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Notes to diary keepers

Date your entries. "When did I write this?" can be a fun detective exercise but not in the aggregate.


Fully date your entries. Yes, it's annoying to write the year all the time, but much later, when paging through (paper or textfile), you'll thank yourself for not having to find the beginning of year marker, assuming you left one.

If you have multiple diary books, putting the date range on the covers is nice too.

***

I found a book split between my USSR trip in 1991 and life notes in 2001-2002. Very frugal of me but makes the diary hard to order. Thanks, me.

A bunch of my diaries actually have class notes in the front, diaries in the back; school year ends without filling the notebook, so there was spare space...

***

On the electronic front, my journal files have a format of

{{2014 Dec 3}
life stuff
here

{special event like Arisia
whole bunch of lines
}
}

Not exactly sophisticated, but allows pretty free-form entry, while delimiting entries on characters you can %-bounce on in vi, while also not competing with the parentheses one might normally use (including smiley face parentheses, which don't close). And yes, I have a script somewhere that checks for mismatched curly braces. I designed the date header with some idea of easing parsing by simple scripts, though it hasn't come up much.

As you can see, the braces recurse, so I can group logically connected paragraphs within a day's entry.

One could obviously make the format smarter, with tags, or {{event} stuff}, but even what I have has been pretty helpful. I can find a day's entry quickly, beginning and end, and see the bounds of long sub-entries. There are ad hoc tags: "book:" at the beginning of a line for books I might want to read; "movie:" at the beginning for movies I've seen (yes, not very consistent); semi-regular tags for regular social events, to enable searching for those; "me on " for links to stuff I write elsewhere. Could be better though, like having an index at the top of such tags for standardized use.

In theory I could write a script to bound searches, e.g. looking for regexes within entries of a certain date, basically primitive database functionality. (Or you could put entries in a real database, but I'd rather stick to textfiles for stuff like this.) I haven't felt the compulsion to go beyond searching in less or vim, though.

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Damien Sullivan
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