Writing Wednesday: 9 Accomplished Authors on Why They Keep a Journal

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It would be easy to believe that fiction writing and journal writing are mutually exclusive endeavours, but as the writers below have so eloquently put it – that’s definitely not the case. Journals can of course be places to make notes about interesting people and places you come across on your daily adventures, but they can also open you up to a whole new world of self-reflection and insight. If you’re struggling to take time out of your writing day in order to journal, perhaps these nine authors will be able to convince you it’s well worth the added effort.

Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See

A good journal entry – like a good song, or sketch, or photograph – ought to break up the habitual and lift away the film that forms over the eye, the finger, the tongue, the heart. A good journal entry ought to be a love letter to the world.

André Gide, author of The Immoralist

A diary is useful during conscious, intentional, and painful spiritual evolutions. Then you want to know where you stand… An intimate diary is interesting especially when it records the awakening of ideas; or the awakening of the senses at puberty; or else when you feel yourself to be dying.

Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple

But as life goes on, you realize that few things are so private that people can’t relate to them. And young people now are in desperate need of any information and thoughts that we can give them to help them not just die of despair… I think they will enjoy reading the journals and I think they will find medicine for their lives. That’s my hope… You can write your life in a way that is curative. Part of the medicine of writing is that it helps you become a better person.

Joan Didion, author of Slouching Towards Bethlehem

I sometimes delude myself about why I keep a notebook, imagine that some thrifty virtue derives from preserving everything observed. See enough and write it down, I tell myself, and then some morning when the world seems drained of wonder, some day when I am only going through the motions of doing what I am supposed to do, which is write — on that bankrupt morning I will simply open my notebook and there it will all be, a forgotten account with accumulated interest, paid passage back to the world out there…

Henry David Thoreau, author of Walden

Is not the poet bound to write his own biography? Is there any other work for him but a good journal? We do not wish to know how his imaginary hero, but how he, the actual hero, lived from day to day.

Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections

I had started keeping a journal, and I was discovering that I didn’t need school in order to experience the misery of appearances. I could manufacture excruciating embarrassment in the privacy of my bedroom, simply by reading what I’d written in the journal the day before. Its pages faithfully mirrored my fraudulence and pomposity and immaturity. Reading it made me desperate to change myself, to sound less idiotic.

Terry Tempest Williams, author of Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place

These handwritten words in the pages of my journal confirm that from an early age I have experienced each encounter in my life twice: once in the world, and once again on the page.

Oscar Wilde, author of The Picture of Dorian Gray

I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.

Rosamond Lehmann, author of Invitation to the Waltz

Advice to Young Journal Keepers: Be lenient with yourself. Conceal your worst faults, leave out your most shameful thoughts, actions, and temptations. Give yourself all the good and interesting qualities you want and haven’t got. If you should die young, what comfort would it be to your relatives to read the truth and have to say: It is not a pearl we have lost, but a swine?

Further Reading

The writers above and the ones we profiled in this 2014 Writing Wednesday have all expressed thoughtful ruminations on the nature of journalling, without getting into specifics. To see what actually goes into the journal of a famous writer, check out this Before They Were Famous blog post and get a glimpse into the early diaries of some of our favourite writers.

How has journalling helped you as a writer?

About Paperblanks: At Paperblanks, we believe that art should have a place in all aspects of life. That’s why we follow the artist’s way in everything we do – creating, crafting and releasing designs we believe have the power to touch people. For more about Paperblanks, go to our website at paperblanks.com.

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