When daily writing has been a nearly life-long habit, keeping a diary, or (as it's usually called today a journal) comes naturally. I also keep lists, in particular the little book to the left in the photo which is my list of books I've read since I graduated from college. In 2014 I read 75 books -- which doesn't include magazines (and I'm a magazine junkie).
At 12 I began keeping a diary -- a very dull diary, I had no literary leanings. My mother kept a little diary which had short lines like "planted peas." "Thunderstorm, no limbs down." I got a little more verbal when I began having crushes on boys and became concerned about clothes and appearance. My high school and college diaries were somewhat more detailed --but far from literary. The diaries continued with variations up to this day. When I moved from upstate NY to NYC, then divorced and getting rid of all the detritus of suburban life, I took a big old trunk in which were nearly all my writings to that date: diaries, prize essays, beginning plays and old penpal letters.
Not long after settling in NYC, using the trunk for a cocktail table, I read a classified ad in NYReview of Books asking for diaries from women who had been in high school and college in the '50s; they were wanted by the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. I sent them a letter about my diaries, they said they wanted them. I did not reread them -- by then I was literary enough not to want to know just how dull and plodding my writing had been. So diaries from age 12 to 21 are in the library and I've been pleased in the last 8 or 10 years to hear from students that they dipped into my diaries and found a few tidbits that bolstered their theses about education or life of young women of that period. In fact, a couple of years ago a senior from Harvard drove down to Hyannis to interview me. It was disconcerting to realize that she knew things about my highschool self that I had managed to forget.
After some trying and confused years in mid--life I destroyed several years of diaries without reading them and I do not regret it. I've kept journals of the various foreign travels but I have not reread them either. In a time crunch, I reverted to my anything but literary style of writing and merely recorded where I was and what I saw. In fact, most of my diaries are of that sort. Without the advantage of an early example -- I actually had a very un-literary education and so have not been one to agonize as it seems the famous diarists did over literary ambitions.
However the year I turned 65 I kept a very different daily record -- a visual "journal" in the form of a daily 4x6 inch quilts that recorded something essential about that day (10 or so actually are different ways to show visually that it rained). I do believe that daily writing about what you do or are thinking is a way to keep your feet on the ground and appreciate that each day is different even when a series of days could be considered borningly the same. I think I have a sense of the importance of each day that many people do not although I can't say it has helped my memory for what year I did such-and-so.
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!