Friday, 15 January 2010

Journals and Diaries.

This was actually written for another forum but I thought it would be an interesting subject for discussion here too.

I've just been catching up with the wonderful series, 'Dear Diary' which is showing on BBC4 in three parts. (The final part is next Monday so you can still see the first two if you're quick on BBC iPlayer.) Mariella Frostrup presented this week in a bid to discover what it takes to write a compelling diary, noting that the best ones became compulsive reading simply because they were never written to be published therefore allowing the reader unlimited/uncensored access into the author's private world. As an aspiring writer I have always jotted thoughts down but never managed to keep a diligent daily record of events in a particular order. There have been attempts at 'morning pages' and moments that demanded to be recorded with time and date but these are patchwork and scatty at best.

So I wondered how many of you do keep regular dates with your diaries and journals and if this was helpful to you in terms of dividing your writing between the personal and creative? Do you allow yourselves to write freely and unhindered knowing that nobody else will ever read what you write, or is there perhaps a fear that the words will somehow leak out and you can't help but edit as you write on the off-chance that one day they might find their way into the public domain?


  1. I write in a journal almost everyday, and have for decades. Some have been lost during various moves around the world, but many I still have. I have about 20 Moleskine journals filled, and half a dozen spiral notebooks. I do not think of journal writing as a direct part of my work, but more a way the "writer in me" occupies time and records various thoughts.

    Because I keep the journals and do not throw them away or destroy them, I assume, at least tacitly, that they are available to be read, and therefore, this knowledge distorts at least a little what is recorded there.

    Private thoughts stay private inside my head.

    I do not think of my journals as much creative, mostly they are record-keeping.

  2. I know from previous chats with you Don that you do keep a journal on a regular basis which is a discipline I have not yet mastered. My own jottings begin with trying to record events which then inevitably lead into ideas for writing triggered by memories that I fully intend to develop. The usual result is that I completely forget what I intended until the next time when I read through and find myself saying...'Of course'...and...'Oh yes' though the ideas were freshly presented to me that very day.

    To leave a well written record of one's time here that others can delve into and make of what they will is a rare and wonderful thing.

  3. I write in a diary for my mental health mostly! It's compulsive rather than something I set a time to do. I can't not do it... Definitely not intended to be read to anyone! By "accident" though, I do get ideas in there, which often translate into something. When I left Toronto about a year and a half ago, I threw all my old diaries out. (After I'd finshed mining them for useful stuff.) Now I have a stack of new diaries which are very useful for my book, since it has turned into a memoir or non-fiction novel or whatever, since I can "fact-check" (!) (Like Donigan's record-keeping maybe.....) These were completely compulsive - I was kind of isolated at the time with no one else to talk to, so I recorded EVERYTHING. I'll probably get rid of them all again, when I finish the book.

    Also most of my poems come to me (originally + "accidentally") via my journal too....

  4. I tend to keep notebooks rather than diaries Rose although one has morphed into the other over the years. What I don't seem to have at my disposal is a well kept journal like Don has which is entirely separate to any other kind of writing. The programme I mentioned in the post and the comments received both here and elsewhere might just have provided the motivation to begin writing one.

  5. Hi Boxy, as you know I'm a morning pages addict myself and have been for about five years, although somewhat slack in the last few months. In terms of useful material the ratio compared to what I write is pretty low. Like Rose I do them for my sanity and as a form of exercise much like daily jogs preparing for a marathon. I make notes of thoughts, ideas, shopping lists, moans, hopes, plans and generally just fill the page. There is an idea that we create our reality so affirmations, dreams and such like can be formed in a concrete way through writing. I often come back to wish lists after a year or so and realise I got things but hadnt noticed as I moved on to wanting something else!...

    Happy new year lovely, hope this is a great one for you.


  6. Hey Sarah, good to have you back safe and sound.

    You introduced me to the morning papers via 'Artist's Way' which I managed to keep up for about 7 weeks. The notebooks though have been around forever in different shapes and sizes depending on my mood when I bought them. I surprised myself when I opened the present one to find that it did have more of a journal structure to it even though the entries were months apart. I shall aim to improve this from now on.

  7. I don't keep one because my writing time is limited and I'd rather spend that time working on a story or book. Many of my so-called private thoughts often end up in that writing anyway, though garbed in fiendish and compelling disguise.

  8. Fiendish and compelling eh?

    Finding the time to think let alone write can be a challenge in this house too Brad. Sometimes a couple of lines on a scrap of paper are all I can muster at the end of the day even if the words are fragmented. One day the jigsaw puzzle of literary genius will come together and I'll pretend the finished work of art was my intention all along whilst remaining privately bemused by the end result;-)

  9. Another area where I am lacking. Like Brad said...if I could only find the time.

  10. Patrick. I very much enjoyed your post about the young deer coming home, very heart warming.

    Journal and diary writing has always been in the background for me, something I did and do on occasion almost subconsciously. After watching 'Dear Diary,' it made me think much more about the importance of record keeping creatively and routinely. Virginia Woolf, Samuel Peyps and various other public figures attracted discussion as keen diarists'. What had started as personal jottings have become so much more because of the detail, the snap shot of daily life that history books could never hope to achieve. I have tried to order 'Selected Diaries of Virginia Woolf' since the programme only to find my usual sources temporarily out of stock. Samuel Pepys took two attempts but a copy is now hopefully on it's way, such has been the interest. Did they know that one day their words would be read by millions? I'm not sure although Kenneth Williams, a much loved British comedy actor used to threaten to disclose people in his diaries so there is always the danger that you could do yourself and others a dis-service should you private thoughts become public. I'm not sure I would want that.

    This has raised more questions for me which I'll explore in another post.

  11. Jill has kept diaries from the date we first started going out (October 14th 1963) - I have never read them, but they have come in really handy when we've been trying to work out when we bought things or to settle family disputes. Sounds fun filled, doesn't it? haha.

  12. Ah John! Here you are at last. How are you? You might be getting an email soon with reference to me. Hope that's OK.

    I have kept a diary for work purposes for a good few years. Appointments, work schedules, dentist that kind of thing which is always useful when trying to remember where I was on a certain day. Not much detail though in: 'Hairdressers, 9.30am.'


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