They are in boxes, stacked haphazard in a nightstand currently stored in the barn, next to the table by my bed, in the desk where I now sit – journals, lots and lots of journals. Some of them are filled with prayers, some with the names of boys I hoped to hear dedicate songs to me at 9pm when I was in junior high. Some are pages and pages of writing exercises, and some the actual day-to-day happenings of my life. In all ways, these books hold the fragmented, sloppy, false, unknown, and profoundly aware truth of who I am.
Thus, when Barbara Ueland says, “Keep a slovenly, headlong, impulsive, honest diary,” I know just what she means. I have stacks of them.
I always start out with really pretty journals – gold-embossed suns and leather casings . . but by the time they are full, things are torn, coffee rings adorn the cover, and the neat cream of the pages is filled with scrawl and the pockmarks of tears. This is the blessedness of a journal.
Without my journals, I wouldn’t be much of a writer. These pages hold the first scribblings of every thing I have ever written – the memories, the first outlines, the questions, the sketchy blurbs, the quotes that inspire. They are the shards of my work, and for that they are precious.
I hope all of you keep a journal. You don’t have to write in it every day or record all the tedium of your life (although you might be surprised at what that tedium reveals after a few months), but instead, just jot down what occurs to you, what surprises you, what pleases you, and what you can’t – not with a month of Sundays – figure out. Be messy. Draw lines. Scratch through things. Draw stick figures. Paste flowers to the pages. Just fill them with your words and with you.
You never know what you might find there.
So do you keep a journal? Why or why not? Do you ever mine your journal for your more public writing?
Note – One of the most exciting sources of information for my research is the diaries that I read from the early 19th century. If ever there was a source for revealing the actual life of people, this is it. So keep that in mind – if you keep a journal, maybe in two hundred years, someone who is writing a book will read it. And for that reason, please write legibly.