Discussion, Guest Post

Journals and Diaries | Written by Gail

I will never succeed at bullet journaling. It’s never going to happen.

This is something I realized recently, after several attempts at the concept. I’m not good at planning ahead, or spending lots of time preparing for something; and bullet journals – at least, the way I’ve seen it handled – takes a lot of time. You need to hand number the pages, and design the layouts in advance. You can’t just sit down and write. You’re keeping track of things, and that means you have to know all of your assignments and grocery lists and whatnot at the moment you’re writing them down, and keep updating it.

failed attempt at bullet journaling. this is the only page that has anything written on it

I write my homework in the note application in my phone, and even then, only if it’s something complex I would forget the details of unless I wrote it down immediately. I’m not going to carry my bullet journal with me at all times just to write down (and this is directly from my phone) “For Icon – Dune, That Hebrew vampire erotica” (books I want to get rid of/sell) or “Litter, Socks, Toothbrush, Various pills” (a to do list). This system is immediate, and can be accessed at all times; this works for me.

I’m not saying bullet journals are a bad thing. I’m just saying that I finally decided to give them up recently. I suck at consistency, I suck at remembering to do things when they’re not immediately available, I suck at planning ahead.

And besides, I’ve been keeping a diary since I was 12.

“But how?” you might ask, considering I just said I don’t do consistency. But that’s the secret, you see; diaries don’t need consistency. They don’t need to be up to date.

The notebook I currently use as a diary has a beautiful flower pattern that I noticed sometime in early 2016. I used it as a diary starting that summer, after I decided to stop using the previous one at the point of my high school graduation (I felt it was a neat close to that ‘chapter’ in my life). The first date in it is the 12th of August 2016. I wrote in it very sparingly every few weeks or so for the next few months, until the 27th of February 2017.

The next entry is the 17th of March 2018.

Yes, more than a year had passed since I had written a single entry in my diary. The opening of that entry reads as follows: “The last time I seriously kept a diary was in the 12th grade. The first few pages in this notebook do not count. […] I didn’t so much decide to stop as much as I forgot so often I forgot.”

current diary – it’s meant to be written from right to left, not left to right, so the bookmark sticks out from the top

It’s not that nothing happened to me in the entirety of 2017. In fact, that was an incredibly challenging year, the first time I was out of a school framework since I could remember myself. I got a job, and I studied for and then took the Israeli version of the SATs, and I saw friends and had the worst week of my life, which I’ll still be processing at the end of my life.

But the diary didn’t care that I hadn’t written in it. There was no prep work involved. I simply picked up the notebook a year later and continued writing for myself.

That’s what I love about diaries, compared to bullet journals. When I was journaling, I felt like I was doing it for an imaginary audience. It had to be aesthetic and immaculate; it had to be orderly and photogenic. But my thoughts are not orderly or photogenic. They’re messy. It isn’t the daily minutiae that I care about, but the feelings that come with the strangely freeing yet difficult experience of making my own schedule, my strangely detailed dreams, what it’s like finally owning a cat after dreaming of getting one for years and years (it’s fantastic, by the way). What it feels like to have a friendship end unexpectedly, or the sheer boredom of depression. Those feelings go on the page, and sometimes they’re illegible, but that’s okay, because the point was to express them, not to read them.

I do try to keep it neat enough that I can reread, but that’s never been the point for me. I started keeping a diary when I was in sixth grade because I thought it was cool, but then I kept having thoughts and feelings and I had no one to express them to. Being a teenager is really difficult; being a bipolar, autistic, bisexual teenager (and having no clue I was any of those things) is even harder. My own psyche was my own worst enemy and my oldest friend. Actually putting things to words – even when it was something like “I. Hate. My. Computer.” (4th of August 2012) – helped me sort out my feelings.

old diary, circa 2012
the inside of said diary

What was important to me? What wasn’t? Today was a good day, yesterday was a bad one, I think I’m going to go to my friend’s house tomorrow, I have a project due and it’s stressing me out. I never have to look at it again. I don’t have to show it to anyone. But someone ought to know what I’m feeling, and since I’m the most qualified person for the job, I better find somewhere to express it.

A diary is a conversation with yourself. It forces you to confront your life head on.

A little private confession: I was recently confronted with someone I thought I’d never see again, and it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I was forced to sit down with him. Talk to him. Chuckle at his jokes. While every bone in my body was screaming at me to run away.

But the thing is – nobody at that table knew (or knows) why I was experiencing such a strong case of fight or flight except him. I don’t have any friends who know the full scale of the story, if they know anything at all, who were close to me when it happened.

The only person who knows the full story and would be sympathetic for me is me.

So for the first time in years, I wrote about him. I took out my diary and wrote the entire story, from beginning to end. The important stuff; how it was, how it ended, what I remember, what I don’t. What I know for sure and what I suspect was the case. Things I doubt myself over and things I couldn’t face at the time. And then the evening this happened, every bit that I can remember, what led me there, what couldn’t prevented this from happening, what I should’ve told him and what I actually said. While writing, I sobbed, until I had no tears left.

