Tessa Coates | Contributing Writer | Thursday, 4 June 2015

The Realities Of Writing A Diary (And Why You Should Start One)

The Realities Of Writing A Diary (And Why You Should Start One)

The Debrief: Most entries took place at 1am and I had just written 'Maybe I will die from being tired. It's so hard being a grown up.'

My 2015 New Year’s resolutions were: ‘Find out what core strength is and try and get some’ and ‘write a diary every day for a year’. So far, and we’re in June, I’ve stuck to the last one. I’m ploughing on with the first one, if you’re interested, but more than one professional has assessed my core strength and used the term ‘astonishing’, so make of that what you will.

It’s unsurprising that new research came out proclaiming diary writers to be happier people. It has genuinely changed my life, and it could change yours too if you stick with it and make it through those tricky first few months. 

I am not, by nature, a diary writer. As a teenager I wrote one briefly on the family computer that I saved in a file called, ‘A brief history of insects’. I would write my entry, using first letters for everyone’s names, and then change the colour of the text to white so it looked like a blank document, which is something I’d seen on an episode of Jonathan Creek.

Since then, I’ve dipped in and out with limited enthusiasm, but 2015 was to combine several diary inspiring factors. As I wrote on 31 December 2014, in something I have genuinely titled ‘The Prologue’: ‘This diary is intended as a record of every single day of 2015. I have been deeply affected by Serial and worry that I can’t remember anything. This diary is intended as both an honest representation of myself and an accurate chronicling of events (in case of murder trial).’

I found the experience initially draining. January is filled with entries like:  

‘Diary writing is very time consuming. Dear Diary, what did I do today? Oh yes. I wrote this diary.’

and 

‘Being the Samuel Pepys of my generation is exhausting.’

I didn’t much care for the process, it was incredibly time-consuming and the whole thing felt unbearably dull. Who was I writing this for? Why was I doing it? I know what I did today, I kept thinking, I was there!

I wrote a page or so each day and each entry seemed to take me about an hour, sat in bed, chewing my pen, deciding what it was I wanted to say, wrinkling my nose at my disappointing writing style and wondering why I had consigned myself to taking life’s minutes.

By mid-January a number of people had made the, very valid, observation that my own handwritten diary might not stand up as an alibi in a murder trial. ‘Didn’t do a murder today.’ they noted, was not going to prevent me from serving life in prison and becoming a cook. I was very much ready to give up.

But then one evening I read back a few pages and found myself laughing at something I’d genuinely forgotten happened. ‘New enthusiasm for diary writing!’ I scrawled.

Less worried about tone, style, and the chronicling of my every movement, I started to get really into it. Writing my diary last thing at night became a real closure thing, like putting the day to bed. Noting it all down, marking it in the history books. In March I made a note to stop writing that I was tired. Most entries took place at 1am and I’d just written, ‘I wonder if I will be this tired forever. Maybe I will die from being tired. It’s so hard being a grown up.’ 

In April I wrote the first top secret thing, even writing TOP SECRET in capital letters. I had never in my life until that point written down anything I didn’t want anyone to read. It wasn’t anything particularly juicy, I actually think it was about doing something good at work and acknowledging that, actually, (TOP SECRET) I thought it was pretty good, too. Oh women. What we have done to ourselves?

Anyway, after that, I was a die-hard fan. A fully signed-up member of the diary writing gang. I write every single day, without fail. If I’m really too tired I do bullet-points and make it up the next day. I write anything and everything, always something that made me laugh and everything as detailed as possible. It might seem so obvious at the time, but before you know it you’re staring at yesterday’s entry wondering why you wrote, ‘Leg hair Punked’ and mourning its disappearance into the mist of your memory.

I know you have a notebook in your room you’ve marked as ‘too nice to use’. Go and get it, write the date, change your life.  

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