“What sort of diary should I like mine to be?”

What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose-knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful, that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art. The main requisite, I think, on reading my old volumes, is not to play the part of a censor, but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever; since I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard, and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time.

– Virginia Woolf

* * *

At Harvard [John Adams] had tried keeping a journal. In Worcester he began again in a paper booklet no bigger than the palm of his hand, writing in a minute, almost microscopic script, numbering the days down the left hand margin, his entries at first given to spare, matter-of-fact notations on the weather and what little passed for social events in his new life.


Increasingly, however, the subject uppermost in mind was himself […]. Something of the spirit of the old Puritan diarists took hold. By writing to himself, for himself, by dutifully reckoning day by day his moral assets and liabilities, and particularly the liabilities, he could thus improve himself.

John Adams, by David McCullough

* * *

Determined to understand human nature, fascinated by nearly everyone he encountered, [John Adams] devoted large portions of his diary to recording their stories, their views on life, how they stood, talked, their facial expressions, how their minds worked. […] “Let me search for the clue which led great Shakespeare into the labyrinth of human nature Let me examine how men think.”

John Adams, by David McCullough

* * *

If my brother Edward thinks that writing this account of my days will help me grow less childish and more learned, he will have to write it.

– Catherine, Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

* * *

Paper is more patient than man.

– Anne Frank

* * *

As a regular diarist, I’m always curious as to how others approach the task of diarying. Do they jot down the day’s events? Do they expatiate upon topics and happenings that they choose not to divulge to other people? Or is it a bit of both? And ultimately, for what purpose, what end goal? Personally, I keep a diary for practical reasons. I’ve an unreliable sense of memory, so I rely upon my stacks of journals to preserve what would otherwise disappear into the murky depths of the past. I’m also big on self-improvement – sometimes to a fault – so my diaries also serve as records of what I’ve learned and what I’m still working on.

As someone who is very particular about the sort of paper she writes on, I diary exclusively in Moleskine notebooks. Everything about them – except for, maybe, their price – is just perfect: the thickness and texture of each page, the off-white paper color, the unobstructively visible ruled lines, the texture of the hard covers, the proportional size of the journal. And I always use a black pen. Not blue. Not red. Not pink or green or orange or purple or yellow or any other color that you may just find in unicorn throw-up. Just black. And depending on my mood, I switch between my time-honored Bic ballpoints and uni-ball ink pens.

My diaries span something like 15 years, and I have every intention of continuing that collection. Only age and disability will stop me from writing. And even then, I think I may still be stubborn enough to find other ways to continue what I started as a child.

* * *

Readers – Do you diary? What is your approach and purpose towards it?


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