Diaries are a well-documented and infamous cultural phenomenon. Often a well-shielded documentation of someone’s secrets and hidden desires, the diary has served as a central plot point in hundreds of sitcoms, books, and movies (see, “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” “Cruel Intentions,” “Gone Girl”). As a lifelong journal-keeper, there’s one thing I know for certain: diaries and journals are especially useful to work through tough times. And a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic counts as tough. Plus, journals can improve your mental health or even be used by historians in the distant future.
So if you have the time and capacity to start one in self-isolation, why not? Here’s how.
1. Invest in an appealing journal: Any old pad or college-ruled notebook can function as a diary. They’re cheap and remind us of the simple pleasures of the offices and classrooms to which we can no longer commute. But if you can, buy something sleek and lined that you’ll want to write in every day. Even if you’re drowning in existential dread, having an aesthetically pleasing diary could make you feel like life is in order.
2. Date — and maybe timestamp — everything: Between the stream of political briefings, tweets, and live updates, the world is changing so fast right now. Adding the date and time you sit down to write provides context for each entry. One day, you could even reference back to articles and photos from that date in time.
3. Opt for a “stream of consciousness”: On any normal day, I would pick out the most important experiences to detail in length on diary pages. But just writing and writing and writing without worry is best in the time of social distancing. This way, the nitty-gritty feelings get on the page even when the motions of each day are monotonous.
There are obviously no hard and fast rules for diary-keeping, but there are a few things to steer away from while forming a journaling habit.
1. Re-read while writing: For writers, grammar and clarity are arguably of paramount importance in real life. But in journaling, they can slow you down, making the activity less cathartic. When I re-read my entries, I start editing my words and phrases, but that can be painfully laborious and unproductive. Plus, I’d rather let my fragments and exclamations get into the final draft. Don’t look back until you’re done.
2. Show it off: Diaries don’t have to be filled with top-secret thoughts — though, they can. Either way, it’s wise to keep the entries to yourself. Knowing my pages are for my eyes only allows me to feel unburdened and unwatched as I document life. When no one’s peering in, you can essentially write anything.
3. Punish yourself for not keeping up: Journaling is a self-serving habit that still takes time, effort, and ink. If you miss a day, a week, or even a month of documenting, don’t sweat. There are more important things going on.
Diti Kohli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @ditikohli_