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Save the Date!

A surprising number of readers have emailed me with the same journaling question:

“Should I date my journal entries?”

The short answer is yes.

But what fun is a short answer?

A Shameful Lack of Dates

date-your-journal-entries-1

Earlier this week, I went to the Salon of Shame — a fabulous recurring event in Seattle where adults read their teenage diaries on stage to entertain a theater full of strangers. By choice.

Tuesday night, three different readers commented on their lack of dated journal entries. I was dumbfounded and totally blown away. It’s called a journal for Pete’s sake! A diary? As in, An Account Of Your Day. A specific day. A day so important you decided to write about it and commit its memory to paper for all eternity!

Yet it wasn’t important enough to write a simple string of numbers at the top of the page?

It’s time to stop this senseless epidemic of undated journal entries and get you folks writing a few numbers at the top of your page.

You should date them because if the day you are documenting was important enough to scribble three long hand pages about, it was important enough to pinpoint in time.

You should date them because if you choose to leave your journals behind for others to read, they will need this crucial information.

You should date them because if you decide to read your entries again (especially on stage for a theater full of strangers), chances are you won’t remember the time and place.

I won't forget this date - my first big wipeout on the Frankenstella, a scooter with a formerly beautiful custom paint job.

The Interstate Archive

The idea of undated entries freaks me out because I’m an archivist at heart. I have been creating a multimedia archive of my life since I was 6 years old.

It started with diaries and sketchbooks. When my photographer dad taught me to use an SLR camera, the archive evolved into chronological photoessays. I added video a couple of years later when I inherited a second-hand camcorder.

I used to carry a mini tape recorder around with me everywhere I went to document the happenings of my life and interview the people around me – family, friends and complete strangers on the street. I frequently added ticket stubs to what’s become a two-foot-high stack, chronicling the thousands of bands I’ve seen over the past 20 years.

A small sampling of my obsessive chronological archive.

I was sure I’d found the promised land when I started blogging in 2001. For the first time ever, I could combine all of these media into one project. It was so inspiring that I didn’t sleep that summer. I began posting daily and never looked back.

But then several years ago, I began to wonder if my obsessive desire to document my days was interfering with actually experiencing them. It was around the same time I decided I didn’t want to be a music journalist anymore.

Standing at the foot of a stage, bathed in lights and sound, the bliss was sullied by my knowledge that I would need to explain the perfection away when I got home. Instead of feeling the music, I was writing rough drafts in my head. It was infuriatingly un-Zen.

I stashed my reporter notebook, replaced my lens cap, and called it a night.

Only my daily journaling continued, the sole survivor of this archived life. Perhaps that’s why those dated pages felt even more important than ever.

( Alcohol was ruled a factor. )

Scavenger Hunts and Collectibles

My life partner, the almighty Blueline Notebook, features a handy field to write the date on every single page.

I actually use this spot, because it makes it easy to locate a specific time when flipping through a full journal. You can glance at the top corner and see exactly where you are in the volume.

(The awesome Table of Contents and writable tabs are useful for the same reason.)

But I still enjoy finding creative solutions to dating my entries. One of the best reasons to discipline your dating: it provides a reason to search your daily life for detritus with dates. Receipts, ticket stubs, calendar scraps. It’s like that magic number you start seeing everywhere once you look for it.

Parking stickers are a bonus because they feature date, time and place:

I guess it’s time to confess my closet obsession with date stamps. (And just when I was starting to win you over to how sensible dating your journal entries is.)

I love featuring the date because then I get to collect tools like vintage library stamps:

I especially covet date stamps with weird subject matter. Here’s a sampling of some I culled from a few of my recent journals:

One of my favorite date/time and place stamps came from a summer job working at a train station:

It’s fun to keep an eye out during your travels for creative ways to add the date to your journal. Give it a try. It turns your day into a scavenger hunt.

Not in an adventurous mood? A pen will work just fine.

