How To Write a Diary

A Great Artform

The diary is among the most well known forms of book-writing. Many young people will start their writing lives young by keeping a diary or a journal.

A diary might be the kind of writing that is done more typically day by day in a format prescribed by the size of the page in the particular diary you have bought. In its own way, this can be a useful way of getting started, as most diaries that you buy at the beginning of the year will have just one page to fill and they will often not be very large pages. In that way, especially if you are a young person, perhaps aged around fourteen or fifteen, you might find it quite easy to get started, because the Diary book itself comes with a format that you merely have to fill. However, whatever age you are, if you are new to diaristic or journal writing, having a structure like that could really help.
Initially, you may write only a few hundred words a day. All writing is a matter of confidence, after all! You have to feel that you are able to write, and sometimes if you feel under pressure to fill a vast amount of space, or to say a great deal, you freeze! You then think, ‘I can’t do this’, or ‘I can’t be a writer, because I can’t even fill two pages’. But it is important to be kind to yourself.

Two pages!

Sometimes filling two pages after quite an ordinary day can be difficult, so a diary that is provided with just one lined page per entry for each day can help in not forcing you to feel burdened. Our writing should not feel like a burden, especially if we are writing something voluntarily. And if we are writing something as personal as a diary, we definitely do not want to feel under undue pressure. After all, if we find it a burden to write, there is a chance the reader will find it a burden to read! 

Choosing Your Diary

So let’s be clear – writing a diary in a pre-published format, with a day entry per page, can be a very good way to get started. In fact, as we said, it can be a useful structure at any age, so whatever age you are, if you are thinking of writing a diary and keeping a record of your life and thoughts, you may find it wise to buy a Day-to-Day Diary from a good stationers or from a bookshop. 

Many larger bookstores in particular will carry a great range of diaries that look highly attractive. Very well known brands include Letts and Collins, but other stationers like Rymans or WHSmith also stock their own brand of diaries and they can be cheaper than the more well known brands. 

If, however, you really want a swish diary, then many of the upmarket stationers produce beautiful formats. Moleskine and Leuchtturm offer some wonderful options for those seeking a top quality paper and binding for their first rate lives! These are widely available online and also in shops. We often find that it is wise to handle a diary in the flesh, so that you can imagine yourself sitting at your desk writing in it. You sometimes need to know how the spine bends, how the pages fold, and what the texture of the paper feels like to touch. If the Diary itself is beautiful and makes you smile, you are much more likely to open it and make good use of it! 

Find that Slot!

Given that this kind of Diary is a daily habit, you need to think carefully about where you have time to write it. For some, that may be at home in the evening at the end of the day, but for others that time of the day may be too late. You may be tired, you may be putting the children to bed, you may have late night work and be working shifts that mean you are often not free in the evenings. Or you may have a favourite TV show that you just can’t miss! 

Whatever your lifestyle and routines, it is best to know a couple of regular slots a day that can be options for making sure you spend even a few minutes with your Diary. We know of writers who like to start their day with a few lines over breakfast, maybe recounting the dreams they had overnight. They then come back to their Diary later in the day to reflect on what has happened or to jot down ideas for other writing, or to note down wonderful bits of conversation they have heard or taken part in. Each visit to the page may only be for about five to ten minutes, but even that discipline makes sure that every day feels animated. 

It is important not to leave too many days with no entry, or you soon lose the feeling for making a Diary come to life. Even a tiny entry is worth something, so never be shy about making short visits to the page to report! Sometimes, these short visits become works of art in themselves, like diaristic haikus! 

Sitting Comfortably

For most people writing the diary will likely be something done in the evening, so you should make sure to have a good space to sit and write it. It might sound silly, but having the right seating arrangement can really make you a better writer! You need to be comfortable and not always fidgeting around in the chair, if you are to spend perhaps twenty minutes, or even longer, putting down your thoughts. For many writers, there is always a favourite chair or a special place to sit to write best, and when we are writing a diary, that place usually ends up being somewhere in the home. 

The Room You Love

Maybe you are lucky enough to have a room dedicated to your writing. That’s great, but do not be put off if your house or flat is too small to have such a space. Let’s face it – most of us live in houses and flats that are quite small nowadays. With all the other things a home needs, not many have the luxury of space. 

In spite of that, there are many wonderful writers out there, so do not think you need your room to be perfect in order to get started and produce good diary writing. Even if you have a little chair that makes you feel good and a flat surface for the Diary itself, you are good to go! We know writers who write on the breakfast bar in their kitchens. We know others who use a large armrest on the sofa. Others may use the dining table or the coffee table. 

Outdoor Air!

We even hear of writers who go out to the garden and write in the shed. This has become a bigger trend after covid lockdowns, when more people found that they were making fuller use of time at home. Living and writing in the garden is now commoner than it ever was. This is probably a really healthy thing, as people are able to get the best of the worlds of nature as well as being at home in a place they love. 

Wherever you write, just make sure you feel comfortable physically and that the place is one that makes you feel good. You are much more likely to keep up the regular habit of making entries if you are physically at ease. Ideally, get into a habit that you really look forward to, so that it is not just the entries themselves you look forward to, but the whole atmosphere, the whole occasion of that part of your day.

So What Do You Write?

This question is as large as we are! There are potentially 7 billion answers to this question! Each of us has our own thoughts and each of us has his or her own day. 

Having said that, most of us think of a diary in relation to a particular emotional atmosphere. 

