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
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.
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.
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.
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.