As a child I never kept journals. Whenever I did daily writing it was almost always of the creative variety. Journals were something I was given every year for Christmas and my birthday from various relatives and friends. I think the general consensus was that a journal was the proper gift for a budding writer. Between the ages of fourteen and nineteen I ended up filling eight of these journals with ideas for books, plot outlines, and character developments. It was a very good step towards becoming a writer, although I have not re-read these journals in at least five years and I am little embarrassed to do so now.
Even though I never kept a traditional journal as a child I was very happy to receive a five year diary for my birthday. A five year diary has over 365 pages. All of the pages are divided up horizontally into five sections. Each section has a number of lines, but not very many, the space is relatively small. Each page has a date on it. The idea is that during the first year you write in the top section of the page, on the corresponding date. During the second year you fill in the second box, below the already filled first one.
You only have enough space to write the basics of your day, for example: I got up, ate granola, worked at Starbucks, went to the gym. After lunch I went to the Met with Jacob and Melanie. Jacob made a delicious dinner. Not much space for details, but enough to put in the basics. I am still surprised that I am able to remember so much more about a day after just reading a simple description like that one.
I am on my forth year now and have never missed a day. It is neat to see all those days stacked one on top of each other. Sometimes strange coincidences reveal themselves in the pages. I met Jacob’s sister and brother-in-law, Rachael and Tony, for the first time in March. On the exact same day, a year later, by sheer coincidence, my parents met Rachael and Tony.
The five year diary has really helped improve my memory. I feel like writing down the raw details of a day really cements the day in your mind. I do not know if it has helped improve my writing directly though.
Recently the aforementioned Rachael (now my sister-in-law) sent Jacob a link to a site called 750 words. The whole idea of the site is to write 750 words every day, or as often as you can. The site offers points for how many days you have written. It also keeps track of a lot of your writing related data (such as time spent writing). All the writing I do there is private. No one else can see it. I spend around 16 minutes a day writing the 750 words.
There is a feature on the site called “eternity” that offers interpretations based on your content. For example they give your work a rating (PG for example) and they use a chart to indicate how happy or sad you are. I find the interpretations largely useless, what I find helpful is the 750 word goal. I write a lot as a poet and a blogger, etc, but most of that writing is very separate from keeping a journal.
When I first started to use 750 words, I would write a little about what I was thinking and then I would paste in some of the writing I had already done that day in order to meet the 750 word limit. Sometimes it would be a blog post, sometimes a series of poems. However one day I wrote the entry first thing in the morning. I hadn’t really written anything yet. So I had to keep writing about myself. It turns out I am not able to do that for 750 words without writing about writing. Where I want it to go, what I might do to improve this story or that, what I could learn about writing from the book I was reading. It was a great discovery. I made so many breakthroughs with the writing I was doing through that one entry and even more through the next.
Now this is still relatively new to me and I don’t expect to do it every day for the rest of my life (or even this month) but I think it’s a really good motivational tool to put down writing ideas and analytical thoughts down in a really slap dashed, fast paced way, and then revisit them whenever I want to.
As a writer who spends a lot of time editing, it is refreshing to write something that I will never have to edit and that no one else will ever read. It seemed self-indulgent at first, but the effects that it has had on my writing is profound.