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Oprah Winfrey, one of the world's most famous talk show hosts, has spoken to millions of viewers about the importance and worth of recording a daily journal.

Whether it's a record of your life for historical reasons or just a place to vent your frustrations and secret thoughts, a diary or journal is a great way to put your thoughts down on paper or on a computer. Sometimes just writing something down helps to make it more real.

Diarists are people who record their thoughts and parts of their lives in a diary. Lots of people do it off and on during their lives, and others do it for years.

Some diarists express their innermost feelings in the pages of their journals, while others simply record the day's events and list personal goals. Whatever the content, diarists will tell you that keeping a journal can be a spiritual and worthwhile task.

Journal keeping is a very personal thing, and there is no one set place where people do it -- in bedrooms, at kitchen tables, in parks or restaurants, you name it.

When you see someone recording something in a book, they may be writing down their feelings about what they see or feel at that moment in time.

Written records have been found from many different times in history. The Diary of Anne Frank tells the tale of a young girl during the Second World War through her personal experiences.

Recording thoughts and feelings in a journal is one thing, but sharing those thoughts is a whole other story! Some journals are never read by anyone other than the author. There's no way to tell how many people have a journal tucked away under a pillow or in the bottom of a drawer, out of reach of prying eyes!

Think about this -- with computers and the Internet increasing the ability to share written work, some diarists choose to share their diaries with the world. Catherine de Cuir, who runs the journals guide for the Mining Company Web site, is sort of an expert on the subject.

When asked how many people participate in Internet diaries, she says, "Open Pages, which is the biggest Web ring for online journals, has 751 member sites. There are probably hundreds more 'lone wolves' who don't belong to a Web ring. A thousand might be a low estimate."

Everything from New Year's resolutions to the weather to nothingness (like a Seinfeld episode) can be found on the Internet. You name it, people write about it. Some may even say that people who develop their own Web page with pictures of friends and pets are really creating a virtual diary.

Whether you choose to go the old-fashioned pen and paper route or via the information highway, there are some pointers to keep in mind when starting a diary.

  1. Find materials you're comfortable with. Although it may take some time, it's worthwhile to find the materials that make you feel at home.

    A spiral notebook may be your style, or maybe a hardcover journal with gold on the edge of the paper. If you go the high-tech route, a computer disk with a top-secret password may work for you. It's your journal -- you decide.

  2. Find a time and place where you're comfortable. Whether you write every day or just when the mood strikes you, it's important to make a point to stick with it. If you find the busy cafeteria at lunch gets your creative juices flowing, go for it.
  3. You know where you feel most comfortable, so why not write while you're there?
  4. Write from the heart, and don't worry about spelling, grammar or punctuation. Nobody has to read this but you, and no one's going to take a red pen to it and point out the mistakes. The important thing is creativity and feelings. If bad spelling makes you uneasy, you can always go back and fix it up later.
  5. Just do it. As you read over the stuff you've written in the past, it will help you to learn more about yourself. You might laugh a bit about the first real crush you had or the time you were really embarrassed in class -- the possibilities are as endless as the possibilities in life.

    Chances are, you will learn that you're a very cool person with lots of very cool stories to tell.

The Secret Diary Web site offers some different types of techniques that can apply to diaries.

Dialoging: You engage in a dialog with yourself or with someone who isn't really there. This works well if you plan to talk about a touchy subject with someone and want to work out some of the things you want to say ahead of time.

If you've ever written a letter to someone without really planning to give it to them, then you already know what dialoging is.

Lists: You make lists, preferably long lists, of things you want to do or places you'd like to go.

Clustering: If you can't think of a way to think about a topic in a straightforward way, try brainstorming ideas related to it.

Clustering is the process of beginning with some vague or monstrous topic, which you write in the center of the page. You then branch off into subtopics, and from those subtopics into sub-subtopics, until you have a giant spider all over your page.

Dreams: Writing down dreams in a journal can tie into other things that are going on in your life.

Indexing: This is a way to organize a journal that involves keeping a table of contents page with entries for dates and pages. This may be just a little too organized for the average diarist though!

Like all other hobbies, there are careers that can tie into someone's love for being a diarist.

Freelance writer: You can submit articles to magazines or newspapers about topics you are passionate about, or about how something impacted your life.

Organizer of a Web ring: Organizing people's thoughts and feelings in a public place like the Internet can give you the chance to show the world all the benefits of recording a journal.

English teacher: If you want to teach other people about the benefits of writing in general, and have an appreciation of the English language and a desire to teach, this could be the career for you.

Getting Started

Buying the supplies for keeping a diary can be very inexpensive. A spiral notebook may cost as little as a dollar, and a pen can be purchased with pocket change. If you choose to go for the fancier stuff, expect to pay about $10 for a nicer hardcover book and about $5 for a smoother pen.

The supplies are easy to find at a department store, a bookstore or a stationery retailer. The only other thing you will need is your imagination, which is priceless.

Writing is not very physically demanding, but can be mentally draining, depending on the topic.

For people who don't feel that handwriting a journal would be something they would enjoy, entering journals on the computer or recording them on a tape are other options. For people who enjoy art, pictures can also serve as an alternative kind of journal.

Diarists are people who are in touch with their feelings and their lives. They want to have something more to show for life events than just memories. They record thoughts, feelings and life experiences, and they will tell you that it is a great way to pass the time.


The Diary of Anne Frank,
by  Anne Frank
Write From the Heart: Unleashing the Power of Your Creativity,
by  Hal Zina Bennett
Creative Journal for Teens: Making Friends With Yourself,
by  Lucia Capacchione


A starting point for online diarists

A Guide to the Best Journaling Resources
A list of links

Writing the Journey
An online journal writing workshop

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