I still get funny looks from people when I mention that I keep a diary. Maybe the practice strikes them as shifty or weirdly old-fashioned. It’s true that I never feel more furtive than when my wife finds me writing it at our kitchen table – it’s like being spotted entering a confessional box in church. What exactly have I got to tell this black book about a life that we share all day, every day? What secrets can I possibly be keeping?
The answer: nothing of any great note, and yet so much of my life is in it. I started writing a journal (as I used to call it) when I went on holiday. Twenty years ago I decided to go full-time and since then I’ve kept it more or less every day. Why? I suppose it began as an experiment – and became an obligation. You can’t hold back time, but you can try to save the past from being completely erased. It often feels trivial to record things as they happen (a stray remark, hearing a song, fleeting moments of doom or delight), but later they may prove useful, or instructive, or amusing. It also maintains the illusion of diligence – that you’re not just pissing away the days. A diary is good exercise for the writing muscle, the way a pianist practises scales or a footballer does keepy-uppies. During lockdown, like everyone else, I got into routines that felt numbing in their repetition and diary-wise left me short of material. I took recourse to discussing the books and box sets I was involved with – not exactly Pepysian, but it got me through.
Entries had immediacy, which lent flavour to the book I was writing
It gives you peace of mind and a place to order your thoughts