Discovering My Old Self Through Excavation

The me that wrote the journal wasn’t the me that read it years later

Nick Barlow
5 min readFeb 7


A neon sign reading “I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring” photographed through a window.
Photo by LOGAN WEAVER | @LGNWVR on Unsplash

I’ve finished the excavation draft stage of my memoir.

Over the last few months I’ve produced the largest amount of words for a single project I’ve ever written in my life. By the time I’d finished I had close to 200,000 words on my life, my walks, my mental health and all sorts of related topics — and you’re going to get to read precisely none of them.

Those words were just for me, a deep dive into my memories and thoughts, an outpouring of remembrance and reckoning, a process of getting myself out there into a pile of raw material that I can now start honing into something you might just get to see.

Spending so much time in my own memories has been an interesting experience, especially in surprising myself by how much I can recall. (And not just the bad stuff my depression stored up as ammunition to bring me down when I was feeling too good about myself) I’ve spent long writing sessions starting off with one memory and then following where the strands from that lead, pulling out all sorts of experiences I hadn’t thought of in a long time.

It’s also led me to discover the imperfections of my memory. When it came to writing about my end-to-end walk in 2006, I decided to first write about what I directly remembered of it, and then to go and read through my journals of that period. This was partly to see how much my memories differed from what I recorded, and partly because I wanted to defer having to decipher the scrawl of my handwriting from back then as long as possible.

An open notebook with handwriting across both pages. The writing is jagged, mostly in block capitals and hard to read.
All right, now I know what my teachers used to complain about when marking my homework

I’d thought going through the journals would be simply about using them to fill in the gaps in my memory, bringing back a few incidents to note down for those days when I hadn’t been able to remember much, clearing…



Nick Barlow

Former academic and politician, now walking, cycling and working out what comes next.