Writing a Diary

A person's diary
Photo by Romuald Le Peru, via Flickr

Can writing about your life be important? Adam Navis and Anne Muir look at why people write diaries and how it can help people.

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Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Adam Navis.

Voice 2  

And I’m Anne Muir. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

It is 1912. The explorer is very cold and tired. He is in Antarctica. He has just walked to the South Pole. He is in a thin shelter. A fierce snow storm is blowing outside. He is unable to reach a safe place. So he sits and writes in his diary. He writes about his experiences and concerns. He knows he will soon die. He is concerned for his family. He writes these final words in his diary:

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‘We are getting weaker and the end cannot be far. It seems sad but I do not think I can write more. I pray to God that you will look after our people.’

Voice 2  

This explorer and diary writer was Sir Robert Scott. People all over the world write diaries. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela was in prison for 27 years. He was later the President of South Africa. He wrote a diary. In South America, Che Guevara was a military leader. He also wrote a diary. Every day they each recorded their experiences, hopes and ideas in a diary. Today’s Spotlight is on writing a diary.

Voice 1  

Every diary is different because every writer is different. Diary writers include actors, writers, explorers, military men, country leaders, children, students and travellers. People often use diaries as a place to record their private life and thoughts. Creative people often find that writing a diary helps them become even more creative. Michael Palin is an English actor, writer and traveller. He told the Guardian news organisation that writing a diary means to him,

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‘Keeping a diary means that all that makes a life is not forgotten. All the seeing and hearing, loving and laughing, excitement and upset, joy and sadness of a life are remembered. In short, a diary makes time unimportant, and offers your life back to you.’

Voice 2  

Some diary writers are famous. But most diary writers are not famous. Instead, they are ordinary people. However, some diary writers are made famous by their diaries.

Voice 1  

Anne Frank started to write her diary in 1942. She was not famous. She was only a 13-year-old Jewish girl. She lived in the Netherlands. The Netherlands was occupied by Nazi soldiers. The Nazis wanted to kill all Jews. So she and her family hid. They lived in a secret room. Anne thought of her diary like a friend. She even gave it a name – Kitty. Kitty was a private record of her thoughts, dreams and feelings. Anne did not think that anyone would be interested in her diary. She wrote,

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‘Writing in a diary is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before. But also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the thoughts and dreams of a 13-year-old school girl. Oh well, it does not matter. I feel like writing.’

Voice 2  

But Anne was wrong. She and her diary became famous. She and her family hid for over two years. But then enemy soldiers found them. They sent Anne to a prison camp and she died there. After the war, Anne’s father found her diary. He published it. Many millions of people read Anne’s diary. It was translated into 67 languages. Many people were encouraged by her words of courage and hope. The President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, was one of those people. He read Anne’s diary when he was in prison. He said that it kept his spirits high.

Voice 1  

Mandela found that reading Anne’s diary helped him. But experts say that writing a diary helps a person’s mental and emotional health. It can make a person happier. Research at the University of Iowa showed that writing helps people deal with difficult emotional events. Researchers said it was particularly important to write about emotions. They said it was most helpful for a person to try to understand and make sense of what they think and feel. Scientists at the University of California in Los Angeles also studied this. They discovered that men found it particularly helpful to write about how they felt. And the scientists also found that writing by hand was best.

Voice 2  

Michael Palin likes writing his diary by hand. He likes making marks on a piece of paper. On his website he talks about writing a diary. He says,

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‘Handwriting. It sounds old but it has a lot going for it. Handwriting is a mark of your own individuality. Handwriting is expressive. It shows changes in your mood and your emotions which you will not see if you are typing on a computer.’

Voice 1  

Today many medical patients are encouraged to write a diary or journal. Maud Purcell is a psychotherapist. She helps people solve emotional problems. She also says that writing a journal has a positive effect on those that do it. She says it helps people think more clearly about how they feel. It helps people reduce stress and become calmer. It even helps them solve problems.

Voice 2  

And a diary is not just good for the writer. It can be a treasure to future generations. The children and grandchildren of a writer can read about a part of their family history. And historians can see diaries of ordinary people - doing normal things - as important. These private diaries provide valuable historical evidence.

Voice 1  

But the diaries of many ordinary people are destroyed when they die. Dr Irving Finkel of the British Museum was sad about this. So he started ‘The Great Diary Project’. This project rescues diaries. It provides a permanent home for thousands of unwanted diaries. The project protects and cares for diaries to help future historians. He told the Independent newspaper,

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‘All human life is there. And everything is helpfully dated for future historians.’

Voice 2  

You may now decide to write a diary. But how do you do it? Experts say that you should try to write something every day. But you should not spend too long doing it. Instead, write quickly and do not think too much about what you write. Maud Purcell advises how to write a diary on the website PsychCentral. She says,

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‘The most important rule of all is that there are no rules.’

Voice 1  

What do you think about writing a diary? Do you already keep a diary? You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net.

Voice 2  

The writer of this programme was Katy Blake. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United Kingdom and the United States. All quotes were adapted for this programme and voiced by Spotlight. This programme is called ‘Writing a Diary.’

Voice 1  

You can also get our programmes delivered directly to your Android or Apple device through our free official ‘Spotlight English’ app. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight programme. Goodbye.


Do you keep a diary – a record of what happens to you? If you do, what do you write in it? If you do not, would you want to?


Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on September 19, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions above
Date: Monday 19, September 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Anne Muir, Katy Blake, Adam Navis, and Michio Ozaki:

At first, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!

No, I do not. But I remember what happens to me everyday. However. I would want to.

Yours regards,
Severino Ramos

Avatar Spotlight
said on October 15, 2016

It seems to me my life is so normal, ordinary, uninteresting therefore I doubt my children, grandchildren or anyone else may be interested in reading my memoirs someday, I don’t know…
But I believe some diaries can be worth keeping, reading and remembering mainly for historians. Such valuable diaries represent the significant contribution to future generations to get to know about the past history of individuals or the human community as well.
When people feel the necessity of writing diaries they should perform it because this activity might be helpful greatly for themselves too.
Thanks Spotlight for excellent topic!

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 11, 2020

Actually I’m not into writing a dairy
but i prefer to talk to myself about every single thing that is happening every day than set it down
But in your program be happy and you mentioned some ways to be happy one of them was ” Dr Robert Emmons is a leading expert on gratitude. He suggests many ways to become more thankful. One method he suggests is keeping a gratitude journal or book.”
N cuz of u i started to write only things that I’m grateful for, things that made my day so i can tell from that i only keep a gratitude dairy
N it’s on my cellphone for me it’s easier than write on a paper
Thanks spotlight ❤️ may God bless you

Avatar Spotlight
said on May 14, 2020

I wrote a diary for 54 days, recording everything I saw and thought about a fight against communists and terrorists who installed a guerrilla in the Brazilian Amazon at the end of the 20th century. When we got home, we were ordered to discard all the documents we had, and as a soldier does not refuse orders, I burned my diary. Better that way ...