Day 18: 31 Days of Journal Writing

31 Days_2Day 18: What Grandma’s past can teach us about writing for the present

Grandma kept a diary. When she died we found a box of books, almost all of them black and hardcover, with the year stamped in gold lettering right in the center of the cover. 1955. 1956. 1957. There were a lot of them.

There was a page for each day of the year with the date already printed on top. These books could have been used for anything. A one-page a day journal. A daily to-do list. A drawing a day or a poem a day.

Grandma used them to keep a much more literal daily record. Her writing fascinates me. Most days she doesn’t fill the entire page and its just a few sentences.

But it’s her handwriting and her voice leaps off the page and into my mind when I see these books. As simple as her entries might be, I can immediately imagine what she writes about.

Most of her entries are about the meals of the day, the work that was completed around the house, if they had any special visitors, and if they were celebrating anyone’s birthday. (My grandparents had 13 kids and were active members of their church community. There were lots of visitors and lots of birthdays.)

From time to time she would write about what her kids were doing, but the majority of the books are a swift and brief glimpse into her life. They are about what she did during her time that day. She’ll mention my grandfather mostly in terms of his schedule, but not with any great detail.

Her daily diaries do not contain any real emotion. There is no depth to her personal thoughts or feelings. They are very much like something you could air on the evening news.

(With so much to take care of, I am grateful she found the time to write at all. Sheesh!)

But, there’s another piece to this story. Grandma’s date books weren’t the only writing that was discovered. Grandma was a writer and it turned out a keeper of letters. She had kept letters sent to her by her grandchildren over the years. I have letters I wrote to her throughout my childhood. She had kept them and I got them back. (I even found a letter in her things that my mother had written to her two weeks after I was born – that’s a keeper!)

When we write letters we usually share news that captures the present moment. Letter writing is in fact a beautiful way to do this and today a handwritten letter holds immense value. It represents time a person took to slow down and write something by hand. Its pretty amazing if you think about it.

The other gem found in Grandma’s things was the notepads where she had done another kind of writing. Grandma was more than religious. She was a spiritual person to and if I didn’t know it before, I learned it later when I saw her special notepads.

Pages and pages of thoughts, ideas, stirrings of the soul. She kept detailed notes on the sermons she had heard, what she agreed with and what she didn’t. She wrote down the questions she had and tried to find answers.

All on legal-sized notepads. No cover or special protection.

Why am I telling you all about Grandma’s writing habits?

Fair question.

Grandma wrote. She was a diarist, a journaler, and a letter-writer.

In each of these forms she explored what she was thinking and feeling in the present moment.

This makes her an interesting journaler. I have not come across any of her writing that dives deep into her childhood. Or anything that focuses on planning for the future. (She did write a family history, but that was mostly a genealogy and did not include any details at all about her life as a girl.)

Because of this, Grandma is the best example I know of for writing about the present moment. She used three different tools for writing: the datebook, letter writing, and the notepad.

She used these tools to write about her life as she was living it. And the most beautiful part is that she left them with us when she died. She kept them all and didn’t destroy any.

What tools do you use? How do you write about what is going on in your life right now? And is what you write information you would want to share with others?

I think the best lesson Grandma can teach us has to do with how we spend our time. She survived thirteen pregnancies and deliveries. She managed a household. They grew their vegetables in a garden. Hours and hours were spent in her kitchen on a daily basis. She was a busy lady.

I have no idea if she filled in her datebook entries in the evening or if she did it the next morning, or even wrote several entries in one sitting, reviewing her week in her mind.

What I do know is that she did it. It was important enough to her to create a few minutes of time and write down in her datebook what happened in her life that day.

If she can do it I can do it. And so can you.

I like to think she did it not because she necessarily imagined her datebooks becoming treasures for her children and grandchildren, but because she just had a need to write. Language is a magical part of the human experience and I think Grandma wanted to enjoy as much of it as she could.

Prompt for the day: If you’ve been writing a lot about your past or your future, make today’s entry about the present. What is special about today? What is your life like today? And for good measure, what did eat, who did you see, and what did you celebrate?

Like this article? Please feel free to use it on your own blog or newsletter. I simply ask that you please include this blurb:
Sara Marchessault is a coach, writer, and mom who helps busy women use journaling to create more space in their life for being productive without feeling overwhelmed. Visit to get your FREE Journal Protection Plan and start using your journal to create more joy in your life.


  1. 31 Days of Journal Writing Challenge | 21st Oct 15

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