Do You Ever Reread Your Old Journals or Diaries?

I often get this question about how does it feel to reread my old journal entries. Well since I started using Day One, I read my entries more regularly than I ever did with my paper notebook journals.

At the end of the year, I export my Day One entries to PDF, and then read the PDF copy on my iPad. I also filter and export parts of journal based on selected tags. For example, I have individual PDFs based on my jazz entries, books I’ve read, selected copied emails, and journal writing challenges I’ve participated in. I of course tag my NaJoWriMo journal entries, and will export them to PDF at the end of the year.

Day One_PDFs

I prefer re-reading the entries in the PDF version, instead of in Day One, because it feels like I’m “turning the pages” and reading my journal as a book.

At the end of 2013 I actually printed a book, using, of my first two years of Day One entries. The book is a 8 x 11″ format, and is 485 pages. I haven’t yet read the book from cover to cover, but it’s interesting to dip into the pages and read my past thoughts and experiences.

I think re-reading journal entries is more useful the further removed you are from the experiences and thoughts you wrote about. Many of the entries will have slipped your mind, and thus reading them will feel like viewing pictures in old family photo album.

Goal and Project Entries

I’ve also been writing journal entries about my goals and projects, which is valuable for while I’m working to complete my goals, and for when I’ve achieved them. While I wrote first book, I accumulated 93 journal entries about the experiences and challenges of writing it. It’s little difficult reading back those entries because writing the book was very arduous, and my journal entires capture much more than I realized as I was writing them.

For example, it’s interesting to see how positive I started out:

Okay, tonight I started outlining my iBooks book about Day One. I found an awesome template I can use for the book, and I should be able to finish the book in three months.

But then there’s entries about the struggles I had with revising chapters, thinking that it’s a never ending process:

The constant revising as I write, and more revising and proofreading (which is never enough) after I finish writing.

The journal writing helped push back to working on the book, especially during months I hardly worked on the project.

Started back working on my today. I going to push myself to finish and publish it by October, which is going to be difficult to do.

Sadly, I didn’t finish the book until January of the following year, but without the reflective journal writing, I think I might of given up.

Reading back of those entries now helps remind of how I worked through the challenges, and how I can better approach writing my next book.

Other Entries

I would say about the third of journal entries consists of sort of memorabilia, such lists of books read, copied tweets, emails, and online comments. I have about ten entries of unsent letters to my children which I might share with them one day. There’s dozens of entries about jazz albums I’ve listened to, and local events I’ve attended. These entries too will be of more interest in years to come.

Paper Notebooks

As for my old paper journals (started as far back as 1981), which are boxed up in my office closet, I may never get around to reading them. I’m just not sure I want to read that far back on my younger college and adult years. I’m not sure how much there is to gain from that reading them.

When I was writing my book, I did scan a few of the notebooks, and discovered a few things I had forgotten, but I don’t have the strength or the desire to read all of them. Most of what I wrote back then was about going to school, social activities, dating, and my first marriage. I am glad though that I kept a list of books I read for each year, for 12 years. That reveals a lot about my intellectual development. But I’m not keen on reading my handwritten entries. I much prefer reading typed text.

Posthumous Reading

The biggest question I still grapple with is, should I leave my journals, or parts of my journals, for children and future great-grandchildren to read? Most of the time I don’t like the idea of doing that.

I try very hard to write honestly in my journal, and many of things I write are written not be shared with others. Plus, I’m not sure how useful my journals will be to anyone other than myself. I would much rather selectively choose journal entries from my Day One entries and turn them into a book, which I give to my children. That way I can be charge of what they read.

Do Your Reread Your Journals?

Journal writing should indeed be purposeful, for I basically it’s the actual writing that is most useful to journal writing, and not always the rereading. But let me know what you think. Do you find rereading you old journals helpful? How often do you reread your old journals? And what do you learn from them when you do?




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Bakari Chavanu

is the creator of NaJoWriMo, and is the author of the interactive iBook, Starting From Day One: Using the Day One Journaling App to Record and Enrich Your Life
  • I started rereading my entries after using Day One, too. What I do is read the random entries that are in the Day One Notification Center widget. Sometimes they are the same date a year or more ago and its fun to read what I wrote back then.

    • Awe, you’re making use of that Day One widget. I don’t use it as much as I should. I probably need to move it more up on my list so I can see when I turn on my phone one.

  • Hi Bakari, people ask me the same question about rereading their old journals. I think a lot of people sense there is something more to be done with them, but what and how? Here’s a blog post I wrote on the subject.

    I can see now that using Day One could be a great companion tool for culling and gleaning old journals using hashtags. Will definitely have to blog about Day One when I finish the 30 day #NaJoWriMo challenge and do a post script to my blog post above.

    • Hi Lesley, thanks for your post. The suggestion you make at the end of that post matches my own idea of going back through my journals and pulling out entries that I want to leave behind for my children. This sort of what it is done for published journals like the recommended one you have at the end of your article. Thanks so much for sharing. I think I’ll write a follow-up article on this topic based on your input.

  • Tough decision. I have journals back years in both forms. Love the accessibility of digital journals, but love the tactile aspect of journaling by hand. I have gone back and reread which is always quite interesting (along with doses of despair reading about still-unfixed things mentioned years ago!). But bottom line for me is about transferring in the moment and for the tactile pleasure of a good fountain pen on fp-friendly paper that’s part of the journaling treat.

    • Gary, I have to agree with the tactile aspect of paper journals, and even how artistically attractive many paper notebooks are. In so many ways this is what makes paper journals so much more personal. Thanks for your feedback.

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