In an unexpected 2020 twist, the pandemic is bringing diaries back.

Experts from RMIT University say diary-keeping is having a resurgence, as people find it can help them during troubled times, like COVID-19. Dr Peta Murray, a Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at RMIT University, said diary-keeping could also help others.

“We keep hearing these are unprecedented times but it’s largely because none of us on this earth today have a true understanding of what it’s like to live through a pandemic,” she said.

“And why would we? We have already seen how vastly different the experience is depending on where one lives and their personal circumstances.”

Murray said perspective was key, which is why sharing our diary entries helps paint a picture of how the whole world copes during a crisis.

“Diary-keeping was like turning to a trusted friend and pouring your heart out, although in a much more intimate way – there was only you, the pen and the paper.

“But now we’re realising it can be done more casually than that, simply as a way to connect with others by connecting with ourselves.”

Gone are the days of diaries living under children’s beds or being tucked away in the drawing room, modern day diaries are out in the open, and Murray said that’s a good thing. Many of us are already keeping diaries without realising it – uploading a photo of your walk each morning counts, as does social media posts to platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

“Never before have we had easier access to witness the experiences of so many others,” said Murray.

“It’s not just about social media, people have become more willing to share.”

Self-care through self-reflection:

Reflective writing also has therapeutic benefits, according to Dr Robyn Moffitt, a Lecturer in Psychology in the School of Health and Biomedical Sciences at RMIT University. Moffitt’s research has found reflective writing can help women manage their body dissatisfaction. After participants wrote a brief diary entry encouraging compassion towards themselves, they were found to be more appreciative of their bodies and motivated to improve themselves further. Moffitt said from a psychological perspective, there’s evidence keeping a diary is a useful way to engage in healthy self-monitoring of our thoughts, feelings and behaviour.

“Reflecting on past events in our mind can often lead to self-critical and unhelpful thinking, or even rumination, which can exacerbate distress,” she said.

“But keeping a diary and writing things down as they happen can provide perspective on the frequency and severity of different events. We can use this to correct distorted thinking.

“It can allow us to process and reconstrue past events, problem-solve and create new meanings. In some ways, this makes it similar to psychotherapy.”

Helping history by helping ourselves:

Diaries are also a way to share our thoughts, allowing others to learn from our experiences or put theirs into perspective. Murray is a member of a research collective known as The Symphony of Awkward with fellow members Dr Kim Munro and Dr Stayci Taylor from the non/fiction Lab at RMIT. The group is studying live diary readings and the notion of the ‘found-footage’ nature of diaries.

“A diary gives us a means to let us speak to one another, not just ourselves,” said Murray.

“Think of it like discovering an old memory, forgotten clues from your past self that could help you through current challenges.

While historians can study historic events by reviewing news reports, only diaries – and vlogs in the modern day – can let future generations truly experience history though the eye of the beholder.

“Curating an experience for yourself allows for an honest, subjective and complex account of history,” said Murray.

The Symphony of Awkward will showcase innovations in diary-keeping practices as part of How The Future Looks Now – the non/Fiction Lab’s series of public online forums. More information.