Mary Amato’s Tips for Keeping a Diary
Find out why it's a good idea for all kids to keep a diary, and get practical tips on writing and motivation for young writers from children's author and writing coach Mary Amato.
A diary is a place to write down your own life experiences. Keeping a diary can be rewarding, even if you’re not interested in becoming a writer. If you speak to its pages with honesty and emotion, it becomes the most amazing keepsake possible: a record of your life.
Why write in a diary?
Writing in a diary is:
- Comforting — a safe place to write down your questions, fears, and thoughts.
- Clarifying — it helps you to figure out how you feel or what is happening.
- Permanent — a record of your thoughts and experiences.
- Good “Exercise” for Expression — the more you write, the better you will become at expressing yourself.
Diary writing tips
There is no right or wrong way to keep a diary. Here are some tips for the writer:
- Choose a small, thin notebook so that you have the satisfaction of filling it up more easily. A big, thick book can be frustrating for many writers.
- Try an inexpensive, plain book. A fancy book can inhibit writers.
- Write whenever you want. Don’t feel pressured to write everyday.
- Write in your own voice. Don’t worry about the words. Write as if you’re talking. Don’t try to be too fancy or wise.
- Dictate — if you find it hard to get your thoughts or ideas down, ask someone else to write for you. Make sure they use your exact words. No editing allowed.
- Write for yourself—you don’t have to show anyone your journal.
- Write for someone else — sometimes it helps to imagine someone reading it in the future, like your own child.
- Try to write as concretely and specifically as you can. Instead of writing that you are angry, or sad, or happy, describe exactly what happened that made you angry, sad, or happy. Use details. This kind of lively writing will make your entries more satisfying to read later because the details you add will help you to re-experience the moment.
- Look for what I call “shivery” moments — those times in your life when you have a big emotion or realization (maybe you witness an argument between your sister and your mother and it makes you realize something about yourself). Write the scene.
- Take your diary with you when you travel.
- Try a “collaborative” journal with a friend or family member — pass a notebook back and forth, each taking turns adding to it.
- Remember to write the date. In the future you’ll want to know how old you were when writing.
Encouraging kids to write
Here are tips for parents or teachers who are encouraging a child to write:
- Give the gift of the written word to the child in your life. Write real, meaningful messages in your own voice to the child for special events.
- Establish writing rituals.
- Once a month, have EVERYBODY WRITES night: gather around a table, light a candle, and write.
- On New Year’s Eve, ask each member of the family to read over his/her choice of a diary entry.
- Create a “dialogue diary” with your child: get a special book, write in it from time to time, invite your child to write in it, and pass it back and forth with your child.
About the author
Mary Amato is an award-winning children’s and YA book author, poet, playwright, and songwriter. Her books have been translated into foreign languages, optioned for television, produced onstage, and have won the children’s choice awards in Ohio, Minnesota, Utah, and Arizona. She teaches popular workshops on writing and the creative process around the country. Learn more at Mary Amato's official website.
Watch the Reading Rockets interview with Mary Amato, where she shares her strategies for teaching writing. She wrote The Naked Mole-Rat Letters as a series of diary entries and e-mail letters.