Posted in Writing

What Should We Do With Old Diaries?

Scans of diary covers

Anyone out there with old diaries? Why did you begin them and why do you still write them — or why did you stop? What formats do you use, and how do you store them? Are you worried someone else will read them or that you might lose them? Is your blog your diary, or do you see it as being separate?

I came across a 2009 article with many varied comments: Ask Unclutterer: What Should I Do With Old Journals? So many people out there wrestling with similar issues! Some burn or shred their diaries while others keep them safe or pass them on. I was concerned at the thought of them being destroyed, but the more I read, the more I realized it’s a very personal decision. Some diarists may feel their writings have no relevance to anyone, not even themselves. They worked through old problems and moved on, and don’t wish to go through any of it again. Others have no space and feel their families will want to lead an uncluttered life without being weighed down by a grandparent’s angsty old tomes. I can empathize with that thought.ย  Would I want to take responsibility for a large collection of family history? I don’t know. I kept some of my grandfather’s old books but didn’t want all of them, foxed and old-fashioned as they were. He didn’t keep a diary but I would have liked one, maybe half a dozen. On the other hand, a whole boxful, supposing he’d been a serial diarist like me? Difficult to know.

Recently I mentioned personal projects and feeling unable to complete them. There are many things I begin and then forget about, or I don’t forget but start questioning myself, or become distracted by something else. One of these projects was to scan and index my old diaries.ย I used to worry about how I could search them for issues, dreams, recipes or events I knew I’d written about.

I tried writing with a digital pen but that was more work than it was worth. I had to clip a receiver to the book I was working on and keep my writing very straight and neat. I would upload the files onto my Toshiba laptop then edit them in the related software, only to find lots of errors to edit out. It was disconcerting how short the entries were… my handwriting made them seem long, but they weren’t! Later, some of the files disappeared, even saved ones, and the refill for the pen wasn’t available in the UK.

OK, that didn’t work.

I tried typing out journal entries from recently handwritten diaries, but that was boring and I could always think of something else I would rather do. Dropped that plan.

Then, of course, I started typing daily entries directly onto the Mac or the laptop, and quite enjoyed that, because it was easy to edit them and delete stuff I’d changed my mind about. I could also insert photographs. It wasn’t terribly relaxing, however, and I yearned to curl up somewhere comfortable and write what was on my mind without restriction, so bought an iPad. That worked very well for some years and I was careful about backing up — only lost one short paragraph when the word-processing app on the iPad failed to save. I just rewrote what I’d lost as it was still fresh in my mind, but I knew I couldn’t risk that happening again with a longer entry. It was due to lack of space, and I can fix that if I really put my mind to it, but I’ve not got around to it yet. I have to carefully transfer nearly 3GB of old Notes out of Mail. Some of these were diary entries themselves, so I can’t risk deleting them wholesale, and I can’t leave them in Mail where they might get synced into oblivion! Meanwhile the iPad gets older and the days are passing.

The diary must continue, so on 29 December 2018 I picked up a blank jotter from Woolworth and started writing. Now the diary-writing circle (circus?) is complete.

I still have older diaries to worry about, so scanning them seemed the quickest way of backing them up. In 2011 I randomly chose a big orange one, which I finished scanning just yesterday, 7 and a half years later! Shocking. But I’m delighted that I’ve finally completed one of these albatross projects; it’s put fresh heart into me. It can be done! I feel so heartened that I moved the scanner closer to the Mac (why didn’t I do that before?) to make scanning quicker and easier.

I’ve already scanned 31 pages and the front cover from a big pink 2010 diary. Having the colour cover scanned into the same folder will give me a visual reminder of which diary it was, and of course there’ll be an index to help me find things. I don’t need to copy all my diaries into text, especially as I’m still writing… it would be a never-ending task.

This reminds me of a Terry Pratchett book. In one of them, people’s lives write themselves into diaries in a strange library somewhere… was it on Death’s premises? If you were to go there and read your own, it wouldn’t be finished yet, and you would see the scrawl continuing as you looked. “I decided to read a blog post on Aw Diddums while waiting for my friends to turn up. I got to this point in the ramblings when suddenly the doorbell rang. I jumped out of my skin.”

No? Maybe you were reading someone else’s diary then. I can’t help it if you pick up the wrong book!

I don’t know, I’m probably wasting my time doing this, but I believe completing it will give me peace of mind, renewed self-belief, and maybe new ideas — or old ideas buried in old diaries that come to light again and are found. A new better-organized me beckons, and 2019 could be the year! Let’s get on with it.


I live in the UK with two cats -- Samson and Delilah.

10 thoughts on “What Should We Do With Old Diaries?

  1. I have a similar situation with the letters my Grandmother wrote me. The last ten years or so of her life she was in a nursing home, and since there wasn’t much new in her life she wrote me about the old days. Her letters, taken together, are a nearly complete history of a small town in Ohio that doesn’t exist anymore.

    On the one hand they are precious to me, and I feel they must be preserved, but on the other, I can’t really see these ever being of widespread interest. So, for now, they sit in boxes.

    1. A picture of a life and community that’s now gone… that sounds like a unique record! That in itself could make it of interest to others.

  2. It’s tricky, isn’t it? I’ve kept small diaries for simply recording ‘what I did today’ and have kept the last ten years or so of them, but burned older ones that I felt were redundant. I’m using the last 6 years at the moment to quickly jot down a chronology for a memoir – so glad I have them! And with ref to Abbie’s comment, I also have some records to go through from an aunt who died recently and there might be a story there too! Good luck with your scanning – I think you’re right about old ideas being potentially ready to spring out!

    1. … and the old ideas that spring out promptly sink again. ๐Ÿ™‚ I suppose they might not if I add them to a To Do list, but that tends to be ignored as well. It’s great that you’re making use of your records in the memoir… even when we think we remember things clearly, we quickly get confused and things we thought we knew just disappear, so a written record is vital for your purpose. Thank you for looking in. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. A good question. I started a diary when I was about 10, so I have rather a lot of diaries sitting in a drawer. I did go through some embarrassing angsty ones and destroy them but I have no idea about what to do with the rest. I now write a diary on an app called Diaro but I need to pay to back up. I didn’t back up on my last phone and lost about a year’s worth when the phone had an unplanned bath. Writing in that app on a daily basis, though, means I feel less inspired to blog. I think perhaps I should scan the physical diaries of the past… Yes a difficult decision.

    1. My sister’s phone had a similar accident. ๐Ÿ™‚ Mine has been sitting in a tin box so it can’t ‘pocket-dial’ anybody… I don’t actually use it very much. Yes, it’s hard to both blog and write a private journal; then add emails to friends to that…! I suppose it does mean there’s less verbiage in both my diary and blog, which might be a blessing. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. A quite thoughtful and thought-provoking post, Delilah. Thank you for it! I don’t want to be pushy and obnoxious, but your posts are always interesting, and I think you should post more often.

    This one reminded me of my secret autobiography. I have never kept a diary, but now and then I write a bit in my on-going secret autobiography. It’s totally something I have no intention of ever showing anyone. So I feel at ease speaking as truthfully as I can. That has helped me discover things about my life and about me that I never had suspected until I saw them revealed in my secret autobiography.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement — I very much appreciate it. ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t know how much I’ll be able to keep blogging, but I don’t want to give up either, unless new EU regulations start causing difficulties. That’s interesting about using the autobiography to learn about yourself… sometimes you don’t realize stuff till you go over your own words and think, “hang on!” Even better, if you read about something that happened ages ago, you suddenly realize something that you’d forgotten — something relevant. It can ease your mind.

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