I doubt that I doubt
- Everyone should read Lanterns and Lances once each week
- The whole problem started because I met her in the dark…stupid stupid stupid Josh!
- Before this day went to hell, I started writing a story about a talk show. I think it is going to end with a beheading…
- Finally finished the saga of Bi-polar bear
You get the picture. I have no idea what some of these things were about, but I really enjoyed looking at them and trying to jog my memory. I do know this–the above statements are strange enough that I wish I’d expanded on them so that I could remember them today. That alone makes me want to write everything noteworthy down before I go to bed tonight.
Any of you keeping a journal? Thoughts? Failures? Suggestions? Let’s talk in the comments.
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