Learning curves: a diary entry every day in 2016

14 Dec 2016


“I think a lot, but I don’t say much.” Anne Frank

I am now a man who writes a diary. An admission I never thought I would make. I am a chap who keeps it religiously, every single day, without fail. I have written an entry every day for 2016. Yes, as you edge slowly and fearfully towards the cross at the top of the page, I will happily confess I may have ever so slight obsessive tendencies. Just a tad. I pen ruminations on things large and small: the successes of a day at work; the failures that blight and frustrate (comically irritated/angered/feeling sorry for self entry on failure of driving test day); the nuances of gastronomic delights; excitement regarding some literary adventure. Some days may be short (Wednesday 23rd November: Data entry. Misery. Misery. Misery.”) other days are embarrassingly epic – outpourings of inarticulate rubbish for my eyes only!


My preconceptions of the diary entry art before I started one late last year: a vehicle for narcissism and self-indulgence; a pointless exercise in reliving the past; ego massaging. In short: a waste of valuable doing time that is completely superfluous and should be replaced with action! The notion of me penning daily reflections was entirely alien to me. Then, for a range of reasons, someone suggested giving it a go, making time to write fluidly at the end of the day. The journey began, before long a daily dairy entry was routine, a fully fledged part of life.


So why the conversion? What is the value in writing a diary, particularly from the perspective of a teacher:

  1. Introversion: Some of us our not particularly vocal, particularly talented at making small talk – some of us are private and contained. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a world going on up there, or that we are heroically aloof and don’t value relationships. In some ways, it means that inner world is even more alive and insistent. It is just not, however, so readily keen and confident in sharing these reflections. The solution to this doubt can be found in the pages of a diary. Susan Cain the writer of the majestic ‘Quiet’, an introverts guide to life, highlights how:  “The only solution to this tension is to write in your diary—to write as if no one will ever read it. Write exactly what you think and feel, with no fear of judgment.”  Cain’s website is always an inspiring visit: http://www.quietrev.com.  The process of writing can then enable you with confidence to share thinking and reflections, a stepping stone to working positively alongside those more extroverted individuals!
  2. Cathartic: At the end of a difficult day, writing can be one of the best means to vent frustrations. It is hugely purifying and a wonderful way to rediscover perspective, stress begins to vanish with every pen stroke. It also forces you to slow down, when stress and anxiety might be involved in a particularly tempestuous storm. If you are not sure, have a quick perusal of this: http://journaltherapy.com. The diary can wonderfully dilute the endless traffic that can overwhelm a tired mind.
  3. Celebratory: When I first started writing I realised that one: my life is heroical unexciting (that didn’t change!) and two: I tend to focus on the negatives.  It is a habit that is stuck and we all share: to examine and consider what could have been done better, to pick away at the faults. All healthy and an enabler of improvement but can be corrosive and tiring!  So the diary entries also became things of positivity, recognising the delightful things that have happen during that day.  Flicking back over it at the end of the year is lovely: seeing all the wonderful moments and experiences opens your eyes to the range of things you have to be grateful for. I am sure that in the future this will be the real joy of a diary: pictures of memories that will now not be lost.
  4. The narcissism debate: Writing a diary could be hugely self indulgent, but only if you use if it to myopically examine yourself and your own experiences. I have found the opposite: that by writing about others and relationships it makes you more self-aware and more empathetic. It makes you recognise when you are slipping into selfishness and forces you to prioritise your behaviour, looking more outward than inward.
  5. Understanding: Can you really truly understand how you feel about something until you have invested the effort in writing things down to dilute your thinking? This year has been hugely significant historically. My own thinking about Brexit, about Trump, has been clarified by writing. My own ideas about teaching, forging an understanding through the plethora of interpretations and philosophies has taken more shape this year. This is always evolving and developing – but reading and writing regularly is such a positive way to assist in growing as a sentient professional. This started with a diary then moved to this blog. It also provides you with a means to develop an understanding of yourself – to recognise your own mentality and your way of behaving. It is a perfect passport to the beginnings of a more developed self-awareness. As Seneca said: “”the unexamined life is not worth living”. More tenuous teacher/philosophy links here! 
  6. Enjoyable: Writing is fun, genuinely enjoyable and absorbing. You can surprise yourself with how it can reveal more of your character and identity. Realising how much I enjoyed and benefited from the process of writing a diary was another reason why I started this blog. Diary writing is refreshing, it is a momentary relapse from endless technology that traps us. It is private – something increasingly difficult to find in our time obsessed, sharing culture.
  7. Creative: The diary can be used for whatever you want. Nobody reads it but you, so it can be a wonderful vehicle to express a creative mind. A quick look at this article, on how twenty famous men used their pocket notebooks, opens up a world of ideas. Perhaps like Benjamin Franklin, it might be employed in the lofty goal to reach “moral perfection” or perhaps more pragmatically it could be used as Thomas Jefferson did, to record the temperature. The possibilities are endless!
  8. Teaching: English teaching is often heroically over complicated. We are encouraging students to improve their ability to read and write. How can you develop both? By regular practise: by reading widely and writing regularly. My ability to write is better now than it was at the start of the year (although you may be shaking your head now in disbelief!) I feel more connected with the craft of writing, and better empowered to teach it effectively. The insecurities I might have had about live modelling writing to students in lessons are vanishing, I feel more confident asking them to deconstruct some examples of my writing. I tell students I keep a diary, I tell them how much I enjoy the process of writing and how much I gain from it. They look fairly placid but who knows how many diary writers I am setting out into the world (we can only hope!).

So, you get the idea: I am now a raging diary advocate. I am not embarrassed by this hardly cutting edge of endeavours, rather I will pontificate endlessly about the delights of the diary to all those who will listen. If you can set yourself one individual challenge in 2017 it might well be this: start writing a diary. It might just be the start of a rather special and enduring relationship.

Thanks for reading. Now off you go, get writing!




Jamie Thom

English teacher, host of @TES English teaching podcast. Author of 'Slow Teaching.' MEd in Practitioner Enquiry, doctorate student #StrathEdD. Runner.

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