Dear Diary…

The last time I kept a personal diary I was twelve years old. Since then I’ve kept various travel journals documenting trips and stays overseas, but I’ve never revisited the idea of keeping a personal diary. I know many writing teachers advise aspiring writers to keep a journal but, to be honest, I’ve never been very good at documenting the day-to-day. Recently, due to some health issues, my doctor said that it might be a good idea to journal but my immediate thought was ‘I’d much rather kill people off in a novel’…so obviously, for me, fiction is far more cathartic than diary entries!

In yesterday’s NYT Book Review there was an article about the German novelist, Christa Wolf, who kept a diary over 50 years recording the events of only one day each year – September 27th (the link to the article is here). Apparently she kept this diary until her death in 2011, jotting down everything she did and everyone she saw (even everything she ate) on that day. From the article, it sounds like she was a careful diarist rather than a confiding one – giving plenty of detail on the day, and some deep commentary on the meaning of time, but less in the way of sharing her innermost thoughts or emotions.

I’ve often wondered about writers who keep detailed journals or diaries and how they tackle the delicate balance of writing for themselves as well as writing in a medium that might ultimately be made public (especially if they become famous). I certainly admire anyone who has the discipline to keep a diary/journal as well as their other writing. I  would find maintaining a personal diary challenging – in part, because, I’d always feel a constraining hand, as if someone was reading the entries over my shoulder. I think I would censor my entries or indulge in creating a ‘fictionalized’ account of my life rather than being open and honest (this may also be why I find it hard to write anything in public areas like coffee shops – I need to have the absence of ‘others’ in order to write).

So TKZers, do any of you write a personal diary or journal on a regular basis? If so, how do you maintain the momentum for this? Do you censor or hold yourself back in any way? Do you find it helps your fiction writing? If, like me, you don’t write a journal or diary, why not?

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16 thoughts on “Dear Diary…

  1. Journaling has been on my mind a lot lately–in the sense that I wonder if I need to rethink how I journal. While I neither journal with the meticulous detail of the example above nor do I do so consistently (for example, even though I began journaling many decades ago, I’ve lost half of what I wrote between the days of writing on paper and even the transition from one computer/floppy drive/CD to another.)

    But mostly I wonder if I’ve lost the value of what journaling is for. I would say first & foremost my journal is a productivity tool. I keep track of my workouts, how much time I spent on writing related activitity, education, and track important dates/events, etc. This is essential for me because as an average Joelle, very few of the waking hours of the day are mine to do with as I please so I must master what time I do have and the journal is a good place to capture that info and assess.

    I DO use my journal to puzzle out things–like figuring out what project to tackle next, a choice in life between X or X, but ironically, at the hardest times in my life, like losing my brothers, my Dad, my Mom, I journal very little.

    But I have found it beneficial when I can find old journal entries, to read what I wrote–see what things were plaguing me then and if they are similar/dissimilar to what I’m dealing with now–kind’ve a measure of whether or not I’ve really learned/applied anything along the way. But in order to get those kind of life lessons, I need to journal more consistently, not just use my journal as a productivity tool.

    Speaking of meticulous note-taking—I was reading a book called “Willpower” by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney this weekend and they mentioned that Henry Morton Stanley wrote In Darkest Africa (900 pages) in 50 days—and the reason he was able to do that was because of his meticulous note-taking during the journey.

    I found that to be a good lesson. Since time is always the most scarce resource, in journaling or other note-taking, it’s wise to make it worth your while the first time, in order to save yourself some time later on. Sorry for the ramble, but that’s what your post brought to mind. 😎

    • Sounds you use journaling wisely and efficiently! I do keep notes when I’m traveling, particularly for research purposes for future books (even if it’s a case of ‘you never know’). Sadly I’m not sure I’m detailed enough that I could use my notes and write a 900 page book in 50 days!

  2. I work on my book, I write my blog posts, and right now, I’m working on a series of “lectures” for an on-line class I’m giving in September. That’s more than enough writing for me. I’ve never liked sharing my personal thoughts (even with myself) and my day to day routines are boring. I wrote. I walked the dog. I did laundry.

    • I’m not good on sharing personal thoughts with myself either and my daily routine sounds about as exciting as yours:) You certainly sound busy with all the writing you’re doing though!

  3. I can’t even discipline myself well enough to create the occasional benign blog entry, although now that something of mine will be released next April (I’ll forgo the plug), I really need to be more diligent about it. Blog entries will probably the closest I’ll get to a diary, so, by default, I’ll probably never rise to the level of being a serious diarist.

  4. I’ve done the same daily devotion for the past 8 years and made a journal entry for each day–mostly about my writing but other things. So I have a record of my writing journey for these past 8 years, and each day I look back over what happened on that particular day. It’s very interesting to see how far I’ve come on my journey. 🙂 Other than that journal entry, I don’t journal. And it’s for the most part, it’s more a record than a baring of my soul.

  5. I could keep a diary if I had a specific topic or theme. Just writing about my moods day-to-day seems shallow and wasteful. And I, too, fear that it may someday fall into the wrong hands. I, like Terry, consider my travel blog as a good enough record of my personal life.

  6. I have a dream journal I’ve kept regularly since 1980, whenever I can remember the dreams, initially spurred by my study of the writings of Carl Jung on the unconscious and interpretation of dream symbols and motifs. At first it was mainly for better self-understanding. In recent years, it’s a creative writing exercise. Many story ideas are buried in there somewhere.

  7. I don’t maintain a formal writing journal, but I keep notebooks, and paper and digital folders with writing ideas, resources, and notes. I do check these files often.

    My sporadic efforts to keep a personal diary have never worked out. First, like you, I censor myself because I don’t want anyone else reading it. I was fiercely protective of my first diary-with-lock-and-key, which I got when I was eleven years old, but my older sister told me she could find it no matter where I hid it, and snip off the lock strap and read it. Second, it’s more of an unpleasant chore to me than a cathartic exercise, or useful archive of thoughts. Third, I never remember to make regular entries. However, I do faithfully contribute to my “Cook’s Journal,” which a friend gave me almost twenty years ago. In it, I add any guest lists, menus, music playlist, decorations, party favors, and post-celebration notes for occasions when I entertain extended family or friends, mostly so I’ll have a record of pros and cons. These entries are fun to read years later. For example, in 1999, I held a dessert party for nineteen people, a week before Christmas. In preparation, I spent a week making large batches of nine time-consuming desserts. Here is the quote of my after-party assessment: “People don’t eat a lot of desserts. I had a lot left over.”

  8. Interesting comments…I can’t journal at all. Have trired but it is some of the most self-conscious junk I’ve written. Cant get past the perfection thing, which is death to journalizing. I wish I could…would probably be good for me in fiction life.

  9. I’m the worst diarist ever. My ADHD brain says, “Are we doing this again?!” *eye roll*
    After doing The Artist’s Way I kept up a daily journal for about 6 months, but it always felt self-conscious to me. Husband once said that he believes that whenever we write, we imagine the person who might read it. And I think that’s true for me. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned, but I’m very paranoid about putting my deepest thoughts down on the page, unless they’re couched in fiction. I do have many notebooks, but they all have specific purposes. I could hardly say any one is a diary.

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