John Dumas has made journaling a consistent part of his daily routine for the past three and half years. A former IT professional, John is now pursuing a career as a writer.
In this interview, we asked John about the experience of journaling for over 1,360 consecutive days and for advice on how to build a long-term journaling habit.
How long have you been keeping a journal?
There was a since lost proto-journal in eighth grade English. It was a writing assignment and had to be turned in to our teacher. She promised that everything would be confidential, but I considered it a writing assignment and not a real journal. There were things in the life of a 13-year-old boy that I was not sharing with my English teacher.
That assignment got me thinking about keeping a journal. On May 14, 1978, I started one of my own. I was fifteen. There were still some limits to what I would write, because I worried that someone would find my journal, but at least I wasn’t handing it in for my English teacher to read. Forty-four years but with far too many gaps and omissions.
What makes journaling important to you?
Our past defines us, but our memories are unreliable. My journal is important to me because it is that near-contemporaneous record of what was going on in my life as I was writing it. Occasionally I’ll read a journal entry and realize that although I remember an event differently, my contemporaneous account is probably where I got it right.
What do you usually journal about?
I typically journal about my day. Each time I sit down to work on my journal, the question is always “what happened?” and “how can I make a coherent narrative of this?”
What is your journaling habit or routine like?
I usually journal shortly before bedtime. Sometimes this becomes journaling at bedtime or journaling in bed. On occasion, I will write incremental journal entries, but this doesn’t seem to get me to finish my journal any earlier, nor does it seem to stick as a habit.
“Small details matter. I remain curious about the trivium of my life and I’m grateful to myself when I’ve managed to record it. There are so many things for which I just have vague, unreliable memories. If only I had jotted them down. Now when I write a journal entry, I know that the little things matter.”
What tips or advice would you give others who want to build a journaling habit/streak?
One general piece of advice I would give is that there is no “right” way to journal, though there might be a right way to journal for you. That way may change over time.
For those who want to make a habit of it, the key is to accept that quality of your journal does not depend on the number of consecutive days you’ve hit. My last missed day was April 27, 2019, and in the year before that, I missed all of eight days. If I’d only journaled on those days, even a word or two.
If on those days I had written three or four sentences and had been willing to have a limited an incomplete account of my day, I would have better than I have now.
What have you learned from keeping a journal for 1,360 days?
Small details matter. I remain curious about the trivium of my life and I’m grateful to myself when I’ve managed to record it. There are so many things for which I just have vague, unreliable memories. If only I had jotted them down. Now when I write a journal entry, I know that the little things matter.
What is your favorite thing about the Day One app?
I’m glad this is not an easy question to answer. I have handwritten journals, and I’ve tried a couple other digital journals. Years ago, I even created one using Apple’s old HyperCard platform. Only Day One has given me the journal metrics that help remind me to keep on writing. When streaks were introduced to Day One, I had no idea they were going to become the feature that made me a consistent diarist.
How has Day One helped you journal consistently for 1,360 days?
Day One has helped me journal consistently by always being at hand. I once didn’t journal for a week simply because I had mislaid my journal and didn’t have a chance to buy a new volume. Fortunately, I found my journal. It’s hard to lose a journal that synchronizes across all your devices.
I also can type out a journal entry in situations when pen to page wouldn’t work. I’ve been on airplanes and buses when it was too bumpy, dark, or otherwise inconvenient to put pen to paper, but I could type.
What else you would like to share about your journaling streak?
You get to cheat. That is, you get to set the “rules” (if any) for your journaling, and so you decide what counts breaking a streak. There have been times I’ve deferred my journal entry to the next morning and backdated it. The last time I broke a streak, I wrote up that missing day the next evening. I could have made it its own journal entry, but I was trying to see how long I could maintain a streak (89 days at that point).
If I had simply created that entry and then headed right into the entry, that would have been legit too. I just would have hit 1,300 consecutive days 89 days earlier.
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The Day One journaling app makes it easy to build and maintain a daily journaling habit. Daily reminders, daily writing prompts, and journaling streaks are designed to help keep you motivated and consistently journaling.