“Where Did I Put That?”…On Organizing and Preserving Your Journals

While searching for entries in my journals on the subject of the weather, I became acutely aware of how much easier it would have been with a master index. The older I get the more my frustration increases with objects and information “lost.”  If you are over 50 years old you know what I’m talking about.

I have said before that when I began my journal in 1964 I had no goal in mind.  47 years later I know exactly how helpful it would have been to create an organizational plan.  To do so at this late stage is a task as daunting as trying to create order out of old photos thrown haphazardly in a box.

About seven years ago I began writing an index in the back of each volume.  This works for me because I like to write in full-sized books 8 ½” by 11” with plenty of room. Obviously the index only works if each entry has a subject and a date or page number to refer to. A fanciful title is ok only if the subject is clear.   When I am writing about people I put their name in the title, i.e. “John Q. Begins Writing a Novel.” Or I might say: “Garden – The Drought Continues,” or “Bees – Caught Two Swarms on the Same Day,” or “Cats – Annie Shows Tucker How to Catch a Mouse.”  If someone wanted to read about a single subject in my journal – say cats – they could skip all the rest of the boring stuff and go right to the cats.

I recognize that some people keep more of a “diary” than a “journal.”  Although the two words can be used interchangeably, I think of a diary as a simple record of the day’s activities (“up at 7 a.m.,” “had dinner with J.,” “went to a movie”) more than a description of those events. Even with that style of writing it would be useful to jot down the highlights, i.e. “April 4 – J. and I got married,”  “October 17 – new dog – ‘Chewbacca’.”

I cannot make this point too strongly — if you want to be able to find a particular experience later on or if you want to help a poor archivist of the future, then begin now to do the following:

In the cover of each volume write your name, the date, the city and state you live in and how old you are.  (If you write your name, address and phone number and then lose your diary, someone will be able to return it after they have read it and demanded a ransom.)

Either date each entry or number your pages.

Write a subject for each entry; a title can be a creative and humorous addition.

Create an index for each volume.

Create an index for all your journals.

Store them in chronological order in a plastic box, better yet, in an archival quality box. This will preserve them from water damage, pet and insect depredation, and dust.

Do not ever store them in a basement or an attic.  Try to keep the relative humidity below 65%; avoid high heat and light.

For more detailed information on preserving your diaries and journals I recommend searching the internet.

Just an added note here: As a long-time book dealer I have found these to be the worst culprits at ruining books: water, cigarette smoke, objects left in books (including fat bookmarks), and sunlight.  Letting books fall over on a shelf or not storing them flat can cause them to be permanently slanted.  That’s what bookends are for – they keep those books squarely upright.

Although I love to randomly re-read my journals, it is decidedly more satisfying to be able to find an entry when I need it.  As you continue writing you can’t always trust that aging memory to remember what you did when.

Now where did I leave my slippers?


3 Responses to ““Where Did I Put That?”…On Organizing and Preserving Your Journals”

  1. the loving discipline of indexing art journals « faith art journals Says:

    […] instructions on how to index, organize, and chronicle journals are here.  I never took this too seriously, but now that I’ve amassed several journals, I wish I had. […]


  2. littlelionman98 Says:

    These are helpful tips. I’m going to implement the title idea in my next journal.

    Will you tell me what you mean by an “archival quality box?” Right now, I’m keeping mine in a fireproof safe, but I’m pretty much out of room in that now.

    I’m 31, and I’ve got 10 leather journals between 200-350 pages. I’m running into traceability and storage issues, as I commented on another one of your posts.


  3. fictional102 Says:

    Eh, here’s my other blog. Littlelionman98 was a concept I had for a blog, but I shut it down after a few entries. This fictional102 blog has two entries to date, and I have no intention of keeping it up. At any rate, I’ll subscribe to you with this one. It’d be nice to connect with someone else who daily journals like I do. Plus, you have far more experience, and your suggestions in this post were just what I needed.


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