A Good Diary

The Little Miss recently got her first diary. She was very excited about it. It came with a small key (certain to be lost) with which she can lock the diary after writing in it. I was pleased to see her get a diary. I wish I had started a diary at five years old. It would be fascinating to see what my five-year-old self wrote about.

Instead, I was 24 when I started a diary, and I kept it going pretty steadily for 10 years. I used red, hard-covered Standard Diaries, and I never wrote anything in them that I would be ashamed of if someone else happened to see it.

Diaries fascinate me. It seems that everyone I’ve read about kept a diary, from John Adams to George Patton and beyond. The historical value of diaries like these must be incredible. My reasons for keeping a diary were less with an eye toward history and more about wanting to be able to remember what I was doing on any given day. As a child, I can recall laying in bed thinking, “When I am older, will I remember this particular day?” I remember having the thoughts, but the days blur together.

My diaries listed what I happened to be reading, or writing; what stories I submitted, or what rejection letters I received in the mail. I noted when I spoke to people on the phone, or had an important meeting at work. Only occasionally did I venture beyond this. They served their purpose, however. I can open one up and get the details of some particular day in my life.

I no longer keep a diary, at least not in the traditional sense, although I’ve tried on-and-off when the mood strikes me. If I am going to spend time writing, I prefer to spent it writing here, or writing stories, or articles. Besides, the amount of data that is captured by our activity these days makes the kind of diary I kept obsolete.

I can, from various data sources, produce the following for just about any day in the past four or five years:

  • How many words I wrote, and what those specific words were. (Google Docs and GitHub
  • What code I wrote (GitHub)
  • How far I walked and how many steps I took (FitBit)
  • Who I interacted with (Email, Facebook, Twitter)
  • What important things came in the mail (Evernote)
  • What I was reading (my reading list, and browser history)
  • What events took place (iCloud calendar)
  • What items I checked off my to-do list (Todoist)
  • Where I drove, how long it took, and how much I spent on gas (Automatic)
  • What the weather was like (Dark Sky
  • What photos and videos I captured (iCloud)

I’ve played around with digital diaries like Day One. I like Day One, but it seems to me that a modern diary would simply be an aggregator that took data from all of these different sources and compiled it into a daily entry–one to which I could append my own notes and thoughts, if I wanted to. The closest I’ve seen to something like that is Gyroscope.

I think the reason that I have failed to take up writing in a diary has a lot to do with all of the data that is already available. Sitting down and writing that I was stuck in traffic for half an hour on my way home feels silly and redundant when I know the data exists in Automatic Link, for instance. I can’t help but feel that I am somehow repeating information that has been recorded elsewhere.

That is one reason I like this blog so much. It isn’t really a diary, but it allows me to write about things that I think about without feeling redundant. And if someone invents an aggregator to collect all of the data already available, when I look back at today, I’ll see that I wrote about 600 words in the evening, just before taking the Little Man to Cub Scouts.

600 words is about 100 more than I aim for on these essays. I need to do better.


  1. Hey there, found your site looking for automated word count solutions, so I’m trying your Google Docs Word Robot right now, and thanks for that. But, on the topic of diaries, have you seen Brett Terpstra’s Slogger? http://brettterpstra.com/projects/slogger/ . It seems to be very much what you’re looking for as a life-logging aggregator. I used it for a while and quite like it.


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