Keeping a diary is a brilliant way to look after your mental health and document your memories. Liz Beardsell, who has written over 10,000 diary entries in her lifetime, shares her advice on how to make writing a diary work for you.
Welcome to The Curiosity Academy, Stylist’s new learning hub where you can access workshops, how-to guides, new research and learn the most up-to-date skills from the UK’s most in-the-know people.
Writing about yourself is probably something you did as a child, scribbling down lists of your friends and filling notebooks with adolescent dramas. Thanks to the recent renaissance of journaling, adults are starting to write about their thoughts and feelings again, with many people starting a journal to help manage their mental health.
Research is clear that writing about your inner thoughts recreationally can be extremely beneficial. One study led by The Royal College of Psychiatrists found writing expressively for 15 to 20 minutes a day over a four-month period lowered blood pressure and resulted in better liver functionality.
Sitting down to write about your feelings might seem intimidating, especially if you’re struggling with your mental health. That’s why the traditional act of diary writing, where you recount events that have happened in your day, can be an easier, more accessible way to create an account of your life that you can look back on.
One woman who knows a thing or two about writing a diary is podcaster Liz Beardsell. She has kept a diary since she was 12 years old and, at the age of 39, has written over 10,000 diary entries over her lifetime.
“I was quite a shy child so writing a diary was a way for me to express myself,” says Liz. “I can’t remember life without it.”
Liz makes the most of her extensive diary collections in her podcast Diary, She Wrote, where she reads out her diary entries, telling stories about her relationships, friendships and her health. “My diary is like a secret story I’m telling to myself – it’s a real release,” Liz says.
“Writing a diary has really benefited my mental health because it means I process everything as it happens,” Liz says, adding that another key benefit of writing a diary is that “it gives you a time capsule of your life.”
Now lockdown is starting to lift and we can make new memories out in the world again, it feels more important than ever to document them. Here’s Liz’s advice on how to get the most out of using a diary and becoming consistent with it.
Liz’s advice for getting the most out of keeping a diary
Handwrite your diary, if you can
The way you write your diary is totally down to you. You could type up your entries in a word doc or use an online diary tool like Penzu. Or, use the old fashioned method of handwriting your entries like Liz, who says that buying herself a new notebook and pen feels like a form of self-care.
“Handwriting slows your brain down more than tapping away at a keyboard,” Liz adds. “When you hit the letters on your keyboard, you’re not necessarily thinking the words through, so handwriting allows me to connect with what I’m writing more.”
Zoom in on details in your day
If you’ve spent the day working from home with minimal plans, you might feel like you have nothing to note down in your diary. But, Liz says you should still try and write something every day because you never know where your thoughts might lead.
“What I’ve found through my podcast, is that capturing tiny details throughout my day is actually what helps differentiate one day from another when I’m looking back,” says Liz, advising that there’s no detail too small to explore.
Liz recommends beginning your diary entry from the very start of your day, but there’s no pressure to track your day from beginning to end. You can zoom in on particular details and events if they feel more interesting to you and explore how they made you feel.
Try to write a little every day
While you’re getting into the routine of writing a diary, Liz says you only need to set aside as little as five minutes a day to write your entries.
“You can even bullet point thoughts and descriptions of your day if this feels more manageable,” she says, explaining that once you’re in the routine of writing, you can work your way up to writing for longer periods.
Liz uses A5 notebooks for her diaries and usually writes for about 15 minutes at a time, filling a page per day. “There are days where something really exciting has happened and I look forward to writing in my diary, so I’ll go to bed an extra hour early to do it,” Liz says. “But there are also more boring days and I never feel the pressure to fill a page. Sometimes, it’s just a couple of sentences.”
“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself,” is her advice. “If you haven’t got a lot to write, it doesn’t matter. There are going to be so many more interesting days in the future that you’ll be dying to write about.”
Write alone and avoid distractions
Because writing a diary is time you’re taking for yourself, Liz recommends being alone when you write. “Around 95% of the time I write my diary entries from bed on my own at the end of the day,” she says. She’s also written them from cafes and the beach when she’s been travelling.
Liz finds it best to write her diary entries at the end of the day because she can remember more clearly what has happened. But, if you’re more of a morning person, you could write your diary entry for the previous day in the mornings.
Another important thing when it comes to diary writing is not to put pressure on yourself to make your writing creative and impressive. “You just need to get thoughts out of your head and capture the moment, so don’t worry about your writing style,” says Liz.
Read back your old entries
Like most things, diary writing will come most naturally to you when it becomes a habit, so do try and keep up with it, even if you’re struggling to find the time or it’s not quite what you expected it to be just yet.
“I’ve been doing it so long that writing a diary is like brushing my teeth,” Liz continues. “If I stopped diary writing, I know I would feel anxious.”
One of the things that motivates Liz to be so consistent in keeping her diary entries up to date is that, if she doesn’t, her memories become blurred and she is keen to portray them as accurately as possible.
Liz recommends reading back your diary entries if you ever feel like giving it up. You’ll probably realise just how enjoyable it is to have them there and how much you can learn from them. “Reading back over my diary entries allows me to realise which people in my life make me feel my best and which people make me feel insecure,” Liz says. “You don’t necessarily tap into that in the moment.”
Writing about yourself on a daily basis isn’t for everyone, so Liz recommends trying it out for a month and then reading back your entries to reflect on how you’ve been feeling. You’ll also be able to see the effect writing a diary has had on your month. At this point, if it’s something that works for you, you’ll probably be able to see tangible benefits and be more motivated to continue.
You can read more writing advice from The Curiosity Academy at Stylist.co.uk. You can listen to Liz’s podcast, Diary She Wrote, to hear more about her process and experience writing a diary.
Liz Beardsell, host of Diary She Wrote
Liz is the host of the storytelling podcast Diary, She Wrote, which launched in February 2020 and immediately hit the top five in Apple Podcasts’ personal journals chart and the top 10 in its society and culture chart. It currently has over 300 five star listener reviews on Apple Podcasts.