Tuesday, March 31, 2015


I tried off and on to keep a journal for years before I finally started one that I was able to keep going. My original journal concept was basically a diary. I think that’s why it didn’t work. What could I say about my day to day life? I worked; I drank beer; I went to school, or later taught school. Certainly, there were personal relationships I could have recorded. But mostly I was too busy living those relationships to write a whole lot about them.

It wasn’t until August, 1993 that I started a journal that took. It began out of a wish to document my commitment to writing. Several times I’d made statements that I would work on some writing related task every day. But I often fell well short of that goal.  I started a journal to record specifically what I was doing in writing each day, and I reread it each week so I could see those days I hadn’t done what I promised to do. Essentially, it was a way to guilt myself into doing something writing related each day.

The first couple of years consisted largely of just these kinds of entries. Here’s a typical example from 1993:
 August 4. Did about 6 and a half hours on the non-fiction guidebook, editing, rewriting, printing, doing the index, etc. Did about a half hour on fiction, on "Lookadder." Wrote well.

Occasionally, I added a note about something I was reading:
August 9--Monday. Did about 2 and a half hours. Made good progress on Mythules 1. Did weak work on "Wanting the Mouth of a Lover." Read a powerful story by Dean Koontz called "Twilight of the Dawn."

Only the biggest of non-writing events made it into the journal:
August 10. Did about 1 hour, 2 paragraphs on "Wanting the Mouth of a Lover." Not much progress. Josh choked on a grape in the evening. He threw it up and caught it in his mouth, and it got lodged in his throat. He had coughed it up again before either Mary or I reached him, but it scared him. It sacred us too. Shook me up.

Even on my birthday, I wrote:
October 14. My birthday. Did a little work on "Cold in the Light."

And when I could only do school work, I noted that:
October 15. No writing. Graded tests.

And when I was being lazy, I didn’t let myself escape without some guilting.
May 20. No work today. I'm being lazy.

Over time, I found myself adding more and more non-writing information. My entries these days tend to be a lot longer, although I still record everything writing related that I do. This past ten days, for various reasons, I’ve actually been going back and reading my older journal entries. It’s been a bit of a discovery process. I’ll talk about that in a second post.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I couldn't keep one as a diary either. Too busy living to write about it. But keeping track of your writing - now that was a clever idea.

Angie said...

I've tried diarying or journaling or whatever a few times, a couple on my own and several times as class assignments. I can't do it. Once I get going I tend to blather (I can just see everyone's shock and disbelief at that statement) and if I give myself the assignment of blathering about myself, my life, my thoughts, my plans, whatever, I either end up with thousands of words per day, or I avoid the task all together because it's too big. Once I've avoided a day or a week, I've got all that backlog to catch up on and the project is trashed.

I know journaling is very helpful for a lot of writers, but I'm not one of them. And I'd have been very grateful if various teachers in high school, and certainly by the time I hit college, had just been able to accept the fact that some teacher earlier in their students' academic career had already introduced us to journaling (likely several times) and that if it worked for us, we'd still be doing it. :/ I don't know how many times I headdesked (once or twice literally) when some boingy, enthusiastic instructor decided to give us all a treat and tell us about the wonders of journaling, and make it a term-long assignment. I'd be surprised if more than maybe one percent of American students hit college without having had that assignment at some earlier point, and that one percent is just me being generous and conservative 'cause my gut tells me it's a lot smaller.

I do track my writing, though. I've got a Word file -- start up a new one each year -- tracking my writing by day and by project, so I know how many words I wrote, on what, each day that I wrote at all. I total up months and keep a running total for the year. I'm way behind target right now :/ but I have nine months to go, so I'm not despairing yet.

Any more than this table-format data collection, though, and I'm off to the races. Deadly on the real productivity. I wish I could do it, and keep it within reasonable bounds. Asimov's lifelong diaries make me bitterly envious, and even your notes about what you did and read, stuff that happened... I wish I could do that. Minimal but still a great aide memoire for later years.


Charles Gramlich said...

Alex, and eventually it has segued into a kind of diary.

