A one line journal: How to record your life in one line a day

I was never good at keeping a journal. I’d often start one then neglect to update it for days, weeks or even months. When I’d finally come back to it youthful arrogance that “someday someone else will definitely want to read this” paired with a fondness for structured narratives would make me feel like I needed to go back and fill in all the details from the time that elapsed. The resulting marathon journal entry would make my hand cramp and further sour me to the idea of keeping a journal. I’d give it up, but a year or two later I’d again feel a longing to record details from my life and start another journal.

I’ve abandoned many journals over the years, then I learned about one line journals. In a one line journal you only write one line per day. If it was a busy and exciting day you write one line. If it was a boring and ordinary day you write one line. It’s not about a detailed account. It’s about reminding you of the day. It just takes a minute or two before bed. If youmiss a day or two it’s easy to catch up. If you travel and you don’t want to bring your whole journal you can easily write your entries elsewhere and transfer them since they are so short.

But the best thing about a one line journal is not the low bar it sets for writing volume. Once you’ve been writing for a year the journal wraps around itself. This year’s entry is written below last year’s entry which is written under the entry from the year before. Instead of creating a stack of journals that you rarely if ever look at you get a bit of nostalgia every day. This is particularly fun as a parent since I get to be reminded of milestones (first steps, first words, etc.) as their anniversaries come up rather than waiting until I feel motivated to look them up in a rarely touched baby book. But even without kids it is interesting to see what you were doing a year ago today.

Here’s how to keep a one line journal

  • You can buy a one line a day journal, but the only ones I’ve seen are limited to a three or five years, which won’t give you the opportunity for long term nostalgia. Instead, I bought of a journal with more than 200 pages in it (that is, over 365 pages front and back), and I wrote the month and day (no year) at the top of each page. If you are going the DIY route you can add the month and day as you go during the first year rather than trying to do them in one sitting. Don’t forget to leave a spot for February 29th even if it’s not a leap year. You’ll need that space every four years.
  • Decide whether you want to go with literally one line or expand to 2, 3 or 4, which may be necessary particularly if you have large handwriting. Whatever you do, be consistent so the years line up. I only do one line.
  • Write the year at the beginning of each entry.
  • Because of the limited space don’t worry about using complete sentences. Just use phrases.
  • Don’t try to capture everything that happened that day. Just write a few phrases capturing key moments or the overall feel of the day. Did you go do something special? Did the kid’s do something funny or cute?
  • Don’t worry about boring days. It’s fun to capture your normalcy too. I have multiple entries that say things like “Drank wine and watched Top Chef.”
  • You can also write how you are feeling: “Nervous about starting a new job next week.” “Getting excited for vacation.”
  • It is useful to have another journal in case you sometimes want to capture more detail. I actually have two additional journals on my nightstand: one for my son and one for my daughter. I use those to record anecdotes and write messages that relate to each of them. I don’t write in those jounrals every day (or even every month). They are there for when something inspires me to write in them. The one line journal is the only constant.

A one line a day journal would be a great thing to start on January 1st as a New Year’s resolution, but if you go the DIY route you can start your journal whenever you want. I started mine on July 1, 2011.

My 3 journals

And yes, you could do this online somewhere. You could even use Twitter as your one line journal. I just prefer to keep my private stuff private, which means off line.

Do you write in a journal? Would you give a one line journal a try?


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