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Enjoy the Subtle Pleasures of Keeping a Daily Journal


“If you would not be forgotten, / As soon as you are dead and rotten, / Either write things worthy of reading, / Or do things worth the writing.” – Benjamin Franklin (Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1738)

One of the consistent small pleasures in my life — something I recommend to you — is keeping a daily journal.

It’s a self-centered pastime, but one I rationalize by treating it as a repository of the ideas that make their way to you in these daily messages as well as the anecdotes and impressions that, I hope, will one day find themselves incorporated in my best-selling novels.

You can also use your journal to record, revise, and recommit yourself to your goals.

You make it a record of the details of your life that you might one day wish to be reminded of. (The reader I imagine for my journal is my older, wiser self — the person who, 10 or 20 years hence, will want to see what I was up to in my earlier years. Kind of a literary superego.)

I have written journals, on and off, for many years. Usually, they have begun with the advent of some personal adventure — a two-year stint in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer, a month in France with my family, a jaunt across the country in a stolen car — but when I began to write ETR, I began also to keep my journal more regularly.

As time has passed, my philosophical ruminations have become terser (perhaps because I’ve come to realize they didn’t merit the ink I was spending on them) as the accounts of more mundane events — like a good meal or an interesting conversation — have lengthened with detail.

I’ve also started making little sketches in my notebooks. Some of them are crude renditions of things I’m describing — a man asleep on the sidewalk or a painting in a gallery — while others are more careful copies of something from a book or newspaper.

More recently, I’ve begun pasting in photos and clippings — the kind of stuff you don’t know what to do with but don’t want to throw away.

The result — a book of words, images, and artifacts that fills up quickly. A journal will provide you with the following benefits:

* a record of what you did when and to whom — should you ever need to find out

* a place to practice your drawing skills

* a bank of ideas, inventions, and promises

* a gallery of photos, and bits of photos, that belong nowhere else

* a travel reference of every place you want to return to … or avoid

* an index of favorite recipes, restaurants, museums, etc.

Keeping a journal takes about five to 15 minutes a day, depending on what you want to put in it. My current journal, which includes all of the above and then some, takes about 10 minutes a day.

In the past, if I missed a few days, or even a week, I thought nothing of it. Now I’ve become a bit more rigorous. If I skip two or three days because I’m traveling, I “back fill” those entries when I get to my destination. I use little icons to indicate if a piece I’m writing might some day be good for ETR or a short story and/or is something that needs to be put on my “to-do” list. My journal is also the place where I track my health information — such as my weight, my blood-sugar levels, and my doctors’ appointments and results.

A journal probably won’t change your life, but it will give it a little bit of anchoring every day. And when you get old, it may even give you hours of reading pleasure.