Angie, I'm finding some interesting things about rereading my journals. Not all are positive. I know what you mean about the "blathering." I tend to let myself do one blathering post a year. Usually in the first week of January, I will do a "summing up" post and it generally runs long. But on other days I force myself to keep it short.

Rick Robinson said...

As you know, Charles, I'm a reader, not a writer, so any journal or diary I would do has to do with my daily or weekly progress reading. I do that on the blog, which is kind of a journal for me, with what I'm reading, new books coming in, thoughts and comments on the garden and occasionally - rarely - comments on personal daily life.

I started the blog as a continuation, in a way, of my mystery apazine for DAPA-Em but it has morphed into what it is today and it serves.

Cloudia said...

Very interesting, Charles. Wouldn't it be great if there was some online way for us to record and share our thoughts and photos with each other daily?

You always bring value to my day. Best to you and the beautiful Lana

ALOHA from Honolulu

Snowbrush said...

My blog is my journal, although it more often contains a record of my thoughts than the events of my life, the events of my life being about as uninteresting as your list of work, drink, sleep, eat.

Oscar Case said...

Tried a diary once but only for a couple days. Decided I didn't have anything to tell myself. Never tried again.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think my blog is as close to a journal as I will ever come.

Richard Prosch said...

I've kept a billeted list of things accomplished for the business for close to ten years. Each year I add more personal stuff, --movies watched, if I had a cold, weather, etc. Fascinating to look back and see the tricks memory pulls --how some recent happenings seem longer ago, or vice-versa.

Charles Gramlich said...

Richard, I copy all my blog entries into my journal as well, and they serve as a kind of supplemental information.

Cloudia, you mean like a blog? :)

Snowbrush, yes, definitely blogging is a kind of journaling.

Oscar, I don't know why I've wanted to keep such a journal but I'm glad now I have.

Patti, it adds to mine as well.

Richard Prosch, the same thing happened with me, adding more personal stuff over time.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, maintaining a diary or a journal is a "discovery process," I agree, except it requires dedication and some imagination as you're primarily writing for your own satisfaction.

Charles Gramlich said...

Prashant, even today I sometimes go a few days without an entry. But I've been doing it long enough that I will go back and fill those in.

BernardL said...

I wrote a journal of my second cruise aboard the USS Ranger from the day we left port in October of 1970 until we returned in June of 1971. When I saw your post, it was kind of weird, because I had found my old Ranger journal last week in the garage. It's been fun reading it because I had a lot of funny stuff in there, along with the serious. I guess we can chalk this up to great minds think alike. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernard, I think you just insulted one of us with that "great minds think alike" comment. :)

David Cranmer said...

I've been journaling for over ten years with breaks here and there and have been recording my dreams as well. Maybe my daughter will enjoy it one day. I know I would have loved to have my father or mothers thoughts from way back.

BernardL said...

I don't think so, my friend. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

David, I also keep a dream journal. Although I don't record all dreams in it. Just the weird ones.

Bernard, lol. Maybe you're right.

Greg said...

I used to try to keep a journal. It seemed like I would go through periods where I would write in it constantly, then set it aside for years at a time. Reading your post makes me want to go back and read them again.

the walking man said...

By the time I was 17 I had 10 journals of writing, shorts, poetry, scribbles. My father burned them when I went to boot camp. I never stopped writing but never kept another piece that someone could take away from me either for 30 years. Now in the 15 years I have been keeping my shit, I have enough to fill another journal or two.

To answer the obvious, no my father an I never got along, I have no memory of us ever having a good relationship. I turned out to be my mother's son.

sage said...

I've kept journals starting right after graduating from college--not every day but never too long of a gap. I do more notes about readings along with memories of experiences, but not diary-like except for when traveling

Charles Gramlich said...

Greg, I've been enjoying rereading but I stopped at 2012. I just can't bring myself to reread that year right now.

Mark, to burn someone's private stuff like that. I just can't even wrap my head around it.

Sage, I've begun keeping everything about my trips in my regular journal. Have it all in one place.

Riot Kitty said...

Funny, I've been thinking about doing the same for the same reasons. Day to day it's better living than writing (unless ranting on blogs!), but I need to do a daily writing thing that isn't work related. Good ideas.

Charles Gramlich said...

Riot, it really helped me in the early days.