My answers to a questionnaire about diary writing

This questionnaire was send to me by Sandrine Arons, who will use the answers for her graduate research on journal writing. The questions below (in bold) are copyrighted by her. I filled it in on November 8, 1996. I granted her the right to use my answers for her research, but to her alone. The answers given below are not the original ones. I have updated them slightly to reflect my current thoughts about it.
  1. When did you first pick up a journal and start writing in it?

    I started my first diary on December 5th, 1975. It was a diary that I had received as a present from my parents for the (Dutch) `Sinterklaas' feast. The first entry was of December 1st.

    Describe what your life was like at the time.

    I was 14 years old, and in my second year at high school. I cannot remember the exact reason why my parents gave me this diary, but it would not surprise me, if they hoped that through writing I would open up more. I was quite a dreamer at that time.

  2. How did you initially feel when you began writing in your journal compared to how you feel now?

    I find it hard to answer this question, as it is so many years ago since I started writing.

  3. Do you ever look back to previous entries? If so, why?

    Yes, sometimes I do. There are those times (now not so often anymore) when I feel like having lost myself. It is a very strange experience to read back your diaries, as there are so many experiences that you just forget. Most of the times, when I did read previous entries, it was refreshing. But I think that if I would read them back, without any specific reason, it would be a waste of time, as I rather look forward then backwards.

  4. What prompts you to go pick up your journal and write? Describe what you are experiencing at the time?

    Mostly, it is because there are some thoughts going through my head all the time. Writing them down, helps to start thinking about other things. For a long time, I did always carry my diary with me, and would not hesitate to write in it in public. (Because my writing is rather small, I do not worry that others would read over my shoulder.) This kind of writing sessions, would never take very long (sometimes only a few minutes).

    Especially, when I was wrestling with something, I would sometimes have very long writing sessions, and fill several pages. Sometimes this kind of writing sessions were productive, but most of the time they would not bringing me much further.

  5. How do you feel when you finish a journal book and begin a new one?

    Most of the time, I write an after word in the journal I finished, reflecting about what had happened during the time I wrote it. And in the new diary I would write a forward, describing my expectations about the time to come.

    The only feeling that I have had, is that I can add another diary to my collection.

  6. Describe what your journal looks like physically. Do you have a preference for a specific kind of journal book?

    The first three were what we call 'poezie albums' in the Netherlands. These are books in which (young) girls collect poems written to them by friends and relatives. Later on, I started to use small blue note books (with lines). But for more than 10 years, I have been using black or grey dummies/sketch books with a hard cover, no lines, and about 150 sheets. One time, I had a book made (from empty sheets) by a book binder, which had eight hunderd sheets. All of these diaries (except the first three) have a uniform colour on the outside, with no illustrations or patterns.

    I prefer diaries without lines, as they allow to adjust my writing style (size) to vary depending on my mood. Lately, I divide each empty page into two columns, which I fill with a rather small writing.

  7. How do you feel when you buy a new journal book?

    As the dummies are hard to find, I usually keep a stock of them, and buy them in advance whenever I can.

  8. Do you ever omit anything from your journal on purpose?

    Yes.

  9. Have you ever shared your journal(s) with another person and if so, who and why?

    I only rarely shared my diaries with anybody. I sometimes read some interesting observations to others, which I happened to have entered in my diary. I sometimes shared my diaries with girls I dated.

    I have stopped sharing my journal, because there is a significant difference in what I write, and how I express myself verbally. When I write, it is often to express some negative emotions. For this reason, I can sound very depressed, when sharing my dairy, while these emotions are usually gone after I wrote them down.

    How would you feel if someone read your journal(s) without your consent?

    This has never happened, as far as I know. I do have an attitude like: It is their problem if they read my diary. They might read things that they rather would not have known.

  10. Do you ever read other peoples journal(s)? If you read published journals could you list the names please?

    I have been reading bits of other diaries on the web.

  11. In no more than a page, could you sum up your experience of journal writing?

    My first diary is rather boring, as it contained mainly small remarks about what I had done, and does not tell much about my feelings. At first it even contained records of my pocket money, and what I spend it on.

    But this did change, and my diary started to reflect more and more my emotional life. In 1979, I became a Christian, and after some time, I decided to write to God. From this time on, I often start a paragraph with addressing God as `Father'.

    Around that time, I also dated a girl for the first time in my life, which resulted in one of my most productive diary writing periods.

    At the University, I started experimenting with different kinds of diaries, some of which were dealing mainly with others, because I felt, that my diary writing only made me think more about myself, and that I needed to think about others as well.

    Since I am married, I have been writing less frequently. Having children definitely has something to do with it. But the fact that Li-Xia comes from a country where diary writing in some cases has proven to be life-threatening also played some rõle.

    Lately, I also use my diary for recording the sermons being preached in my church.

    For a long time, I was very afraid that one day I would give up writing a diary. Now, I write about once a month in my personal diary, and do not really miss anything. In my twenties diary writing was very important, and definitely has had an influence on my personal development, although I feel that there also have been some negative aspects.

  12. Can you describe the relationship between you and your journal?

    I have never addressed my diary, nor imaged I was writing to someone imaginary person.

  13. If you could rate the importance of keeping a journal during your life, where would you place it on a scale from 1-10 as a means or a tool for personal evolution or self-understanding? Explain.

    It definitely has been a good tool. But for an introvert like me, always writing and thinking about yourself, does not always help very much to really pay attention to what happens in the lives of others. Sometimes, I felt that my diary (and the writing) had become an idol.

  14. Is there a special environment that is prefered for writing in your journal (ex. nature, music, indoors, specific room, etc..)?

    No, I write whenever is needed at any possible location.

  15. How often do you write in your journal?

    It used to be an average of once per day (sometimes three times, sometimes, only twice a week), but in the past four years this has dropped to about once per month.

  16. When do you have your journal with you (ex. home only, all the time, on vacation, etc..)?

    For most of the time, I have carried it with me, but there have been long periodes I do not. In the past I felt like I missed something when I did not have it with me (just like what you feel if you are without money), but now I don't care.

  17. Is there anything else you would like to add that you find important to mention?

    As writing a diary is such an intimate process, I think that it is very hard to tell whether it has a positive influence on ones development, or that it is just some part of yourself. In this sense it would be better to say that I see myself as diarist, then as someone who writes a diary.


About my diaries