For 11 years now, I’ve been writing journals as a way of life. I couldn’t have been nearly as effective (or sane!) without this writing. I wrote about keeping these journals almost 2 years ago, back in July 2018, but time has passed and I’ve now smashed another milestone.
So two years after my original post I thought I’d write an update. I’m now on Book 33 in 11 years, and have reached the milestone of 7777 pages and 2,037,000 words, ie, over 2 million*! (* This can only be approximate!)
If you’re writing in a journal that you – and only you – might ever read, you can feel free to experiment with your writing, to be creative, sweeping, meticulous, humorous, thematic or chronological. You can tell stories or just make task lists. You can do all of these things but, perhaps, not at the same time. Certainly the experience of writing most days gives you an advantage when it comes to expressing yourself on different occasions.
I don’t write every single day. In fact I can be very inconsistent and even have blockages that last a few weeks at different times of the year. Then I can write copiously and fluently and keep daily notes for weeks on end, recording all the Pooterish details of humdrum life. I’m not really writing this as any legacy and perhaps nobody will ever read it. I like to think an historian in 200 years time wanting some detailed background about an ordinary person might suddenly find and be gripped by this multitude of pages. Or perhaps the books will end up in landfill after I’m gone.
I’m not totally ordinary. After all, I’ve been in 2 wars, had cancer, learned Arabic and started my own business, none of which are common in the UK, and all of which have had repercussions on my life subsequently.
I mostly write to give myself an interlocutor, to test my thoughts by externalising them and perhaps revisiting them. Am I consistent, or are my changes sensible and understandable? I can check all my rough working going back many years.
I recently came to the end of my first cycle of Moleskine* notebooks. By cycle I mean I began my first Moleskine back in July 2009 when I was still working in the Middle East and needed to get my life more organised. Sadly that Moleskine was stolen along with my bag from a train standing at Brussels Midi Station. It already had recipes for Turkish food, travel plans, diagrams, task lists and journal entries. In short, I was hooked on using hardback notebooks with nice writing paper.
So I called that one ‘A’ and bought a replacement: ‘B’. And, nine long years later, I have reached the end of the alphabetical cycle. I just finished Book ‘Z’. Each book has 240 pages and the early ones lasted 4-6 months each. The shortest, when I was doing my postgrad, lasted 2 months. For a few years now they’ve been averaging 3-4 months each, about 3½ per year.
This neat row of books looks inoffensive: just used and shelved. Yet they collectively cover such a sweep of different writing. There are task lists, mostly ticked off and completed. There is the process of leaving Iraq, recovering and doing a postgrad. There is the start of a business and recording various thoughts and iterations of it, from rapid prototyping to communication consultancy. Design ideas and sketches. There are the germs of ideas for five books, now written and published. There are journal entries that record anguish at disappointments and bereavements, but also joys in births, marriages and new beginnings. Friends passing into and out of life. Planning of holidays, homes and gardens… even seed diagrams.
There is the rough working of learning about things. When I wonder why I didn’t do such-and-such earlier, I read back and remind myself that I didn’t actually know how to do it earlier. I had to choose to do something, and then had to decide to learn it, and then make time to practise and implement. Such things include Book-keeping, WordPress, HR, social media, business administration, public-speaking and, of course, Arabic. These books record nearly all of that. Then there are the summaries of books read, dissected and digested. There are so many meetings and events and lectures that I’ve attended. There are the developments of talks and speeches I’ve given, and all from a daily blank (well, 30 lines) sheet of paper.
So when I finished Book ‘Z’, I wondered how to start the next book. I number the pages of my books, 1-240. But when I did the maths it computed that 26 books of 240 pages equalled 6240 pages. The number of words I’ve written are difficult to assess, but about ¾ of the pages are full journal entries at about 300 words per page and the others average about half that. So it works out at over 1½ million words just in these books alone, without computers or other journals.
4680 x 300 = 1,404,000
1560 x 150 = 234,000
Total words = 1,638,000, ie over 1½ million words!
So, I’ll carry on using these techniques to organise my life until I’m in my dotage. There’s something about the act of pen on paper that aids memory. Writing like this is freer and less linear than just writing on a computer and it helps the thought processes, particularly at the beginning of projects. And it is often cross-referenced (but not indexed – I’m not a glutton for punishment!) so easy to access and flick through. It downloads large quantities of clutter from my head, and helps in making decisions. If I’ve been thorough, I can see the logic that led me to take a decision. I can check if I’ve achieved the objectives I began with (or not).
Finally, might keeping journals actually work for you? Does it make you more organised (if you want that) and less cluttered in your head? If it’s not working and not effective, perhaps it’s time to experiment with new techniques? Of course, each person to their own. Whatever you use I’d encourage you to to enjoy it and make something real and as beautiful as you can.
I’m starting the next book’s page numbers at 6241.
*Other quality notebooks are available.