Dear Diary, Happy New Year…

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Happy New Year from the Kill Zone!

Usually I start the new year off with a plethora of resolutions but this year I am mulling over just one, and it’s something I haven’t considered since I was an angst ridden teenager (which may be why I have avoided it ever since) – keeping a personal diary. I have lots of writing journals in which I jot down ideas for novels, scenes, snippets of conversations etc. but all of these have always been directed towards my fiction writing. Now I am wondering whether keeping a more personal writing journal would be a good idea or not. The impetus for my musings was reading a review of Gail Godwin’s latest memoir which draws heavily upon the diaries and journals she kept over the years. It started me thinking about writers who keep such journals and whether the process of personal gut-spilling is a useful tool in developing one’s writing craft.

Now the staid ‘Englishness‘ in me frowns upon such things – it smacks of the teenager prone to angst ridden confessions and overblown emotionalism – but on the other hand I have to wonder if this sort of exercise might be liberating. Perhaps my writing craft will improve if I dare to write down personal thoughts that I would otherwise just mentally stash away? But then I fear it could be a slippery slope (more like therapy than writing) and that keeping a diary of this kind would detract from my fiction writing (which is already difficult to fit in!) – so I thought I would throw open the idea to the Kill Zone community.

What do you think about writers who keep personal journals? Do you? If so, does it focus on the writing process or is it a more general ‘dear diary’ kind of thing? Is it helpful or merely self-indulgent?

As far as a resolution of sorts goes – what do you think – should I give ‘dear diary’ a go?
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12 thoughts on “Dear Diary, Happy New Year…

  1. I’ve never been one for resolutions that set me up for possible failure. There are things I want to accomplish, intentions that aren’t cast in stone and won’t cause me pain or embarrassment if I don’t quite get around to them. They’re listed in my personal journal.

    Journals can be anything you want: a record of daily activity, a therapeutic pouring out of feelings, or an opportunity for discovery. Mine are mostly the latter, although by free writing in them the purposes sometimes overlap. I don’t think mine do much to help develop my writing ability, but they do help me put words to fleeting thoughts that would otherwise be hard to pin down. Whether or not you would find the process beneficial depends on your expectations. If the very idea seems questionable then I wonder if you would be too inhibited in your writing. I can’t imagine there would be any value in keeping a journal that is written without total honesty.

    Whatever you decide, Happy New Year to you.

  2. I do keep a personal journal but it is not writing related, unless on a given day I’m jotting down something that happened pertaining to writing.

    I find personal journaling helpful because I have a horrid memory, so it helps me recapture what happened and when in various stages of my life.

    Granted, some of the daily entries are just boring run of the mill stuff, but I will scroll through my journal a few times a year to guage where I’ve been and how to move forward.

    My journal also serves double duty as a tracker–to keep track of daily exercise, writing time, etc.

    If you don’t feel a burning need to keep a journal there’s probably not much point. If you feel driven to do it, it will quickly become a habit. It has for me over the years.

  3. I actually keep a running journal during the writing of a book. Got this from Sue Grafton. It’s a way to think out loud, see what’s going on in my head and in the story, and is a record of the writing when I’m done.

    I’m sure future literary historians will be thrilled with this treasure trove.

  4. Happy New Year, Clare. I hope where you’re at has not been impacted by the recent terrible flooding.

    Many years ago I went to work for a company that required all employees to keep a daily journal. In fact, they gave each of us a Day Planner. At the time, I thought it was a waste of time to make an employee keep track of his or her activities. After all, I knew my job and was a dedicated worker. What did I need a journal for?

    What I quickly found out was that the goal was to identify wasted time and improve efficiency. It worked, and I think it made me a better worker. It also helped improve my memory of what I had done and what I still needed to do. So I guess to answer your question of whether you should keep a journal or not, my advice would be, Yes. It can’t hurt, and if anything, will make you better at all the things you now do.

  5. Thanks for the input so far! Carol – I do fel that maybe I would be self-censoring it so perhaps it may not be my thing (as BK points out maybe it wouldn’t even be all that helpful) though as Joe says, it might surprise me too and make me more efficient! I am intrigued by Jim’s writing journal for each book – future historians may actually be more intrigued than you think! Dan also has a point:) Maybe I will improve…but maybe not…And as for JRM…perhaps you’ll find that mythical perfect resolution next year…
    BTW Joe we are fine here – no flooding in Victoria

  6. I kept a journal for a long time, but there were too many lapses of months or even years at a time. Then one day I picked up one of the old ones from 10 years prior and realized how much I had changed in both my thinking and actions.

    Day to day life can be boring when written too frequently. But thought patterns, major events and life changes, we should keep a record.

    As far as this year’s resolution. Sell tons of books, at least virtual digital tons of ebooks. To that end I am applying myself to mucho marketing and a gimmicks…ie, giving away a Kindle 3 for every 1000 ebook copies of 65 Below sold from now until March (details at http://www.basilsands.com), then seeing what happens next.

    …oh, and in case you were wondering the feared Christmas Viking Invasion did not occur, at least not in a verifiable manner. Although I was rather perplexed at the discovery of a single goats hoof print in the middle of my living room the evidence that someone entered my pantry ate a tin of cookies and tried to open a number ten can of pumpkin pie filling with what appears to have been a medieval battle axe. … oh…and my rosehips and raspberry bushes were braided into a pattern that spelled the Norwegian phrase “Thanks for the Fattigmond” or something like that. …strange those Vikings.”

  7. First off, I’m not a professional writer nor am I trying to be one.

    Until about five years ago my personal ‘angst’ outlet had been writing poetry, then I had a mental and emotional break down. I’ve been in therapy ever since. My poetry writing has lessened but the quality of it is better than ever (or so I’ve been told.) I use diary software for my journal and poetry and the entries are becoming sparse but are still meaningful.

    I think if you want to keep a journal/diary it will help, if you want it to.

    Just two cents worth from a hack bard.

  8. Basil, one of my fears is that it will be boring though Perhaps, if I stop censoring myself, it may be a useful creative outlet. Csmac, thanks for your insight as I do think diaries can also be therapeutic. I guess it depends on my expectations and commitment -which are both a little lackluster at the moment. Kathryn, like you I have not really considered it seriously until now. I guess I will have to see!

  9. I say, Go for it, Clare! If you’re feeling inclined to do so, there must be some hidden agenda just waiting to unfold in your diary. I have a life coach who has been prodding me to start a diary/journal as well. I’ll start one if you will. Maybe we can compare notes!

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