But Sister, Diaries Are For Writers Too!

“There are many reasons for keeping a diary: to make a note of facts that one considers important; to open one’s heart, to give vent to one’s feelings, to make confessions; from the instinct of economy which sometimes encourages a writer to make good use of even the smallest crumbs of his life, so that he may have one more book to publish; or again from vanity and self-satisfaction.” ~ Alberto Moravia

 “Keeping a diary is for girls,” my sister said to me this morning.  I, of course, took offense to this sexist statement.  My reply was “sex may be between the legs, but gender is something in the head.”  I bet that she thought about my answer while catching some late evening Monday sitcom.  She is old-fashioned and will not ever understand what I said, but by tomorrow, or the day after, she will forget altogether.  Nevertheless, I guarantee that if she kept a journal, or diary, she could reflect on it more closely and she would be less likely to forget.  

But what is a diary or journal?  Many out there still think have a sexist connotation to the word diary.  Many people, like my sister, imagine a teenage girl sitting on her bed crying her eyes out in it because her boyfriend has broken up with her and then her brother later stealing it and reading it to his buds, only to become embarrassed to learn that she has a crush on them, or thinks they are complete jerks.  On the other hand, a journal is associated with the mad scientist who holds the secret clue to solving that mystery. 

Hollywood, once again, can take some of the blame for this.  However, according to Liza Minnelli when people die in Hollywood they do not ask if that person has a will, but did they have a diary. 

A diary or journal can be a gateway to a person’s heart and soul.  And as a writer, it should be the closest and most prized possession at hand.  The Journal should be allowed to overflow with a life of its own.  I am writing this blog because I met a couple of youngsters last night at a writing conference who dream of being on the top New York Times list, yet they gave a yucky reply, and is he gay eye, when I pulled out my journal because I had a really great thought.  However, I am speaking to both writers and hoping to help make non-writers writers in their own person way.

To say that a journal (I will use it interchangeably with diary from here on) is only for girls then you possibly know little about some of the great male masters of literature, art, and politics; C. S. Lewis, Leo Tolstoy, Ernest Hemingway, Christopher Columbus, Ben Franklin, Kurt Cobain, Marilyn Manson, and George Washington just to name a few. 

Throughout history, journals have helped historians learn most of the information we know of, well, history.  They offer not only a who, what, where, when, but help answer the why by providing psychological and cultural context. 

Yet, to the writer they offer something special.  A journal will allow you to develop a healthy habit of daily writing, which is the primary secret of writing.  Not only does it allow the practice of skill, but for you to understand your own psychology, your feelings in other words, and culture.  That is very important.

But I don’t know how to journal? 

Well that is ok.  It is a relatively simple thing to do.  It only requires a pen and paper, or your favorite word processor, and as much time as you wish to devote.  My first advice is to start small.  Write about the thing that happened that caused you to have the largest emotional response, or affected you in such a way you are not soon to forget and then do it again the next day, or when you have time. After doing this every day, or however you schedule your journaling activities, for a while you will begin to notice a profound depth in your writing and develop a sense of pride unlike anything that you have ever felt. 

Journals may be for recording the events of your day, and how you felt about them, but they are great for organizing your thoughts on things.  From bits of newspapers or stories that are interesting, letters, poems, quotations, memories, anecdotes, dreams, and lists of your favorite or least favorite books or movies or whatever, a journal is used for everything under the sun you can think of in words.  Some people have been known to keep separate journals for all these ideas above, but one is fine for starters.

In my journal, I keep quotations, learn a new word every day, keep story ideas, make character sketches of people I meet, and have conversations with myself on how to evolve my craft.  Sounds weird, huh? Having a conversations with yourself, but they have been some of the best conversations I have ever had! 

Another reason to keep a journal is one last book, one last chance to tell the greatest story of all to the world, your own.  Anais Nin and Virginia Woolf left outstanding journals that have only expanded the deepness, understanding, and preservation of the great stories each wrote.   As a student, these have been valuable resources.  As a writer, these have become stepping-stones to climbing a mountain, which I, as all writers, wish to climb and show that they will be remembered for some contribution to literature and the world.  However, to say that one will ever be as great as either Woolf or Nin is absurd, but is worth writing about.

 “don’t read my diary when I’m gone, ok I’m going to work now , when you wake up please read my diary, look through my things and figure me out.” Kurt Cobain wrote this ambiguous statement in his journal.   Take it for what it is, but you should write about it.

Posted on August 3, 2010, in Learn to Write, The Writing Life. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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