Diaries and Journals

July 12, 2006

How many of you keep diaries and journals? Not blogs, but diaries and journals? Handwritten or computerized, a safe space where you can talk to yourself about anything? I use “diary” and “journal” interchangeably.

I find it helps my writing enormously.

Ink in My Coffee is where I get to brainstorm and exchange ideas with other writers. It’s personal and public simultaneously. But one of my policies in it is to rarely, if ever, disparage another writer, especially by name. It’s hard enough to make a living in this business – there’s no need for us to attack our own. There’s a difference between healthy disagreement and opposing viewpoints and attacking another writer. But intentional cruelty, in my opinion, is unacceptable. It’s one reason I’ve moved away from writing book reviews in the past few years. I don’t want to always write happy, fluffy bunny reviews – genuine criticism is important and necessary in literature. However, too many reviews are either book reports worthy of no more than third grade English class, or vicious attacks by someone who can only smirk and snipe, but not craft anything else.

But, of course, there are some who get on my last darn nerve, or who really set me off. My journal is a safe place to let loose without inflicting harm.

My journal is also the place to explore personal things I don’t want to/don’t yet feel I can discuss with others. It’s a place to figure myself out. I make sense of the world by writing about it – I have to apply the same standard to myself. Because there are plenty of times when I just don’t make sense.

For writing, the diary is invaluable. I write about writing on Ink. I even write about planning my writing. But there are some projects that, in the early stages, are too delicate to discuss publicly. I don’t want to be one of those writers who talks herself out and doesn’t get it down on the page. The page is what matters.

So, I explore it in the diary.

When I travel, I rarely take a computer or have computer access. One of the joys of travel is to be removed from daily life. But I take my diary, and it’s much more detailed on trips than in daily life. I’ll even go so far as to write the time of the entry. I write pages and pages and pages of description and the emotions they evoke so that when (and it’s always when) I want to set a story somewhere, it’s all there.

Although I hate to fracture myself with too many diaries (after all, the point is to work towards whole-ness), I have my regular diary (the current volume is too large to carry around, but important for my emotional expansion right now) and I’ve started a small, aqua journal that goes in my purse that I call “Miniature Moments”. “Miniature Moments” can be pulled out anywhere, with jottings that flit through the brain that I don’t wish to lose. If I put it in the “fragments” book or in the reporter’s notebook, it gets lost in the practicalities. These are emotional realities, possibilities that I’m exploring. If and when they become a prose piece, I’ll fill in the reality. It’s the prose snapshot of the moment.

In Elizabeth George’s book, Write Away, she opens each chapter with an excerpt from her “Journal of a Novel”. She keeps a journal for each novel she writes, and she refers back to previous entries when she hits a rough patch. The entries are fascinating, and I hope that, someday, she will feel she can publish the journals of her novels, although she may not wish to reveal so much of the intimacy of the moment.

In writing classes, teachers emphasize how important the “secret” is for each character, the desire that motivates the character and causes a reason for the story in the first place. Perhaps, for writers, our journals are our motivating secrets.

Favorite books about journal/diary writing:

A Book of One’s Own — Thomas Mallon. In my opinion, THE best book on diaries and diary writing. Constantly inspirational.

The Hidden Writer – Alexandra Johnson

Leaving a Trace – Alexandra Johnson

The New Diary — Tristine Rainer.

One to One: Self-Understanding Through Journal Writing – Christina Baldwin

Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest – Christina Baldwin


One comment

  1. Odd, the timing of this post. I struggle with this issue because I just don’t feel that I have the privacy I need in order to keep a true journal. I start one and then become tongue-tied, sure that my husband and/or children will dig it up and start leafing through it. And even if I can extract promises otherwise, I imagine myself dying in a sudden accident and then of course my notebooks would be read. That freezes me, too.

    So I just created (yet another, sigh) an online private journal. That seems to be the best option for me.

    I wishlisted the Write Away book AND reserved it at my library because a few of the things you mentioned here are exactly along the lines of what I’d been thinking. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

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