It took me over an hour to write five and a half pages, because I couldn’t make myself finish. I had to force myself to keep writing, to get past the finish line.

But I think doing it helped me forgive myself a little.

I think that, for me, a vital part of keeping a diary is actually writing it down. I’m not one to preach for the physical over the digital; I use OneNote in school, and I own a Kindle which I use regularly, and I write all my reminders down in my phone. I even have a file on Google Drive titled “diary, sorta” for when I don’t have a diary handy but I have something I want to write down immediately, like an idea for a poem or a specific emotion to express.

But the act of actually writing the diary is part of the catharsis, for me. The graphite on my hand that I have to wash off when I’m done, my handwriting becoming illegible because I was so frantic to get this thought out before the next one slips out of reach, random drawings – most of them awful – and sketches of ideas. I like searching for the perfect notebook – not too big, not too small, with enough pages and with a nice, pleasing design – and then finding it.

Writing can be done in a myriad of ways, and God knows I’ve explored many of them. I’ve tapped on phone and tablet screens, I’ve typed on keyboards, I’ve written with ink and with crayons and with charcoal. But the simple pencil holds my heart. Maybe it’s the fact that it can be dark or light depending on the amount of force you apply, or the fact that it can be erased – but only very carefully, or maybe it’s the nostalgia of being given your first pencil in first grade and shown how to spell your name (although I’ll admit I have almost no memories of first grade, and certainly not that one) – but in the end, when I put pencil to paper, I express myself in a different way than I do when using any other medium. It feels more permanent, but also flexible.

Even having been writing diaries for so long, I seldom finish one notebook or another. It has happened, but with the scarcity of my writing, a single diary can often span a year or even much more. By the time I’m reaching the two third mark of a certain notebook, I’m itching for another one. And I’ve probably already bought it; now I’m just waiting for an excuse to stop and move on to the next one. And so I find one. I’ve already mentioned graduation, but there’s also been ones that ended on my birthday, or that I stapled so many random pieces of paper (birthday cards and doodles and poems and newspaper clippings) to various pages through the diary that it didn’t close anymore.

I think I’m reaching that point in my life again. I’ve bought a notebook; it’s got a gorgeous blue cover with an intricate design that says “I need my space” and has a mug with swirling stars in it. It’s dotted paper, which is tantalizingly difficult to find in this country. It’s marketed as a bullet journal, but there’s nothing preventing me from using it as a regular diary, and I fully intend to.

my gorgeous new notebook
I’m in love with this end paper!

I’m looking forward to closing the previous chapter of my life and starting the next one, whether it lasts six months or two years. And I’m looking forward to countless more conversations with myself.

Do you keep a bullet journal or a diary? I’d like to hear your experiences, and whether you prefer one over the other.


33 thoughts on “Journals and Diaries | Written by Gail”

  1. I really enjoyed your writing, it resonated with me. I consider myself fairly organized, but yet I kept up with a bullet journal for only six months until I finally gave it up. By the end, it looked more like endless to do lists than anything else. But I have kept diaries for most of my life, and I do write almost everything on the note app on my phone. You explained the differences between the two really well.

  2. I very much understand this post. I want to bullet journal. It looks so pretty and creative and lovely. But I’m just bad at consistency. I’m more of a ‘spreadsheet I update maybe twice per month’ type of person. Also I like to delete stuff. I can’t do that in a physical book. I also never remember to take it with me. I hardly remember to take my phone every day. I am quite disorganised!!! 😂

  3. I’m terrible at keeping a bullet journal but it’s something I would love to get into properly! I’m awful for feeling like I’ve ruined something when I make a spelling or design mistake!

    1. You’re not awful, it’s the expectations placed on something that should be private that are awful :D

  4. Thanks for sharing this, Gail. I’ve never kept a diary or bullet journal. I tried keeping a diary when I was pregnant with my second child but it didn’t work. Of course, I didn’t look at it as you do – wish I had. Bullet journals are, in my opinion, too much work. ;) The only “journaling” I keep up with is book reviews. Yes, I keep journals with all my reviews written in them. But I like physically writing my reviews. So I do. :) I love your new notebook. The cover and the paper are GORGEOUS! I can see why you were drawn to it.
    Again, thanks for sharing your story with journaling.

  5. Thank you for sharing this! I had two notebook dairies, one when I was 6yrs on a trip to Italy and the other when I was 12yrs on the trip to California (they were actually the same notebook).
    Afterwards, 3 years later I started a personal blog on a blogging site. I at the beginning I really wrote to an imaginary audience, or I least I felt like I needed too, because it’s on the internet. And at first I had irl friends on this blogging site and we all followed one another.