But whatever you use, for the love of God, please date your journal entries!

I’m curious: Do you date your journal entries? Why or why not? Tell me about it in the comments below.

19 comments

  1. I definitely date my entries! Being a person that believe in signs and synchronicities, Its very important for me to know when, where and what time particular things took place in my life. ^.^

  2. I ALWAYS date my entries, and I even include the time. I usually write the day too, but that doesn’t matter so much. However, date and time are always there now.

  3. I always put the day, date and time I start writing, but have just noticed, flicking back through stacks of old journals, that I hardly ever put the year. Not so helpful when you’ve got a decades worth of words to sort out!

  4. I get very specific when I date journal entries. I usually write away from home, so I like to know not just the time and date but also the place. Here is an example.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/nels/7230491940/

  5. Yay! You’re back with a handful of super-long entries! I started out dating but then decided that it wasn’t important. I resumed it because I want to know where and when I was while writing an entry. It also helps me to see useful patterns like you always preach! =)

  6. Fun post! I always….Always….ALWAYS date mine! And absolutely so glad I did, cuz I will go back every now and then to reread or to look for something in particular 😀

  7. I always date my journal entries. years from now I want to be able to look back and know what happened on a certain day, or what I was thinking. Dating your entries is a great tool for bench-marking the events in your life. Also you get a feeling of satisfaction as you flip through your journal and see the story of your life unfold.

  8. I would never consider *not* dating my journal entries. Especially since I don’t journal every day, so I can see how shamefully neglectful I’ve been . . .

  9. YES. I always date my entries, and it’s a certain way, and then the time goes there. I write the day of the week, then the date and then the time. I have a top margin to do all that on the outer corner of my journals (I use Moleskine Cahiers). If I write later, the time will go on the left side of the sheet on a line with a line drawn under the first entry of the day to know that it’s a different time. I like to know the times and dates, just because it’s important to me to see where I was at a certain time, or for a few months or whatever when I reread these entries. And it just gives reference to where I was at this point in my life. I didn’t develop this ridiculous system until three years ago when I started journaling again everyday.

  10. I’m so glad you’re back. I’ve missed your posts:) I always date my entries. I also add the time and where I am. I usually have to draw a box around it though so it’s easy to see on the page because I don’t usually start at the top of the page and finish at the bottom, I sometimes finish my last entry halfway through the page and have to start there the next day. Awesome post!

  11. You know what – I’m going to start journaling again! Thank you x

  12. Yes, I’m another “dater.” Your idea about date stamps is excellent. Now, I can’t wait to check out a few of my favorite haunts in search of these little goodies.

  13. I used to date my journal entries but as Lanzman pointed out the dates serve to show me how neglectful I’ve been, and I didn’t like that feeling. There is a certain freedom to undated entries which I enjoy. I totally agree with all the arguments presented here as to the benefit, but for right now in my writing life, I need to flexibility of undated entries. Plus I enjoy reading past entries and trying to figure out when they happened from the context.

  14. I started journaling just a week ago, and so far I have dated every entry, and unless the entry is non-date specific I would always go with adding a date. Some of the interesting ideas that I have seen here including the various stamps certainly makes for interesting reading. I love the idea of the date stamps of various kinds.

    I do have a question though, because you date the top right corner, would you leave half pages blank so that your new entry starts on a blank page? Or do you just continue writing, and thus date every page with the relevant date?

    • Andrew – good question. I don’t start a new page for each entry, I continue where I left off, so I write my header wherever I am on the page (Date, day, time, location). The dates in the top right corner (for easy thumbing through) of every page are written whenever I first start writing on that page so sometimes there’s overlap.

  15. Thanks for reminders. I don’t usually date my journals but from now on, I will.

  16. Of course, write the date top of each page of my notebook, because I am planning to be a writer in the future, and this is useful in this case!
    I think so

  17. Kristen, are you still monitoring this page? I am interested in the podcasts episodes.

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