Have You Begun To Keep A Journal?

In Message #731 (“Give Yourself 10 Minutes a Day — and Enjoy the Subtle Pleasures of Keeping a Daily Journal”), I encouraged you to start a journal. I pointed out that among other benefits it would provide you with:

* 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. Steve Leveen, president of Levenger, Inc., keeps a journal.

While mine is handwritten and daily, Steve’s is typed on a computer and sporadic. In a recent article on his company website (www.levenger.com), he explains his preferences: “Some months, I have just a day or two when I’ve made an entry. Other months, I have pages and pages of writing. … A computer is convenient for moving words in and out of a journal. Sometimes, I’ll be typing an entry when I realize my writing should really be a letter to someone, so I’ll copy the text out to a letter document.

Other times, I’ll copy and paste in a letter or an e-mail of significance, like the one I received from an old friend from high school. So my journal is an electronic scrapbook. “I print it out every few months and keep the pages in three-ring notebooks, having little faith in the future of digital storage. I’m comforted by the thought that I can go back and read my journal years from now.

In my busy life today, I don’t often leaf back, but when I do, it’s like dipping a ladle in clear, cool water and taking a quenching drink. I savor again the ephemera of life that otherwise would drift away. They say a friend is a gift you give yourself. So is a journal.” In that same article, Steve mentions that keeping a journal (as well as writing letters) not only does good things for the author but also that “biographers will tell you that diaries and letters provide some of the greatest insights into their subject matter.”

He points out, for example:

* In his biography “John Adams”, historian David McCullough drew from more than a thousand private letters between Adams and his wife — as well as from their diaries. “You gain a sense that their letters were not merely a record of their lives but of life itself. Abigail Adams admitted that she could sometimes say things in writing more easily than in person.”

* In her book “Galileo’s Daughter”, Dava Sobel used the letters Suor Maria Celeste wrote to her father to draw rich portraits of both father and daughter.

* Thoughts that Anne Morrow Lindberg put on paper, initially written only for herself, were published in 1955 as “Gift From the Sea”, — and became one of the best-selling books of the century. As Steve says, “It’s not too late to start your own journal. No matter how little you write, or how irregularly, it can yield rewards in the coming years that will be worth far more to you than the minutes you invest in it today.”

Keeping a daily journal is one of the consistent small pleasures in my life. I followed Steve’s approach when I was younger, but I never managed to complete a book. Now, with this more disciplined approach, I complete a book every three to six months. I’ve been doing it since my 50th birthday and have 10 books finished. I like the look of them on the shelf and wonder sometimes if anyone will read them when I’m gone.