August 28, 2013 by jfhilborne
For years, long before I became an author, I kept a journal. Then, one day, also long before I came an author, I burned them. I had the horrible image of someone getting their hands on the journals if anything happened to me, and I wanted to make sure they’d never resurface. The things that went in those journals were intensely private, meant only for me: things I might think but never say, or wish for but never admit. The idea of anyone reading them or knowing my innermost thoughts – especially if I survived whatever calamity life threw my way and had to face said person/s (even worse if they’d been, ahem…”discussed” in one of the journals) – was too galling to contemplate.
Before I destroyed the books, I spent a couple of hours re-reading them and getting re-acquainted with my past. I haven’t led the most riveting life by some people’s standards, but I’ve done some pretty interesting things such as (in no particular order) learn to ski, learn to shoot, travel a bit, work for a radio station, relocate to a new country, move house (more times than I care to mention), buy my own house, get married and then divorced, become a landlord. It was actually quite fascinating reading, to me anyway. I’d forgotten a lot of the stuff and some of the people from my past. Sometimes, the running commentary about what we observe can be quite funny.
I recorded mundane things in the books, too, such as particular comments a person made, or I described an interesting outfit and what other people said about the person wearing it. I wrote about funny things I heard, or noted someone’s kindness. A lot of the pages were filled with my reactions to some of the daily occurrences and the people in my life, which is primarily the reason I burned them.
Looking back, years after I destroyed the journals, I somewhat regret that I didn’t keep them. They were a record of the past, an account of things I’d witnessed other people say & do. I’d started writing them in the 80’s (people & outfits were hugely fascinating in the 80’s). Now that I’m an author, they’d have been a great resource for keeping track of an era gone by, record changes in a town or city, for developing characters based on real life observations, for humorous anecdotes, my memories of being 22, or 25, and looking back on things I survived that seemed so dreadful at the time and really weren’t. If they were important enough for me to write down, they were important enough to remember.
Maybe I’ll start keeping a journal again. They’re a great thing to leave behind for future generations to read. I still hate the idea of such a confidential item winding up in someone else’s hands, and if I can’t write down my most honest and private thoughts and opinions, is there a point in keeping one at all?
Authors – do you keep a journal? How does it assist you in your writing? Do writers use journals differently than readers?