Books, Learning, Life, Reviews, Writing

On Keeping a Notebook

Week Four of the Deal Me In Reading Challenge: Another week has gone by already, and month one of the year and decade is already in the past. This week, my card led me to the essay On Keeping a Notebook by Joan Didion.

Deal Me In Reading Challenge

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On Keeping a Notebook by Joan Didion

I read about Joan Didion for the first time on the brilliant Maria Popova’s BrainPickings. And I knew then I wanted to read her, and about her. But it took many years and this short story reading challenge before I got to reading something by Joan Didion. And I am so glad I did, better late than never, while wondering why I did not do this earlier!

About the Selection and its Author

On Keeping a Notebook is an essay from Joan Didion’s anthology Slouching Towards Bethlehem. The title of the book is inspired by a line from W. B. Yeats poem The Second Coming. This essay, I am sure, has inspired many to, well, keep a notebook themselves.

Joan Didion is an American essayist and novelist. She seemingly pens everything with the same ease – be it a movie script, an essay, romantic thriller, or a memoir, .

My Thoughts

My first thought as I was still reading this was – WOW! She writes with such brilliance! And I was already formulating plans on how to write going forward, and to keep my notebook Didion-style!

My journal writing, or diary or the notebook of today’s post, whatever you call it, has been sporadic at best. I started writing one inspired by Anne Frank as an almost teen. And why did I continue (though I still do that on-again, off-again thing)? And why do so many of us keep a notebook of some sorts?

Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.” — Joan Didion in On Keeping a Notebook from Slouching Towards Bethlehem

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Joan Didion examines all the reasons we write in notebooks in this essay. She reflects that while ‘ The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one,‘ she is not writing to accurately record events or thoughts in her life for, as she says, that ‘when I have tried dutifully to record a day’s events, boredom has so overcome me that the results are mysterious at best.”

And of course, that is one of the major reasons I have failed in being consistent in keeping my notebook. On days when not much happens, what is the point of keeping that daily journal, I wonder? But then, Didion continues and makes me wonder if I could write in my journal everyday after all when she says, “instead I tell what some would call lies,” or “what it was to me,” and more importantly, “how it felt to me.”

And as she talks about some previous entries in her notebook about other people, she reflects momentarily “that the notebook is about other people.” since after all we are all “expected .. to affect absorption in other people’s” clothes or etc.

But she says that no matter what or who else we talk about, there is one thing that shines through in all our notebook entries, and that is “I”. All those random thoughts and entries are supposed to mean something only to the “I” who noted them down (not always though as she says, that some entries make us wonder why we wrote them in the first place).

Then she makes an observation that I truly enjoyed reading.

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. …… I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be;….

……..It is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about.”

And I realized that even those seemingly meaningless entries I made in my diary of years ago and those heavier more meaningful ones – they are all parts of all those people I used to be, and help me be me every day, hopefully a better one, today and every tomorrow as well.


For all of you who are journalists or diarists or notebook-keepers (or are thinking about it) or simply enjoy a good short read, read this one. As for me, while this might be my first Didion read, it certainly is not going to be the last one! I might as well read the rest of Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and then maybe go for the whole collection – seven Didion books in one mega-volume titled We Tell Ourselves Stories to Live: Collected Nonfiction.

And, Yes, the End of this Post:

So dear reader, do you keep a notebook? Why and how often, if you do? And what are your favorite ways to keep one – online, electronic, or any notebook or a beautiful journal? And if you don’t, do you plan to?

Since this is technically making up for the January challenge, here are my previous posts.

17 thoughts on “On Keeping a Notebook

  1. Interesting blog. I don’t keep an actual journal but jot things down in my planner. I also always have a notebook on my bedstand when ideas come inmy head at the middle of the night.

  2. Hi Lady in Read,
    Joan Didion is one of those authors whose name keeps coming up for me and always leaves me wanting to get serious about reading some of her work. We had a DMI participant one year who read a LOT of Didion’s work, and I had a book club that read a non-fiction book where the author is constantly referring to her reading Didion, so I need to read her soon I guess. 🙂

    I liked your post a lot and how deep a dive you took with this short non-fiction piece. For my part I’ve never really kept a literary journal. Back when I was taking chess very seriously and playing in a lot of tournaments, I kept a journal of what I was studying and the “stories” of my games, so to speak, but that was almost thirty years ago(!) now. At present, I don’t feel like I have the time to write something every day, but I’m sure some introspective writing is “good for the soul.” I also feel like one can be TOO introspective, so it’s probably a delicate balance. 🙂

  3. I’ve kept a journal here and there throughout my life, but never stuck with anything long term. I like the idea of this book. Great post!

  4. I have been a fan of writing practice (daily writing in a notebook) for years AND I must say there were times when I was less regular. This year I have been exceptional, actually since December. I love reading my old notebooks – it is like Didion says, I see myself for who I was then even more clearly than my old blogs or poetry tell me because it is in my hand!

    I also frequently share my notebooks on Instagram, People compliment my handwriting which always amuses me. Sometimes I make short videos for the same reason. I’ve been doing a lot of work on my vision so my notebooks have a lot more work focus these days and actually, it feels really good.

    PS – My most recent posts are, I suppose technically make up posts, but I enjoyed the Ultimate Blog Challenge community so much I am going to just keep showing up, make up or not! I hope you will, too!

  5. I have been maintaining notebooks for over half a decade. Writing in it is an important part of my day! Thank you for sharing this essay, will have to read it in depth.

  6. I have been maintaining notebooks for over half a decade. Writing in it is an important part of my day! Thank you for sharing this essay, will have to read it in depth.

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