Recently I’ve become curious about how people view journals, what they use them for, and have been experimenting with writing my own, for the first time in my life.

What is most astonishing about Thoreau was how much he managed to write (7,000 pages in under a quarter century).  That is, I’m not surprised by how much he found to say, but by how much time it must have taken him to write down so much of his experiences and growth (and this by hand, not tap-tap-tapping on a keyboard).

In my own half-baked attempts, I’ve wavered between writing long tracts every few weeks (months), trying to remember key moments, and more recently a more manageable exercise in jotting down something (almost) every day: weather, moments; more memory prompts than a journal.  This is probably more realistic as a lifelong habit.  The longer, more detailed accounts I tend to save for letters, and for some time have treated those as a kind of journal, making copies before I send them.

‘A journal is a record of experiences and growth, not a preserve of things well done or said.’  24 January 1856


Source: Henry David Thoreau, The Journal 1837-1861, Damion Searls (ed.), preface by John R. Stilgoe (New York: New York Review Books, 2009), p. 362

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