How Keeping a Diary Can Change Your Life

April 6, 2016

Diary entry from 9 year old Teri:
“Today is pizza lunch at school. Pizza tastes good. I wish I got more.”


I kid you not, in every entry from my childhood I mention what I ate or was planning to eat. I remember when I was 8-years old and I wrote my very first entry in my very first sparkly, sticker-covered diary, I pointedly learned the tricky spelling of “spaghetti.” I had wanted to record what my favourite food was (still is) because #priorities. Honestly, children are like little drunk adults.

A late bloomer, I didn’t develop crushes until I was 14. Then nearly a decade of “misunderstood” teenage angst followed, monopolizing the pages of many private notebooks.

While I was studying graphic design at OCAD University, I read the eponymously titled ‘Sagmeister’ by the rockstar of the design world, Stefan Sagmeister. In it he noted that he’s kept a diary since he was 14 and that one of his best business ideas was to keep a business diary. In an effort to emulate someone I admired, my diary evolved to having a more focussed function. I became more mindful and deliberate of what I wrote.

What do I write in my diary now? I certainly don’t maliciously malign the haircut of rejected suitors. Maybe I do, a little bit (if only to for therapeutic purposes). Instead of logging frivolous nothings, scrawled and then forgotten, I make a conscious effort to record valuable contentfeelings, thoughts, ideas, experiences, and goals that I would potentially want to refer back to. But it’s not just for a practical use, it’s essential to my emotional and mental well-being. My diary is more me than I am.

It’s where I’m allowed to be vulnerable, where I dare to dream and confess my fears, stain the pages with tears and violently cross things out with angry satisfaction without fear of judgement.

All of it scribbled with purple ink in an unassuming black Moleskine.

I can’t advocate enough the benefits of keeping some form of a diary, journal, notebook….whatever you want to call it! Sure, the uncensored crazy could potentially be used as evidence to have me institutionalized but the positives effects may outweigh the negatives.


Side note: Life was easier (albeit less satisfying) when my parents were in charge of moderating how much and what I ate.


How Keeping a Diary Can Change Your Life:



Sometimes negative emotions are so overpowering that you can feel like you’re going to suffocate. Writing in a diary can feel like all that poisonous bile is pouring out of you and onto the pages (better out than in, as Shrek says). Suddenly it doesn’t look quite as all-consuming or threatening on the paper as it did in your head. It’s as cathartic as blasting Adele on your speakers or watching a Shonda Rhimes show (i.e. Grey’s Anatomy) and bawling your eyes out. Those women play my emotions like Yo Yo Ma plays the cello.


Leave your diplomatic phrasing, defence-mechanisms, and pretence at the door and face yourself. Sometimes what you write is going to be petty, hormonal, I-want-a-burger-but-I’m-stuck-with-a-salad HANGRY thoughts but that’s ok. One of the great things about a diary is that it’s private so you can write anything you want without worrying about how it may be perceived or the potential repercussions. It’ll be uncomfortable to face aspects of yourself you’d rather not acknowledge but there’s no point to keeping a diary if you’re not going to be honest. The first step to liberating yourself and accepting hard truths if by first admitting it to yourself.


Joan Didion expresses how I feel about writing perfectly: “I don’t know what I’m thinking until I write it down.” Thoughts and feelings can pile up in your mind like dirty laundry. They’ll get tangled and unruly to deal with if you leave them too long. Writing it down can help bring clarity and insight into yourself. In your head, thoughts can be swirling around faster than you can make sense of. Call some order by putting it to paper. Writing forces you to formulate sentences in order, addressing thoughts one at a time.


If you ever become famous, you’ll have a head start on a memoir of your life! A diary is like reading a book about you, written by you. It’s a detailed account of recollections from your perspective. It can be an embarrassing read at times (see: ALL of the teenage years) but there’s no one to see you blush! It’s also full of juicy tidbits that you have long forgotten that can make for an entertaining read. It’s ok to put pause on the present and escape to the past to bask in some cherished memories.


When I feel frustrated with a problem I’m currently having, I like to read old diary passages. I immerse myself in difficulties of the past; mountains I climbed, and soothe my fears by seeing how far I’ve come. Those mountains that seemed so steep and impassable at the time are now behind me. I arm myself with tales written in my own hand of how I conquered previous goals. It gives me the perspective that I need to overcome my present obstacle and the motivation to keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep climbing.


It’s more of a commitment when you put your goals into words and apply it to the page. In The Happy Show, Sagmeister writes “….I find it helpful to reread certain passages to see what my thinking was, and more importantly to discover things I feel need changing. When I have repeatedly described a circumstance or character trait of mine that I dislike, I eventually wind up doing something about it.” It’s a physical reminder that can act to hold you accountable and propel you towards action.


Some days I feel like I’m brimming with amazing (or what seems amazing at the time) ideas. Sometimes everything is so clear and sharp but I know the next day I can feel the exact opposite. Keeping a diary is useful for both situations. On the good days, you have somewhere to securely record all of your gems. On the bad days you can refer to your treasure trove to try and spark inspiration when it doesn’t come naturally. If it’s something you don’t want to forget, don’t take chances that you won’t remember it later on and write it down.


Maybe the problem is not that you’re against keeping a diary but rather that don’t think you’re a good writer or you just don’t like to write. It might just be a matter of finding what works for you. Think about how keeping a diary would benefit YOU most and modify the format to your needs. For example if you need quick pick-me-ups throughout your day you can try using a diary to compile inspirational quotes. If you want to keep on track with your goals, you can write in your diary in list form– to-do lists, goals, step-by-step plans, etc…By the way, when you write all the time, you’re bound to improve your skills.

Get started by finding a notebook that is not too big or heavy and lies flat when you write; one that you’re going to enjoy writing in. My go-to notebooks are the classic black, lined notebooks from Moleskine. Find a pen that doesn’t drag or make it more difficult to write.

I’ll help you get started with your first entry:
What accomplishment were you the most proud of in the last year?