Friday, June 15, 2012

Dear Diary...

By Susan

I've kept a journal since I was ten years old. My first one was red leather with a weak lock, and was given to me by an aunt while I convalesced from my appendectomy. When it became full, it only made sense to replace it with another volume of empty pages.

The early journals are full of embarrassing laments about boys and teachers, comments on weather and exercise, friendships, and planning for my future. As I've grown, of course, so have my journals. What began as immature ramblings and disjointed rumblings became notes about my wedding, lists of plans for our first home, and the precious first words of our children.

By reading through them, I can trace the development of my personal theories on life: politics, religion and the nature of God, justice and fairness. I can follow these threads of words to see my desire to leave the workforce and to write full time. I can find the development of storylines and characters and, as I documented the arc of my own life, I also started the manuscript that became my first novel. All in my journals. For me, they are intricately bound to my life.

I started thinking about private words after this, about the nature of what goes into a journal--from lists, to theories, to secrets. My journals are private thoughts written for no one's eyes but my own.

Blogging has changed that for a lot of writers—many see blogging as an extension of journal writing, and the line between private words and public words blurs. Is anything private anymore? Can't I still keep some things to myself, or to a circle of friends? Or must everything now be public consumption? In thinking about the nature of privacy, and how things have recently changed in the name of social media, I asked my co-bloggers here at What Women Write to weigh in. Here's what they had to say.

Elizabeth: I had very unconventional journals—for lack of a better word—all through my childhood and teen-aged years, and then more or less stopped in college. I’ve always been very private about writing; one of the biggest hurdles I’ve jumped since joining this group has been to admit out loud that I am a writer. Which is sometimes hard, years later, when publication still eludes! One thing this blog has taught me (and I’ve learned it elsewhere too) is that the Internet is forever. I’ve been very careful to make sure that whatever I put out there, I am okay with it being out there.

Kim: I haven’t kept journals since I was a teenager…On the blog I’ve made no secret of what I’m working on, though I would be more private about any other book. I don’t feel I need to hold back about The Oak Lovers because it is a story that only I can tell. I’m pretty open about my life. I can be pretty reserved in person, but I’m an extrovert in writing and like doing so for a public audience. I am careful, however, not to dig into the issues of religion, politics, or blatant slamming of anyone’s work. Opinions are great to have, but they can come back to bite you if you express them in an abrasive way.

Pamela: I kept a diary as a child but have no idea what happened to it. I do have my high school journal (required by my English teacher but done so willingly by me) and had to apologize to my mother years later for being such a toot. She said she didn't remember that side of me. Then I kept a dating journal--rating the dates I went on with a one- to five-star system. It too got tossed. Years later I kept a pregnancy journal of my firstborn. I placed it in his time capsule which he opened at age 18. Now I count one of my most treasured tomes a journal of my life as a young mother; my children love to hear me read from it. Then about five years ago I started a personal blog which became a way for my long-distance family and friends to keep up with the happenings of our family. About a year ago, I found keeping up it, this blog and my writing more than I could handle and let it lay dormant. Susan's dedication is inspiring and I have several blank journals on the shelf behind my desk. It might be time for another one to fill up. But even so, I've never felt free to express myself completely in a journal. My mother told me at a young age that if it's in writing, anyone could read it. It wasn't because she snooped or went through my writings, but she's right. I might write those words for me, but unless they are cremated along with my body, someone else might read them someday.    

Julie: I kept many journals as a child and teenager and young adult, then stopped when my personal life as an adult became too painful even for my journals. I have tried to journal many times since, but it turns out I'm more of an exhibitionist than I ever dreamed I'd be as a terribly shy child, teen, and young adult! And looking back, most of those journal entries over the years were poems or stories in training. I blogged faithfully for several years before I ever thought about writing full-length fiction, and continued to for another few. I had a tiny audience, but that several times weekly writing exercise answered some need. Now I blog here and on a few other group blogs, and I love the mini-blogging effect of posting Facebook statuses. My journaling these days takes place all in my brain and it's a 24-hour-a-day thing--mental journaling. My mind never really stops processing things, often considering how these whirlwind thoughts would translate into whatever fiction project I'm currently working on. 

Susan: As for me? I still journal daily, and it's never a chore. It's part of who I am as a writer, and it's part of keeping myself accountable to my plans for my life. I see a blog as a conversation, whereas I see a journal as a type of running dialog with myself. And for me, those words stay private.

What about you?

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