The Way I Journal: finding inspiration in Day One

I bloody love diaries.

Journals, diaries, thought books, whatever they're called, I find them fascinating. I find the process of using one very satisfying and reassuring and, what's more, I find I am very interested in how other people use them, too.

A few years ago, grasping for a final year project for my Information Management degree, I decided to study how and why people keep diaries, with a brief nod to the differences between doing so on paper and digitally. I was most interested in what made people start keeping a diary, and what made people keep on keeping a diary.

But that's all another story which I still haven't gotten round to blogging about.

For now, I wanted to draw attention to a blog post from the makers of Day One, a fabulous diary app for iOS and Mac OS X. I've been using Day One for a couple of years now, and it is my chosen method for not just keeping a diary, but maintaining one, too.

Tulio Jarocki seems to have gone from being a Day One enthusiast to a Day One community employee – and I must say I'm a little bit jealous of that. But luckily he's been doing great work, pulling together inspiration and looking at why people keep a journal. And the latest incarnation of this effort can be found in an interview with tech blogger Shawn Blanc, which is well worth a read, if you're into this sort of thing.

In reading the interview, two things struck me:

  • It asks a lot of questions which are similar to those I asked in the survey which formed the bulk of the research for my final year project.
  • I love answering questions like this, and would like to be interviewed for this project.


Who are you and what do you do?

I'm Paul Capewell, and I work in the library of a large transport infrastructure organisation, giving my customers the information they need to do their jobs, as well as doing fun stuff with archive material.

When and why did you start journaling?

I started writing down the things I was doing when I was about 15 – initially, I think, as an excuse to play with HTML. But I also really seemed to enjoy knowing I was noting down the things I did and the places I went. I very quickly realised how good it was to know I could quickly reflect on an event with some key details to help jog my memory.

Did some specific event make you start journaling? Was it something you set out to do for the rest of your life?

Not really, although being able to type stuff into a computer helped, so it went hand-in-hand with using a computer every evening (after six pm, when dial-up was cheaper!). I don't think I ever intended for it to be a permanent habit; it just sort of became one.

Looking back, I can't think of where the inspiration would have come from – although the 'weblogs' of others on the web at that time would be the closest.

What is your journaling routine?

Nowadays I try to take five minutes (or thirty) at the start or end of the day to write a brief overview of the day's events. I very occasionally make a brief entry throughout the day if the mood takes me, but mostly it's a start- or end-of-the-day routine.

Do you focus on longform writing or capturing small memories of life?

Mostly long form – although not all that long form. Just, concise. For example, the whole day in a few hundred words, rather than just a thought or random episode. Sometimes the whole day in a couple of thousand words – but rarely.

Do you have a favorite spot you like to journal from?

I do really prefer to be sat at a table or desk to write my diary. Something about feeling more comfortable, and I feel compelled to write more words. That said, I'm just as happy to hunch over my iPhone and thumb a couple of hundred words in on my lunch break, or sit up in bed with my iPad.

What was your first entry in Day One?

00:02, Saturday, 11 February 2012

Downloaded Day One to try out. I've been lazy in keeping a diary lately and I'm interested in trying to make the process as frictionless as possible. I will miss pen and paper though, of course.

You mentioned previously that you journal both digitally with Day One and physically with notebooks. Why do you still keep a paper journal?

Sorry for stealing your question, Shawn. But on this subject, I kept a paper diary for a few years while I was at uni. It was partly because it was the first time in years that I had a desk to call my own, and finding great, tactile joy in a fountain pen and a ruled, spiral bound notebook.

But mostly it was because I had the time to indulge in the habit, so I could write pages and pages. It also helped me focus – being away from a computer to concentrate purely on squirting my brain out onto the paper via the nib of a pen.

How many entries do you have in your journal?

4,336 – from January 2002 to present day.

Four thousand, three hundred and thirty-six. Oh.

Much like Shawn, I've been using Day One for a year or two, but on top of this, I actually imported the entries from previous digital diaries into it as well (LiveJournal, Diaryland, and my own hand-coded HTML pages) – although I've never 'imported' handwritten entries into it, whether via transcribing or scanning.

What is your favorite or most-used feature in Day One?

Beyond the always-there-ness of the app, whichever device I have near me, it's probably the metadata that gets added without me even needing to think about it – the current weather and location. (On newer devices, it also sucks in movement data from the dedicated chip. I look forward to upgrading to an iPhone 5C.)

Ironically, even though Day One automatically records it, I do still very often make a note of the weather*, but it's really neat to have the 'correct' weather added too.

* This is probably one of my favourite elements when reading the diaries of others. I just love when diarists stop to make a brief note of the current weather conditions. It's often a lot more related to the related entry than maybe they realise. It also helps to set the scene. On that note, this is one of the best little anthologies of diary entries around – it's just annoying that it's not currently published as an ebook.

Do you write mostly on the iPhone, iPad, or the Mac?

Pretty much an equal split between the three, although after a recent restoring of my iPhone, I didn't bother reinstalling the Day One app as that's the least fun method of input (and the installation takes quite a long time as I have so many entries in it).

Now that I've recently set up my desk again, I'm back to using the Mac app more, which I enjoy. But the iPad is my most-used method of entry.

Do you follow any journal organization rules?

Not really, although I am a creature of habit and so my entries all tend to kind of read the same. I'd hate to run a predictive text bot through my entire diary; it would definitely be able to create a pretty faithful fabrication of a real entry.

Do you tag your entries?

No. This is one feature of Day One I've never bothered using, actually. The fact that it's fully text searchable by default kind of makes this an unnecessary feature for me, although I can see the potential of creating sub-diaries (like a food/dream/holiday journal) and exporting only those entries. It's something I'd like to use for a specific purpose, and I like that it's there.

It's these kind of subtle, thoughtful additional features added by the Day One team that I like – rarely 'too much', never intrusive, and just there when you need them.

Have you ever relied on Day One for something unexpected, or used it to recall details about a specific event or date?

Quite often, actually. Whether it's looking up when I did a specific thing, or the first time I mentioned a friend/book/project, I do this every few weeks. The fact that I have however many hundreds of thousands of words instantly text-searchable in my pocket is mind-boggling, terrifying, and incredibly reassuring.