For many of us, a diary is where we go to talk to ourselves. It is where we go to say things that matter to us. It is where we go to reflect on our lives and on the people in our lives. It is where we go to focus on our ambitions, or to focus on our feelings about life. 

If you tell people you keep a diary, most people will assume that these are the broad areas you are writing about.

Private or Public?

Many will think that you are writing about private feelings, maybe your loves and desires! Well, perhaps that’s true. Many diaries over the centuries have been about how people felt about their loved ones, or their family, or their closest relationships. Diaries can often be a great help to these people – to all of us as writers – in making sure we really think about what is important to us. To our hearts. To our souls. To our minds and our daily lives. 

As a writer, you are probably already thinking about feelings and emotions. If so, a diary is a natural extension of this. Diary writing will really help you reflect on what it is that you genuinely feel and think about people. This is not always easy, but it is usually a good thing to do nonetheless.

Of course, as a writer you may want to go deeper into feelings on the page than you would in discussion, even with your best friends, and that is what makes a diary so exciting. We often find what we feel as we write, and that is the magic of putting words on the page: they lead to discovery, and this is hopefully what you want to do as a writer more broadly – discover worlds of feelings and emotions. In doing so, you will expand your understanding of life and the world, and as you write your books you are then able to offer the reader a wider understanding of humanity. 

In that sense, though diary writing is a private act, and a diary is a private document, you may find that it helps you open up life and feelings to other people too, as the diary can become the method by which you really think deeply about life.

Who Are Your Readers

This is a question every writer has to ask at some point. But it can seem a little strange to ask it of your diary! You might think that only you are ever going to read it, after all. You might sit there thinking, ‘Thank God it’s just me who ever gets to see this’, as you pour out your secrets and make little comments on your friends and family. ‘Samuel would hate me for saying what I have said about him, if he ever saw it’, you might think. ‘Mary would never forgive me for quoting what she said that time’, you may rightly say to yourself.  

Of course, this is more true of a diary than any other form of writing. It is personal, and perhaps no other form of writing runs the risks of either embarrassing you as a writer, or offending other people, as a diary does. If it is ever published, and you really have been honest, then prepare your friends in advance. Otherwise, you may find that a few friendships fall away, as people read what you once wrote.

As we know, we can write things in anger that we do not actually feel! But this is the risk of diary writing, and it can take strong nerves to make sure that you are ready for people’s judgements when they come.

But Let’s Assume You Keep It To Yourself

Why bother with writing at all, you might think, if nobody but me is going to read it? Well, this is actually a fair question. As writers, we instinctively think we want others to read our work, and, of course, ideally we want to get paid for our writing.

The truth is that few people get paid for their own personal diaries. If you become famous, and it turns out you have written a diary, then there may be quite a lot of money in having them published if you strike a good deal with a publisher. But let’s be honest, that is rare for someone still living. Most of the famous diaries that have been published have come after people have died!

You may end up being someone who becomes famous and whose early diaries are then very marketable, but often we find we are a little uneasy having our younger thoughts published, so when you write a personal diary the best advice is to write it for the pure pleasure of writing it. Personal satisfaction and a feeling of emotional completion are better reasons for keeping a diary than is the idea that diary writing will make you rich. There is a small chance only that riches will come from your diary work.

That may be a sad thought, but it is how it usually is.

Famous Diarists

If you want to look at some famous diaries, there is a vast selection out there. Huge numbers of writers have had diaries published, though, as we say, many of those have come after the writers have died.

Among the most famous diarists of recent times, Alan Bennett, the English comedian and dramatist, has been writing diaries all his life. He is an example of someone who has made a huge amount of money in his own lifetime from publishing his diaries. They are always bestsellers, and he has now published many volumes. They are often slightly absurd, filled with things that you might think are a bit silly in a diary, and that people would not be interested in knowing, but that does not stop them being enormously popular. 

This is important to remember: even things that might seem a bit daft can nonetheless be of interest to people if they trust your voice. If you are trying to fake a voice or a persona, the chances are you will fail. Write from the deepest part of you, and many people will always be engaged by what you say

Many other diaries!

In the UK, the third volume of the diaries of Chips Channon have just been published and have been another bestseller. His life was that of an extraordinarily wealthy politician in the middle of the 20th century, but they remain of huge interest to many people today. His writing is an example of what we said above, as he fills his pages with juicy gossip, deep emotions, truthfulness and sometimes a bit of scandal. Each volume is around 1000 pages long – and these are the edited versions! It is a huge life’s work, and he actually died relatively young. 

Among other famous diaries are those of the comedian Kenneth Williams, which also made a fortune for the publisher after his death. The diaries of the British socialist politician Tony Benn were also voluminous, and made him a great deal of money. They covered decades about his life in Parliament. 

A Rare Talent

But if you look around the worlds of royalty, theatre, and the arts, where we often find plenty of biographies and autobiographies, diary writing itself can still be rarer than you might imagine.

It is therefore an art form to be prized. But though we prize it, let’s not think of it too preciously, because that will perhaps hold us back from starting in the first place. 

Starting really is the key! If you start, and develop a good habit along the lines we have outlined here, there really is a chance you will create a good body of work, as well as doing something that gives you pleasure and adds value to your life. 

And who knows, perhaps one day your diaries will be cited in an article about great diarists of the 21st century! 

So, are you sitting comfortably…?

Max Peret

Max Peret

Max is a photo shy hard working feature writer who helps us write great content behind the scenes. Max enjoys writing about writing on themes of love and a life long dedication to writing as a form of therapy.