    After while I stopped writing for people, and wrote for myself. And I really empathize with your way of describing it as a “conversation with yourself”.

    P.S – This blue notebook looks amazing! Reminds me of a TARDIS Blue shade.

    1. I’ve now replied to you in private but I’m just going to mock you publicly for forgetting how to comment like a person on your own personal friend’s post

  6. I tried bullet journalling, and like you, wasn’t consistent. I forget to write things down, and then when I had the time, couldn’t remember anything to go in the thing! I’m also the same with diaries. I’ll write in it for a week, forget it, write in it again 8 months later. That journal and those end pages you posted at the end. I’m in love.

  7. That notebook is gorgeous! I have a journal that I occasionally write my thoughts into, but it’s not really consistent, I use it when I feel like I need it the most mentally. I have two planners, one big and one small and use them to plan out my weeks, write down important dates because I’m very forgetful. I tried bujo-ing but it just wasn’t really for me, the planners work better.

    1. I tried plannering too, definite failure. Any sort of planning ahead is not going to succeed with me lmao

  8. Your new notebook is stunning! Wow! And I’m so glad I happened upon this post. I’ve not been the most active blog hopper recently and this post is such a lovely read. I can completely relate to the catharsis journaling brings. I’ve always wanted to keep a diary, but always been upset when I didn’t stick with it, but I do think that it’s always there when you need it; it doesn’t have to be a daily thing.

    I started 2019 with the intent to keep a daily diary and it gradually stopped around March, but I still find myself thinking about it when I’m swimming with thoughts that I can’t share with anyone and they’d be out of place on my blog or in my bujo.

    I’m honestly surprised I’ve stuck with my bujo for so long! That’s why I ultimately invested in a proper dotted notebook, which made it so much easier to make my layouts. I don’t always fill it out each month, but I think it has given me some semblance of order and control over my life. ^_^

    1. Lmao “some semblance of order and control over me life” I WISH
      I definitely recommend just going back to your diary whenever. It’s not going to judge you for waiting between entires – the only person who can judge you is you. Practice some radical self care and DONT! <3

      1. Haha, I don’t find it much of chore to design and plan a monthly spread though! Drawing and designing a spread is actually a form of stress relief to me. Let me live! <3

        Plus, I find it cringey-painful to look back at my diary most of the time. Looking back at my bujo is always a treat ^_^

      2. I don’t think I said anything about bujoing in my comment – but you don’t have to look back at your diary! All I’m saying is if you really need to express yourself, as far as I’m concerned, grab a random notebook and express yourself! It’s healthier than suppressing it, I swear.

      3. Haha, I know you didn’t. I know what you mean about writing purely for yourself, not to look back. I guess I just don’t write to express myself. I diary to document. I probably express myself in other ways. Actually if I’m steaming with frustration or sadness, I tend to type it out instead of handwriting. So I guess I DO do something like what you’re talking about. I just don’t dedicate my beloved stationary to it.

    1. It’s an Israeli company! I also have their black cat notebook and I’m constantly buying their stationary for my mother. You can check them out here, but I don’t know if they do international shipping – Compoco.com
      Relaxed is good in my opinion! But what works for me doesn’t work for everyone :)

  9. This is a really interesting post! I’d never seen the issues with keeping a bullet journal not really writing for yourself. But I really want to write for myself again and this post has made me realise that – thank you.

    1. Really? It seems to me like bullet journaling by its very (aesthetic) nature has to be at least partially performative, since you’re not writing what you did today, but what you’re *planning* on doing, and whether or not you succeeded. And you’re welcome, and good luck!

  10. I’ve tried a bullet journal but it didn’t get much use and only lasted a few months! Definitely not a diary person either 🙈

  11. This is such an interesting post! I started a bullet journal last year but definitely struggled with updating it regularly so I don’t stick to themes anymore and instead just use it as and when I want to!

  12. I have never been able to keep a bullet journal, but I love keeping my daily planner. I think it is easier because it is all set up. I also have been keeping a diary since I was 12. I recently read it back, and I had absolutely nothing of value to say when I was young. I used to talk about cleaning my room a lot, LOL!

    1. Yeah my early diary is mostly me talking about “I went to school and I talked to this person and then I went home and had dinner” and things like that. It’s sort of like a time capsule full of absolutely worthless objects!

  13. Love this! I completely understand the bullet journal thing…I wish I could do one but I am so NOT artsy or creative in that way but I do keep a journal. Like you, I may write one every few months and at times, it’s daily. It is a conversation with yourself. I write when I’m mad because I can write whatever I want to – I can cuss, be unrealistic, and completely hateful. It helps me calm myself! Anyway, great post! Thanks for sharing!!

  14. I feel the same way. When i take the time to write in my journal, I do it for hours and then may not write in it again for months, but that is OK. i love the idea of bullet journals, but I feel I am always failing, or as your say, I suck! To new beginnings.

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