Dear Diary


I started keeping a daily “journal” on my iPhone (using the great app My Wonderful Days) a little over two years ago. I use it primarily to simply record what I did for exercise that day, if I had a smoothie that day, if we went to a movie, if it snowed that day, or any other random thought I felt would be interesting to look back on a year or two later.

For example, here are my diary entries from January 28, 2014:

45 minutes on bike
weight: 159.8
went to Dentist
had Smoothie
Went to planet fitness with Pat
Took Pat to work
Mary went to see One Book speaker at Villanova

And here are the entries I made a year ago on this date:

Had a smoothie
Had cardiologist appointment
Mary worked at library
Pat and I went to Anthony’s for dinner then watched Green Mile

So it’s pretty basic stuff, and yes, my life is as exciting as these entries make it appear.

What motivated me to write about my diary was an article in the Wall Street Journal this week, “The Power of Daily Writing in a Journal“, that featured 78 year old Charley Kempthorne. Here is the opening paragraph:

Charley Kempthorne wakes each morning before sunrise, pours a cup of black coffee, opens his computer and writes in a private journal that he began in 1964. These days, he logs between 1,000 and 3,000 words a day. By his rough calculations, his journal is about 10 million words long… No one, including his wife of 41 years, has read it.

Charley believes that keeping the daily journal helps him to better understand his life, or it just makes him feel better and get started on the day in a better mood.

Research supports such beliefs.

James Pennebaker, a psychology professor, notes that taking 15 or 20 minutes to write freely about emotions, secrets or upheaval can be a powerful tonic. He adds that writing privately about traumatic experiences, even for as few as four consecutive days, can reduce stress, help people sleep and improve their immune systems.

While I don’t consider my diary to be a journal like the one kept by Charley, but I have often read about the power of keeping a daily journal, and that is one of the reasons why I started this blog. A key difference between my blog and Charley’s journal is that mine is posted to social media while Charlie keeps his entries private (although he has posted a few items to Facebook).

Charley believes that when you post your writing online, you tend to pick your words more carefully when writing for the world to see, worrying about being judged or hurting someone’s feelings. I would agree with such a belief, at least in my own case. There are certainly some thoughts and opinions I have had that I would not feel comfortable posting online. The tradeoff is that I think posting online is a great way to keep me accountable for posting something everyday.

If personal journaling is something you have thought about trying, I certainly would encourage you to do so. If you want some guidance, here is some advice from Charley’s ‘Narrative Journaling: 28 days to writing more or less happily for the rest of your life,’ a workbook by Charley Kempthorne

  • Write 500 words every day for 28 consecutive days, preferably at the same time and same place, to create a routine.
  • Don’t worry about grammar or punctuation. Be willing to write badly. Authenticity is more important than excellence.
  • Use prompts to get you going. Make a list of six of the stories you commonly tell. Get a photo and tell the story of that picture.
  • Keep it private. If you show it to others, you might worry about what they will say and never start.
  • If you can’t think of what to write, describe the room you are in, what you are wearing, or a room from your childhood home, or what it felt like to brush your teeth.
  • Carry a notebook to jot down ideas or a recollection, a conversation or image.

Happy journaling.

(and by the way, I didn’t spend this January 28 this year visiting a medical professional…)


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