Friday, September 15, 2006

Keeping a Daily Diary

People know me for "making history last" by recording, preserving, and telling my family's stories--and for showing others how to do the same for theirs. Whenever I'm asked for my Number One piece of advice, I answer without hesitation: Keep a diary every day.

"Keep a diary?!" people exclaim, sometimes outraged. "I don't have time to floss my teeth."

Then I explain that keeping a daily diary can take less time than flossing your teeth, and the benefits to your family may have farther-reaching and longer-lasting effects than good oral hygiene. Traditional diary keeping is recording just the facts, writing what happened during the day. This is the next place where people often freak out, because they think I mean they must create a literary masterpiece every day. But that's just not so.

My great-grandmother, Gramma Clark, who is my model for diary keeping, wrote in a diary nearly every day of her 83+ years. Now, this working woman/widow/single mother of two for much of her life had far more to do with her time than pen profundities at the end of every day, yet she managed to faithfully record each day's events. When I decided to adopt Gramma's diary-keeping habit, I was a working mother of two babies who also didn't have an extra moment to floss. But, I wanted my children to know what they did every day, how their young lives played out, and that someone noticed what they did and said and then took the time to pin those elusive moments onto paper.

My grandmother had two secrets for successful diary-keeping, and now they're mine:
  • Write no more than one page each day.
  • Write only what happened.
Gramma purchased small books for her diaries (average size 5"x7") and wrote up to one page each day. Sometimes she wrote only one sentence, and sometimes she skipped lines. But she wrote something every day. She stuck to the facts and didn't get into her interpretation of events. By recording one kernel of detail in each event, however, she brought clarity and distinctiveness to the event. Some people may view this tone as cold, detached, or unemotional. That may be true, but clearly she wrote these diaries for other eyes to read--they were public diaries--and did not want her words to offend anyone or be misconstrued. Another benefit of writing "just the facts" is that readers can interpret the words, fill in the spaces, and draw their own conclusions.

If you're interested in keeping a daily diary, you might be discouraged by the high cost of many pre-dated daily diaries. Many of these books are real leather and have fancy printing and embossing--and you pay for all this finery. You can find inexpensive varieties if you look closely, however, starting around October, when the holiday shopping begins. Calendar stores, card and gift stores, and mall booth vendors are good places to look. You can find a good diary, perfect- or spiral-bound, for about US$14.

There are several alternatives to bound, pre-dated diaries. You can use any bound book with lined pages--at least 365 sides--which you can date yourself. Sometimes it's best to date the pages ahead so that you don't inadvertently skip a day. I usually write the dates one month ahead in pencil, and then pen in the date when I write the entry.

You can also buy an empty organizer and a one-year pack of daily calendar pages, which are usually pre-dated. (If they're not dated, write in the dates as above.) At the end of the year, remove the pages, bind them with string or clips, and store them in a large envelope with the year written on it. Then, refill the organizer with the current year's calendar pages.

Or, you can go to your local office-supply store and purchase a notebook that has enough pages for 365 days.

At the end of the year, place your diary in a dry, cool box that's safe from moisture, heat, and pests.

So, let's recap:
  • Keep a diary every day; keep it short, and stick to the facts.
  • Choose from several options for your diary.
  • Write legibly in ink.
  • Store filled diaries in a safe place.
In upcoming entries, I'll talk about other ways you can keep a diary.

© 2006 Marilyn C. Hilton


Jeanette Hanscome said...

Hi Marilyn!

I love your blog. What a great idea! It's unique and totally you! I plan to take a new approach to journaling and keep something that my kids can read someday, instead of my typical rambling and whining. So your tips were very helpful.

I look forward to reading more.


Tasra Dawson said...

Welcome to the blogosphere! Love your focus on sharing and preserving stories...really goes hand in hand with scrapbooking so I added you to my blog. Can't wait to read more!