I used to call it a “diary”, until I looked it up and found out it’s not. It’s a journal. According to the internet, a diary is where you take notes of your daily activities. A journal is much more than that. You put your personal thoughts and reflections into a journal. Okay then.
A few days ago I remarked on Instagram that I was hoping young people would understand the historical magnitude of the Corona Pandemic and start keeping a diary. In hindsight, I meant to say that they should be keeping a journal.
Then I got some messages asking me about advice on how to do that.
So here it is (in no particular order):
1) I have a small notebook and a pen. I carry them with me wherever I go. Alternatively, you could also just use the notes app in your phone, I personally prefer using a pen and paper, though. Feels more natural.
2) I try to write my journal every day, or every other day. If sometimes I really don’t have anything to say for a week or two, fine. But I try to return to my writing rhythm after that.
3) I don’t force myself to come up with long entries. Book writing and journaling are two different things. Some of our entries might be really short. Kafka once came up with the iconic: “Went to the movies. Cried.”
4) I start every one of my entries with the date, the time, and the place where I am at the time of writing. It helps me get into my zone, and it also keeps my journal organized.
5) My journal entries are mostly a mix of three things:
a) my observations about what’s happening around me (January 21st 2020: “Eerie emptiness, some of the counters manned, face masks everywhere. Only one person is allowed at a counter at any given time. A lady walks around, disinfecting the seats.”);
b) my reflections about what’s going on in the world (March 18th 2020: “Today I understood that Corona is a thing like 9/11. An event that will shape an era. China’s lies, Europe’s stolidity, America’s hubris. Everything is laying bare.”);
c) and what’s going on inside of me (January 26th, 2020: “Had a dream in which I cut off my hair – at least some of it. Feelings of panic. Back pain when I woke up.”)
6) My notebooks are numbered (I’m at #24 now), and for safety reasons I periodically take photos of all my writings and save them to my hard drive (or send them to myself via email). Having lost a journal before, I can’t recommend this method enough.
7) Often I just write my journal at the end of the day, but there are times when something has just happened that I feel needs to be written down, I get out my notebook and start writing immediately. I don’t want to forget.
8) I try not to have any inhibitions when it comes to writing my journal. After all it’s not intended for publishing. It’s my personal space where I can just be myself. Of course it doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes I still feel like I should be nicer than I really am. But I try.
9) Sometimes, when I see a flower that I like, a gentle leaf, or a friendly blossom, I take a picture of it, and then I pick it up and put it in my diary. I write the date and the place under it. These are little parts of the world that have come to be a part of my journal, and therefore of me.
10) If I notice that a list has exactly ten items, I usually suspect it of being full of shit.
Anyway, we’re living through one of the biggest historical events in our lifetimes. Keep a journal!