Michael Palin on the diary habit

Have made a decent start at documenting this wonderful weekend away. Next: sorting the photographs. 😊

Michael Palin’s recently-launched website, themichaelpalin.com, features a fun selection of new writing which I hope will be added to over time. They don’t appear to be in the form of blog entries, but have the feel of them.

In one, the avid diary-writer explains how the habit makes him feel, and encourages others to take it up:

When I’m not travelling I keep my hand in by writing up a daily diary. I like the fact that I have to take some time over it. It’s personal and doesn’t ask for replies or re-tweets. It’s only between me and myself, so I can take as little or as much time as I want. I find my daily diary entry is like doing morning exercise. The equivalent of a shot of Pilates. Something you do each morning (or each evening) that makes you feel better.

If you feel the same way as I do, then go out and buy yourself a good-looking note-book, put the year and the day’s date at the top of the page and start remembering tomorrow. It’ll be hard at first. There are so many reasons to give up, but, believe me, if you persevere, you’ll never regret it.

I have similar thoughts about my own habit.

I have kept a diary in one form or another for about thirteen years. Although it’s sometimes rather less than daily, I always feel better when there is a steady trickle of entries, and confess to feeling something akin to anxiety when I know I’ve gone a while without an update.

When you read Palin’s post, above, in full, you’ll see that he suggests writing longhand is a more involved but ultimately more rewarding process. I have mixed feelings on this – and my diary is a testament to that.

While I was at university, I tended to keep my diary in longhand. I had more time to reflect, and to write, and I took great pleasure in sitting down with a fountain pen to scratch into a ruled, spiral bound notebook.

These days I use Day One, a Mac and iOS app, and make entries on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. I find I can type fairly quickly, and I enjoy the ability to pull out the tool nearest to me and quickly tap out a few lines, knowing that the content will be added to one central collection. The added metadata on each entry – such as weather or location – is also a bonus.

Before I used Day One, I used a variety of online tools like Livejournal and DiaryLand, as well as a blog. Thanks to others more clever than me, I’ve been able to convert those entries into one format, before ultimately re-assembling them all in Day One. This gives me a database of entries – all except the handwritten notebooks – that I can search by keyword with ease, and that I know is backed up in multiple locations.

The keyword lookup isn’t something I use terribly often, but whenever I’ve felt the need, it’s been a massive reassurance to know that I could. Sometimes it’s to remind myself when I first did something, or went somewhere. Other times it’s to jog my memory in another way. Occasionally it’s been an enlightening revelation that, no, I didn’t actually write about a particular Life Event which I’ve later come to understand the importance of.

I recently went away for a beautiful long weekend to celebrate my thirtieth birthday, a wonderful treat from Megan. Knowing that we would effectively be ‘off the grid’ for a few days meant that I bought a little notebook (seen above) to record our time away. I could have written the entries locally on my iPhone, but I find that when I’m away, or travelling, then that is the time to fall back on notebook and pen. It vexes my archivist’s mind in terms of the digital/analogue split, but I’ll worry about that on a rainy day.

For now, however, I know I have the diary-writing itch, and I’ll continue to scratch it whenever I feel the need to, and in whatever format.