I always loved my new diary. I would stroke its cover and lift it to my nose. Mmm. I'd close my eyes and think of all the wonderful, exciting things I would do during the coming year, and how I would record them in my diary. And of course the knowledge that no one else would read it made it even more promising.
Every year, my diary started out with, "It's Christmas! Today I got . . . " and a list of all my Christmas presents. Sometimes I made it to New Year's day, or even a few days beyond. Usually my diary ended on about the 27th of December.
I think one of the reasons for my repeated failure in the World of The Diary, was the thought that diaries had to be a record, a very full record, of my entire day. And of course, that was impossible. I spent far too much time climbing trees, rushing to finish my homework (that was in the days when I still did homework) so that I could go and play, avoiding my parents wrath over the latest misdemeanor, and going for long walks with my dog in the monkey-infested bush near our home.
Childhood was great, full of adventures, mainly of the made-up kind. There wasn't time to write in a diary. That felt too much like homework.
I grew up and stopped getting diaries. I knew I wouldn't write in them. There wasn't enough time in the day.Then I got cancer. I had so many things I needed to remember, I got myself another diary. Only this was bigger, and had the times listed down the side.
In an attempt to get away from the picture of long hours of filling in my day's events, which I knew I wouldn't do, I decided to call it my journal. I started jotting down thoughts, events, and how I felt, next to the appropriate time. It was incredibly self-centred. Folk that have been through aggressive treatment for cancer know how your entire life concentrates on survival. And that's what my journal was. A survival manual.
There are countless different ways of journaling, but if you're a writer you do need to keep records somehow. Here are a few simple thoughts.
- Get yourself a large page-a-day diary with slots for each hour.
- Don't even try to write your life's story—unless you have visions of publishing a trilogy on your life. And beware! Bribing family members to read it could be a costly business.
- Keep it short and to the point. Jot down an event you want to remember, preferably soon after it's happened. How did it make you feel? Any particular memory? The smell?
- Miss out days if nothing happens. Trust me, the world WILL continue to turn.
- I find the blank pages really useful when I need to suddenly brainstorm an article that won't fit in my day's page. I just scrawl down "See Jan 12" and flip to that blank page and fill it up with my thoughts.
- As a writer, if you think of something inspiring that you want to write more about, draw a block around it so that you won't lose track of it.
- Don't try to write well. Just get it down. You'll be surprised how often you can use those memories which you would have forgotten if it wasn't for your dia . . . journal.
I didn't know it at the time, but my "survival manual" became my main resource when I started to write about my experiences during cancer. Out of that journal has come more devotional messages than I can say, several articles, and a book about to be published.
How about you? Have you used a journal to help you write? Do you keep a journal or daily diary?
Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer is due to be released in America by Revell Publishers in October. You can contact Shirley through her writing website, her Rise and Soar site for encouraging those on the cancer journey, or follow her on Twitter.